Readers’ Forum: The confines of the Cougareat

A Cougareat worker fills her drink up. Freshmen often purchase meal plans, which include meals from the Cougareat. (Preston Crawley)

There’s a glow coming from the Cougareat and your feet advance toward the haze with the crowd, as if you have no choice to withdraw. The closer you get, the array of neon signs glow brighter and the smell of something delicious hits your sense of smell with more force than ever before. A corner turned and an alley of delicious fast food restaurants are presented at your feet, planted right here on your school campus.

The high school-you’s dream comes true.

The weeks fly by and the luxury of these savory places to eat keeps you ecstatic, charging you to keep your meal plan card constantly swiping. “An entire freshman year,” you think, “with my favorite food at my fingertips.”

School continues to advance and suddenly things seem different. An original thrill depressed. As you walk through the Wilkinson Student Center doors of your well-traveled route, you realize that it was those colorful lights that faded, the calories that added up and the crisp, new things that eventually went stale.

When you thought the college situation couldn’t get any heavier, the bounds of your meal plan keep you trapped in an endless cycle of tired eyes, an attempt to escape the knee-high grease and daily pursuits of the least unappetizing meal to keep up with your college-living needs.

A years-worth of tireless thoughts of food swirl through a BYU freshman’s mind, three times a day, seven days a week. One grows weary when there are so few of options for daily meals, especially when one of those days (Sunday) is limited to one option only: the Cannon Center, or the freshman food hub for unlimited sodium and sugar-packed food accompanied by canned produce.

The University rules that “it is required for students living in Helaman Halls to purchase a meal plan.” With only a shared bedroom, communal bathrooms and a forgotten basement kitchen, freshmen living at Helaman Halls tend to eat their daily meals at the schools’ supplied cafes. These fast food restaurants; Chick-fil-A, Subway, Taco Bell and Jamba Juice, to name a few, are what the majority of BYU’s freshmen (including myself) consume to succumb to their hunger. It’s a treat for those living off campus because of their excitement to finally eat some greasy fast food as opposed to their daily PB&J. They’re buying their lunch on campus only once a week, whereas for freshmen, this is their main food source.

One aid from this dilemma is presented in the form of the BYU Creamery. Modeled after a mini grocery store, many students find relief from the lack of variation and quality of available meals by grocery shopping for more main stream and in-store products. Raised prices are a downfall of the Creamery, but, this is not necessarily an issue. The cost of the typical BYU meal plan is $2,425 per semester, about $5,000 per year, according to the University’s meal plan website. A student is allotted $14 daily, and whatever is not spent rolls over to the next day. Many students find themselves with excess money due to lower spending than the budgeted daily pay. Though bothersome, spending a little more on better food is “no sweat” because rarely are insufficient funds a problem. What becomes a problem though, is when extra money is spent on products not worth the price. The Creamery has a full produce section with a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables, but these products can be found being sold while already soiled, and they tend to grow ripe faster. Many find themselves not finishing or throwing away food early due to this. This is a waste of food and a waste of student’s money. This quality type of food seems to have a trend throughout all of campus, so even though they are not the most fresh, the Creamery’s assortment of produce is more preferred than what is available on the rest of campus.

These accusations are made according to fellow pupils and friends who eat all of their meals on campus, and claim that some of the so-called “fresh” products aren’t really so fresh. This struggle seems to be shared between all of the available restaurants, not just the grocery stores, and one simply cannot disregard the opinion of those who these provisions are directly affected on a daily basis. Because the BYU dining services’ main problem is the quality of food, this perpetuates making the limited variation between the types of food also now an added problem. Though there are not many, there are some less “fast-food-y” options within the food realm of campus but are sporadically spread throughout the eating areas and have certainly far fewer options to choose from than the rest.

Without more varied options from the rare occasioned hearty restaurant, eating the same “chicken and rice” lures students into choosing fast food instead, perpetuating those unhealthy eating habits and without wavering from it.

In my opinion, out of all the food options, the BYU Creamery is the best meal choice, yet I hardly go once a week. This is because the Creamery, along with many of the other school provided food options, can be found on the outskirts of campus. They feel out of reach and no longer an option for a quick grab-and-go meal for students to get back to their school work. To get specific, the BYU Creamery is 1 mile from the Helaman Hall dorms, about a 20 min walk. The Wilkinson Center, having the most ready-to-eat options, is 0.7 miles from the dorms, it being a 16 min walk. The BYU Museum of Art Café (my next choice for a healthy option) is 0.5 miles away, and a 12 minute walk. Attending classes makes these durations decrease in numbers, but walking across campus is a daily routine for most and doesn’t help the fact that a simple and nourishing meal isn’t within the flow of traffic. With there of course being closer options specifically for Helaman Halls residents, like the Cannon Center, personal experience of dining in these said places have made them unavailable to me as an option. Lack of sanitation, variety, whole ingredients and freshness can be blamed for this.

Little can be done when the statement of an issue is the only action being taken. So what can be done? Moving locations, for starters, is a great way for food to just be simply more accessible. Building restaurants in more accessible and exposed buildings creates an easier and more available purchase. If none other than this action was taken, many more on a meal plan would be content. Some aren’t necessarily as picky when it comes to eating and though not as healthy, could happily suffice living on strictly fast food.

Adding variety would be the next step to creating a better future for on-campus living. This includes more restaurant storefronts with better and more diverse options, which, gets rid of the fear of disappointing those who love a certain fast food. In regards to snacks, current vending machines’ sweets and treats could be accompanied by more protein based and less fatty snacks. Perhaps there could also be a “fruit machine” implemented to add a more nutritional variation. When enough monetary means are available, a little more variety never hurt anyone.

Swapping out sloppy fast food restaurants for ones more hearty keeps us healthier. While acknowledging that fast food in moderation is good, anyone could tell you that it isn’t the best daily option for one’s health. In addition, finding different sources for produce and more sanitized whole foods would be a big step toward narrowing down the list of freshness concerns.

Students’ health should be a priority, and one way the student’s health is reflected is the food that is available on campus. College students have a specific need for accessible, body and mind-fueling food, and when on a meal plan, all of that should be provided. Want happier, healthier students? Create an environment where they feel their needs are being put first.

Lizzie Johnson

Mesa, Arizona

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