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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Too much junk food at UMass Boston

Students+wait+in+line+at+Burger+King+after+class+in+the+Campus+Center+food+court.
Olivia Reid
Students wait in line at Burger King after class in the Campus Center food court. Photo by Olivia Reid / Mass Media Staff

When I transferred from Middlesex Community College, I didn’t quite know what to expect when it came to grabbing food at UMass Boston. At MCC’s Bedford campus, there was one cafeteria that served food not too different from my high school—fried chicken, fries, pizza, burgers, pasta and more. Aside from the unhealthy options, none of it was particularly high quality either. There were a few vending machines scattered around the campus, though they weren’t in every building, and that was basically all. Since I knew that UMass Amherst had consistently ranked very high among university food ratings, I thought that UMass Boston would be at least a bit better than MCC had been.
Well, I was right, but with a catch. I’m sure you are all aware of the offerings in the cafeteria itself, and in general they are pretty good. I’m partial to the Chef’s table Indian and Shawarma offerings, as well as the Mexican bowls—though as a foodie I am well aware that they pale in comparison to the “real deal.” Plus, Sal’s Pizza is a legitimately great slice, by Boston standards, and the salad bar is pretty comprehensive—though I’ve heard from students that the quality isn’t always the best. The Café in University Hall is notably worse, but still okay.
The catch is this, though: We have way, way too much junk food around campus. Firstly, Burger King is consistently one of the most popular options in the cafeteria, which is to be expected, but that’s exactly the issue at hand. The school obviously knows how popular fast food is and cashes in on it. To me, it’s more than a little hypocritical. I have seen a lot of signs and tabling campaigns that encourage students to eat healthy. They often suggest eating local foods, but local isn’t always more sustainable or environmentally friendly since it depends on what is in season, but that’s a whole other story. Yet we have a Burger King right in our cafeteria. Even the highest quality offerings at Chef’s Table are usually coated in sugary sauces, though you can, of course, request to not have the sauce.
That’s not even the height of the hypocrisy though. Just inside the cafeteria, mere feet away from the health food and local food posters, are signs advertising special deals for chips, sodas and energy drinks. They encourage bringing custom four-packs of sugary drinks to parties and to add a bag of chips to every meal, and when you get into line at the cash registers, you’re greeted with shelf stands chock full of candy bars. The day after I began writing this article, the school introduced a couple brands of chocolate bar with eye-catching labels at the registers. I’m a sucker for anything involving Charlie Brown, so admittedly, I bought one. Clearly, the school is trying to tempt students into eating unhealthy foods as a form of income, and I can personally attest that it works.
But if the cafeteria didn’t make it plain enough, just take a walk around the school. What do you see at nearly every corner; every hallway; every alcove? Vending machines. And what’s in them? Junk, junk and more junk. Candy, soda, energy drinks, ice cream—though to be fair, those haven’t worked in years. Even the “healthy” stuff, like granola or snack bars, is loaded with sugar. This is more of a national-level issue with how much sugar Americans put into nearly every single food product, but there are options the school can pick that have less sugar.
Speaking of vending machines, there is one thing I noticed this semester that I am actually somewhat happy about: The Farmer’s Fridge vending machines. They have a good selection of healthy foods—even their sugary treats are much better than, say, a candy bar. But you’ll notice I said I was “somewhat happy” about these vending machines. I say this because they produce a lot of plastic packaging—something I am vehemently against as someone who is highly concerned about, and involved in, the fight against environmental destructions and climate change. Many of the selections are an absolute pain to eat out of their containers as well, and might require even more disposable waste in the form of paper or plastic plates and utensils. Yet again, we run into a spot of hypocrisy from the school; they espouse strong environmentalist ideals while introducing a huge new source of plastic waste.
I shouldn’t have to say this, since we all have heard this said again and again—it’s basically a heuristic at this point—but healthy eating is integral, not only to physical health and longevity, but also mental acuity, attention span and academic performance. The UMass Boston administration needs to do the right thing here and seriously cut down on the junk food. I know there will be riots if Burger King is removed. It would have been better to never introduce it in the first place—there’s nothing to be done about that—but perhaps it can be phased out. Here’s what truly needs to happen though. The vending machines need to either be completely restocked with healthy choices or nearly eliminated, except for two or three per building; the sodas and energy drinks must be phased down, along with the candy at the cash registers; and the marketing of junk foods has to stop.
Obviously, students should be free to choose whatever food and drink they’d like to eat. I’m not proposing a complete end to all junk food at the school, even I love Snickers bars and dark chocolate, and it’s a good thing for me that Burger King was the school’s choice instead of my real weakness, McDonalds. There is something to be said about personal restraint as well. What I am proposing is that our administration get more involved in helping students make healthy choices and stop hypocritically tempting students with unhealthy foods at every opportunity. I encourage students to make their voices heard about this as well. The Sustainability Club is a good place to go with your concerns, as is MASSPIRG. I will be doing the same myself, and I hope to meet my fellow concerned students in a meeting or two!

About the Contributors
James Cerone, Opinions Editor
Olivia Reid, Photo Editor