When the Undergraduate Student Government Senate passed a proposal for a dining hall take-out container program on Tuesday, it held a magnifying glass to the waste and insufficiency of the dining hall program at USC. Allowing students to take some food home with them recognizes the existence of a number of systemic issues, ranging from campus food insecurity to students’ varying schedules. It marks a crucial step in the right direction, and yet, it does not fully address the root of the problem: that students often don’t have access to the dining halls for food. In addition to a take-out container program, the University should institute a pilot program to have the dining halls — or at least one dining hall — open all hours of the day, which would increase accessibility to healthy food for students.
Today’s college students are extraordinarily busy, and USC students, whose days consist of circling in and out of classes, internships, organizations, work and studying, are no exception. For many students, sit-down meals during normal business hours are the stuff of fantasy. Moreover, all on-campus dining halls close at 10 p.m. A plurality of students often don’t have time to grab dinner until late at night.
Even during the day, students often don’t have time to dedicate upwards of half an hour to visit a dining hall during regular hours. If they aren’t able to sit down and eat in between classes during the day, they should at least have access to food at night.
On top of this, students who have evening classes that end at 10 p.m., can’t even eat late dinners after a full day of classes or other commitments. For students with limited budgets or without access to larger refrigerators and spaces to store supermarket purchases, some of the only options for late-night food are the fast food restaurants around campus.
The poor nutrition stemming from limited food access can yield a severely adverse health impact. Students that go without dinner until 10 p.m. might substitute that meal with a bag of chips at Trojan Grounds or a candy bar from a vending machine, beginning unhealthy meal consumption practices. Left without nutritious options, students begin to regularly replace meals with sugary alternatives. And studies like a 2014 report by Wilder Research consistently shows that poor nutrition in college students significantly decreases focus, energy and quality of life.
And further, while the University does provide what counts as 24-hour service in the form of Trojan Grounds, and other late-night food options are available via off-campus eateries or use of food delivery services such as Postmates or Tapingo, spending on food in excess of students’ dining plans, which on average cost $2,950, is not an option for students with less economic privilege. At USC, the option of leading a healthy lifestyle should not be reserved for students who have more free time and financial resources.
In the same vein of affordability and economic efficiency, allowing dining halls to operate overnight would permit students to eat under the full generosity of their meal plans, which can cost anywhere from $350 to $3,270. Ultimately, increasing access to dining halls is not just a nutrition issue — it is also an equity issue. Financially disadvantaged students face far fewer options to get food when dining halls are closed, and are disproportionately hurt by limited access.
Currently, the USG resolution that would allow students to take home food from dining halls awaits approval from the administration. Previous efforts to implement a similar policy have failed due to liability concerns. In other words, USC may be concerned that students could fail to properly preserve or eat the food they take from dining halls in a timely matter, and blame the University for health detriments as a result of this. To that end, the University should consider creating a waiver form required by all students with meal plans in order to take food out of the dining halls.
Another option available to students struggling with food insecurity and the dining hall’s current, limiting hours and carry-out policies is Dornsife’s Virtual Food Pantry program, which connects students with financial struggles with gift cards to local grocery stores.
In passing this take-out resolution on Tuesday evening, student government took an important step to addressing the USC dining hall system’s flaws and promoting student health. But this must be the first step to make nutritious meals and dining options as accessible to students as possible. The collegiate experience is already fraught with a wide range of challenges, stressors and barriers to student mental and physical health. Food insecurity for students who have already paid thousands of dollars for meal plans should not be one of these.
Daily Trojan Fall 2017 Editorial Board