The Saint Mary’s dining hall, the only source of food on campus, continues to have limited healthy options and has caused multiple food poisoning illnesses just this week
By: Eden Llodrá
Contributing from Sports
What is the meaning of food, if not to enhance our well-being, increase our energy and be enjoyed? For too long now, there have been health complaints among students regarding the food served at the Saint Mary’s Dining Hall. Meeting with some students to talk about their experience gave perspective to the magnitude of effects that physical health can also have on one’s mental health. A one on one interview with the Sodexo general manager, Lorne Ellison, also gave insight on the changes being made from the inside.
On Tuesday, September 28th, three students from Saint Mary’s disclosed that they had gotten sick from eating an omelette at the dining hall. As rare as it may seem to get food poisoning, one of them added, “this was the second time we’ve gotten sick.” A mishap illness once in a while is understandable, however, three people admitting it to be far from a new experience gives reason for concern.
In an interview with Dr. Rubin, a health professor at Saint Mary’s College, provided the scientific explanation behind food borne illnesses and why the eggs might have caused the students to get sick. She said “Eggs can carry bacteria in a form known as E. coli, which can be found in most factory farms.” This is due to the fact that animal waste can leak and contaminate the water used to irrigate the crops, which are then fed to the farm animals.
Even though most of the food is local from the Central Valley, Lorne Ellison said, “typical proteins and produce are sourced less than 500 miles from the location.” It is the quality of the farm that determines the safety and grade of the food served. Local farms do not mean that the produce and meat is organic or free range.
Alongside the importance of sourcing organic produce and poultry, it is essential that the preparation of the food is done correctly. It seems to be a common pattern for students to steer towards food that is predictable and deemed “safe.” For most, the salad bar and the simple servings section has been a go to spot, yet many students are still left either unsatisfied or in discomfort.
A junior, Elizabeth Bermudez ‘23, said “the last time I got chicken from the dinning hall in the simple servings section it was practically raw and pink inside.” This reflects a fault in food safety guidelines and puts students at risk of getting sick from food borne illnesses. Raw meat should never be served, as it jeopardizes the health of the consumers and exposes them to illnesses such as E.coli and Salmonella.
In an interview with Ellison, on “a mission to understand the needs of the community and better the program,” he intends on including more readily available food sources around campus. His idea of adding two cafes on campus called ‘The Stomping Elephant’ to provide more food options for students is just that, an idea. The school board has yet to approve any changes, insinuating that improvements are not in the dining hall’s near future.
The plan of providing more ‘readily available foods’ raises apprehension, as food made quickly is not necessarily done with more care and correlates to fast food. In the dining hall, there is already easy access to a multitude of pizzas, burgers, fries, and ice cream. These foods are all highly processed and, as Dr. Rubin explained, “can cause students to experience mental fog and crashes in energy levels.” She also said, “it can be hard for students to maintain concentration when so much is happening biochemically.”
This level of connection between what people eat and the mind completely changes the way that the school should evaluate food. In order for students to perform at their best, it is vital for them to eat foods that are not just ‘readily available’ but, in fact, have all the micronutrients and vitamins that they need in order to maintain a balanced gut and healthy mind. Dr. Rubin pointed out that “90 percent of serotonin receptors are found in the gut.”
This means that gut health is not only directly connected to people's neurotransmitters, but also shows that our mental health is a mirror of our diet. People's moods are directly correlated to what they eat and how it makes their body feel. The solution seems to be to have access to more whole foods and complex carbs, not just the common “salt, sugar, and fat,” that Dr. Rubin says processed foods consist of. With more focus and value put on nutrition, there may be more positive outcomes in matters of the mental health of students on campus.
The health of students is vital, as it influences and has effects in every aspect of people’s daily lives. Without change from the head of the dining hall, without a focused priority in quality over quantity, and without striving for a healthy, balanced diet for on campus residents, students will not know what it is like to feel and perform at their highest potential. And at the end of the day, what are humans without the proper fuel and energy that bodies require?
Ryan Ford '23,