In spite of what some people may call me, I am not a hippie nor am I a hipster. There you go—I said it. Most days, I find it comforting to have a secure set of so-called hippie-hipster values with which I generally agree, such as food in a way that does not hurt the environment and contains the best nutrition for our bodies. Lately, however, I’ve started to become less sure about how those beliefs are reflected at Pomona College in the way that students here eat and relate to their food choices.
At Pomona the word ‘food’ is synonymous with the food served in the dining halls on campus. We are able to have lengthy discussions about the crispiness of Frank’s sweet potato fries or fiercely debate the best sushi across the 5Cs. Let me be clear—I’m not rejecting this kind of dialogue, or critiquing what can only be our dining halls’ amazing perseverance for giving us good food. Yet, I do think that we have a problem of another kind. A big, fat problem that nobody is ready to deal with.
We go to school in California, a mecca for real food, fresh produce, and healthy fare. We are privileged enough to have an organic farm—an organic farm!—on our campus, and a dining service that has not only a sustainability mission statement, but also a hard-line five-year sustainability action plan—who knew? As the supposed future of America, and the so-called brightest minds of our generation, we are being handed the awareness, the potential, and the resources to combat some of this country’s biggest health and wellness-related issues: obesity, food deserts, malnutrition, factory farming, and a truly twisted agricultural industry intent on manipulating the way we eat.
What are we doing instead? We’re squabbling about the quality and quantity of Snack. As members of the college-going demographic, instant foods such as mac ‘n’ cheese, ramen, and microwavable meals have been marketed to us as integral to our true college experience. The exhausted pride of your very first all-nighter wouldn’t be as victorious and Facebook-status-worthy if there hadn’t been Red Bull and processed sugar involved. The fun of a drunken Saturday night wouldn’t be as worthwhile unless the vending machine had been raided and inhaled in overwhelming quantities. Snuggling into bed to watch a movie with your new college BFFs? Not as adorable and Snapchat-worthy without some ramen and fake-buttered, artificially colored popcorn in hand. For the best and brightest, we’re sure doing a fine job of falling prey to the worst of our food industry and its clever marketing techniques.
One of the things that I hear most often from my peers in response to the “How are you today?” question tends to be a flat and weary “Tired.” Yes, we Pomona College students lead stressful, busy lives and are constantly juggling our various commitments. However, we are also completely blind to the fact that the food choices we make are actually holding us back instead of nourishing and fueling us. For the average 19-year-old, eating those blueberry muffins in between lunch and dinner and then some of those chocolate chip cookies afte, may simply be because they taste good and because, with our current overzealous metabolism, the empty calories will be burned without second thought. But those empty calories also make our bodies tired, add to the growing insulin resistance that plagues most of our generation, and most definitely do not provide us with the energy we need to perform at our best and to truly excel.
As a generation, we have been given the “eat real food” rhetoric since we were in middle school and McDonald’s started selling wedges of fruit. We exist in a world where information is more freely available than ever before, and access to nutritional information and science is, quite literally, at our fingertips. Yet in a community where we envision ourselves as future movers and shakers, and take great pride in how our No. 2 Forbes ranking is going to boost our chances of hotshot jobs that will change the world, we are completely unable to recognize that nutrition dense, macronutrient-packed real food is the only answer to healing ourselves and reversing so much of the damage that we have already caused.
No, I’m not calling for a hipster food revolution. That terrible labeling and stereotyping is completely missing the point. I’m simply suggesting that we become more mindful of what we eat and how it affects us. For some of us, weight and looks are good enough incentives; for others, new-found energy may be enough, and for others still, being surrounded by delicious, natural, whole food will be your jam. I’m saying that the way we’re being told to eat, the way it’s being marketed to us—giant stacks of refined white flour pancakes doused in fake syrup as the perfect Sunday brunch, or jars of trail mix that are simply filled with candy and slapped with a natural label as our finals week brain fuel—these empty, addictive, sneaky foods are really just tripping us up and holding us back. If we are to really show the world that we’re taking charge, and that we’re here to make a difference and live out our futures with as much energy, passion, and dedication as possible, let’s start with a re-evaluation of what we put into our bodies.