Dining Hall Dilemmas: Discussing the 5C Food System

Nina Zietflow SC '20 fills her plate at Pitzer College's McConnell Bistro. (Ellen Duanmu • The Student Life)The one factor that impacts our daily lives the most, regardless of who we are and where we come from, is food. As students, we can sometimes lose track of how important food is. Thrice a day, every day, I take time out of my life to sustain my body. But I would be kidding myself if I believed meals were simply about getting calories in.

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From the moment I took my first bite, I was part of the food system. Be it a vegan burger, organic tomatoes, a farm to table salad, or my Friday night In-N-Out, I am turning the cogs of the institution of food production. Countless factors go into each bite we take. Through this column, I will be unpacking some of the ways in which we interact with food–beyond just eating.

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5C campus life revolves around food. We hang out with those who have time to grab lunch with us, we go to dinner depending on when we have class and club meetings, and we take time out of studying to go to snack. With seven different options to chose from, we eat better than many other liberal arts college students. Our dining halls offer so many options, combinations, and varieties. We have even more options considering that we can take away fresh fruit, veggies, and other basics, as well as the fact that most dining halls have a kitchen.

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In our current political climate, environmental sustainability is an issue we cannot afford to ignore. One the largest factors in a person’s carbon footprint is their diet. At the 5Cs, dining services do their part to provide sustainable options. McConnell Bistro sources from a community garden in Ontario—Huerta del Valle. McConnell Bistro and Collins Dining Hall’s provider company, Bon Appetit, provides a variety of local and sustainable options. McConnell, Frary Dining Hall, and Frank Dining hall all practice pre-consumer composting. Beyond choices we make on campus, we have a million opportunities to impact the environment through what we eat.

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5C food culture is just as much about what we eat as it is about who we eat with. Fat-talk, food-shaming, diet-idea sharing, and changing attitudes towards food all become much more prominent when we are living away from home. Eating disorders affect college-age students at the highest rates. Conversations between friends about food and while eating shape how we view food and ourselves. Before college, I never felt either judged for what I ate or influenced to eat certain things because of what the people around me might think.

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After moving to Southern California, the capital of tanned and toned bodies, and starting to eat every meal with my peers, I really felt the impact of 5C eating ideas. Seeing all of your friends eating only salad by no means directly causes eating disorders, but everything you hear in the dining hall and outside can affect how you feel about food and your body.

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Most 5C students don’t think about where their next meal will come from. I tap my card as I walk into the dining hall and eat however much of whatever I want. That is the farthest thing from reality for so many people, even as close as Claremont’s surrounding areas. Areas with poor food security are scattered across the Los Angeles area and throughout the Inland Empire. Southern California’s landscape and water availability don't lend themselves well to agriculture. Relying mainly on food grown in the Central Valley makes Southern California vulnerable to food scarcity. Supporting community gardens and shifting priority towards sustainable food production in Southern California are steps toward increasing our food security for the future.

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Eating off-campus is a treat for most 5C students. The places at which 5C students choose to dine will likely be places at which many 5C students choose to dine. Menu options, proximity to campus, price, and a variety of other factors go into determining where we spend our money. With so many options, many 5C students still tend to spend their time and money eating at a lot of chain restaurants and coffee shops. If we explore more options just outside of the Claremont village, we can save money, support local business, have a more varied diet, and share food experiences with friends and classmates. We shouldn’t be afraid to try mom-and-pop brunch places, tiny taco shops, and hidden boba shops that only sell tea and cigarettes and feature a list of rules.

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You really are what you eat. Food requires intentionality and thought, especially in our fast moving lives as college students. We should continue to take a step back and consider all of the steps that went into the bite we are eating. How can we better take advantage of the options our dining halls present? What can we do to ensure our food is environmentally sustainable? How can we be intentional about fat-talk? What does food security look like in Southern California? How can we expand beyond Starbucks and In-N-Out?

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