OSU Food: Why Hide the Healthy Stuff?

The two articles below are excerpts from more in-depth pieces (check out the links at the end of each article for the full versions!) based on a conversation that took place at OSU’s Marketplace West dining hall between Genevieve Weber (Editor of the Corvallis Advocate), Robyn Jones (Director of Memorial Union Retail Foodservice at OSU), Rich Turnbull (Director of University Housing and Dining Services Foodservice), and Tara Sanders (a Registered Dietician with UHDS).

OSU Foodservices wished to rebut an article written by Cristina Himka in the Corvallis Advocate in October, 2012, entitled, OSU Foods: Best Advice—Eat Off Campus.

The first article below is by Tara Sanders, a Registered Dietitian with OSU’s University Housing and Dining Service Foodservices, and the second is by Genevieve Weber, Editor of the Corvallis Advocate.


Healthy Options: It’s A Matter of Choice

On Oct. 4, the Corvallis Advocate printed an article titled OSU Foods: Best Advice-Eat Off Campus, written by Christina Himka, that claims healthy options are difficult to find on campus.

In fact, healthy and delicious food options abound on campus, and are easily found at every dining facility. Here are just a few highlights of the ongoing efforts OSU is making to provide a range of healthy choices on campus.

In University Housing and Dining Service (UHDS) dining centers, our mission is to provide a living-learning environment as a gateway for academic and personal success through inclusive and innovative programs and services. We serve students from all 50 states and 47 countries from around the world with each having specific cultural expectations regarding food.

In our residential dining centers that include Marketplace West, Arnold Bistro, McNary Dining and Bing’s Café, we strive to make the healthy choice the easy choice. To this end, fresh fruit is kept near cash registers; for only $0.75, you can easily add a serving of fruit to your meal. Sides of vegetables, whole grains, and beans are only $0.95 and you can add a mini salad to any meal for only $1.25.  Many options are made-to-order and the customer can choose to customize their meal to improve the nutrition, such as hold the mayo, dressing on the side, light cheese, etc.

UHDS employs a full-time Registered Dietitian to meet the needs of those with special diets and to ensure a wide range of healthful options. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are available in each restaurant to meet the needs of those who practice these diets. Guests can view vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus online, as well as nutrition and allergy information for any menu item at http://oregonstate.edu/uhds/eat. Cascadia Market, a grocery store located on the south side of campus, carries an array of fresh produce and wholesome foods as well as options for special diets (gluten-free, dairy-free).

Memorial Union Retail Foodservice, which includes locations such as Pangea Café, JavaStop, E.Cafe, Ava’s, Buenos Burritos, Bites Convenience Store, Dixon Café, and Java II, also provides a variety of choices for their customers. The department has collaborated with the Registered Dietitian from Student Health Services to ensure a variety of healthy options are being served.

Granted, customers can order muffins, scones, and the high-in-calorie Chicken Caesar Wrap quoted in the Oct. 4 article, but they can also choose fresh fruit and veggies, a wonderful vegan bean and rice salad, custom-made smoothies at Dixon, Meatless Monday specials in Pangea, and freshly made sandwiches, salads, and wraps designed to meet the diverse calorie and nutritional needs of our customers.

Every step of the way, OSU students and staff have the opportunity to make healthy choices, and we’re constantly working to make it even easier. For more information regarding healthy options available on the OSU campus, please contact Robyn Jones, Food Service Director for MU Retail locations at 541-737-0492 and Tara Sanders, UHDS Registered Dietitian for University Housing and Dining Services locations at 541-737-3915.

Link to full version of this article: Healthy Options: It’s A Matter of Choice

by Tara Sanders, Registered Dietitian, OSU University Housing and Dining Services Foodservice


 ‘Comfort Food’ and Economics vs. Health

When recent OSU graduate Cristina Himka penned her article about the abundance of unhealthy campus foods, she discovered that even seemingly healthy foods often contained high levels of sodium and saturated fats. She pointed out some of the better options on campus. But after meeting with OSU’s Foodservice leaders at their request (they wished to rebut the article), it seems like the University is actually trying to hide healthy foods—they’re certainly not actively promoting them.

OSU purchases some local foods for campus eateries. Their foodservice staff seems well-intentioned, and they want to provide healthy options—you can get vegetable and whole-grain sides, and even entrees. But more often, students are bombarded by pizza and burgers when they enter a dining hall; making freshmen wade through sodium and fat to find healthy options is not an effective way to encourage good eating habits.

A “small” tofu curry bowl I’ve purchased from Ring of Fire in OSU’s Marketplace West dining hall (made with brown rice and a plethora of vegetables), is actually 720 calories with 15g saturated fat (75% of my daily recommended intake) and 720mg sodium. The vegetarian tofu pho—sounds healthy, right?—boasts 1440mg sodium (60% of recommended levels).

But Rich Turnbull, Director of University Housing and Dining Services Foodservice, is quite willing to blame the “freshman 15” phenomenon on alcohol. Obviously, it’s got nothing to do with the abundance of “comfort food” that Turnbull insists is necessary for incoming freshmen.

When asked why the Memorial Union doesn’t provide students with more options like Pangea Café rather than Panda Express, Robyn Jones, Director of MU Retail Foodservice said, “And then they’ll leave campus, and that’s a financial burden for campus.”

Would OSU install an organic restaurant? Registered Dietician Tara Sanders said, “My challenge is back to what message are we sending: in order to eat healthy you have to eat organic? That’s the struggle.”

So OSU provides a relatively wide variety of ethnic foods, including white rice, a traditional part of many Asian students’ diets (also linked to metabolic syndromes), but no organic eatery. In other words, OSU Foodservice sees that marketing organic foods could bias students against proven profit centers; organics aren’t promoted and they therefore don’t sell well.

One of OSU’s “stealth health” ideas is to provide fresh fruit by cash registers for $0.75. That’s fantastic, but it seemed a bit expensive.

Turnbull said with a flourish, “I was at Winco yesterday; an apple was $2.99 per pound.”

“At Safeway, same thing, I paid $2.99,” agreed Jones.

The same week that we met, local organic apples at the First Alternative Co-op were $1.49 per pound. OSU’s food leaders were not only unaware of this, but they also didn’t believe the information presented.

Importantly, buying local foods, while excellent, and even providing vegetarian/vegan options, doesn’t mean that food served to students is healthy (remember that curry?). Our online coverage of this meeting includes more information about OSU Foodservice finances, the challenges of buying local, some serious issues for incoming freshmen, and what that could mean for their health.

Link to full version of this article: ‘Comfort Food’ and Economics vs. Health

by Genevieve Weber