What is that on my meal plan?

The folds of flimsy meat are flapping around each other, dripping in post-frying oil. The cheese is mysteriously bright in its artificial yellow color, and your bag of fries is slowly turning into a puddle of delicious greasiness. Sound familiar?

As we envelop ourselves in the madness that is the end of the second semester of the academic year, the tolls of extracurricular activities, excess homework, and extraneous stress are beginning to add up. Feeling lost in the masses of work and responsibility, it’s easy for students everywhere to turn to the one remaining comfort on a high-stress campus: food. Carnegie Mellon students, typically up late and overburdened with in-depth course material, comprise a unique social group with its own health-related characteristics. So, what is everyone at Carnegie Mellon eating? And when and where are they eating it?

Many college students have started taking a closer look at what — and how — they eat. But what does the University do to keep the population of Carnegie Mellon healthy?

“Food is all about choices, and we provide a lot of choices 16 hours a day,” said Tim Michael, the director of Housing and Dining Services. He explained that the “philosophical reason” behind the University having a meal plan for students is to “help create the social fabric of the school and help first-year students make a connection to the school,” and “to help them be successful.” Fine. That is, in fact, what the dining facilities do — they bring people together, everyone eating the chips, packaged sushi, or waffles from Schatz.

But if Housing and Dining Services says that the dining options on campus unite the student body — and provide (or aim to provide) healthy, “nutritious” food — then what do they say to people who have knowingly gained 10 pounds from the meal plan? “Eating is not just about availability,” Michael said, “it’s about your personal approach.”
Carnegie Mellon students’ personal approaches to eating, though, may not be wholly personally determined. What happens when you’re up late, and obviously hungry?

“I normally get hungry around 12 or 1 o’clock in the morning, usually because I am up working,” said Katie Bergman-Bock, a first-year policy and management student. Other students feel the same way, saying that they get hungry when they’re up late at night — then turn unhealthy snacks into a fourth, very unbalanced meal.

According to Carnegie Mellon Health Services, people are routinely eating instead of sleeping. “When your body is tired, your brain will say, ‘Oh I’m tired, I must need something to eat,’ ” explains Kristine Cecchetti, director of Health Services.

Beyond that, many people are agitated that the ‘O’ is the only food venue open past midnight on a campus where students are notorious for staying up late. While Housing and Dining Services says this is just a coincidence, as the hours of dining services are specific to the venue itself, the idea of very unhealthy food being advertised as a late-night binge does not bode well for the campus’s desired “healthy” image.

“I think it just encourages CMU students to eat greasy foods late at night. There should be another healthy option,” said Janice Weinberg, a first-year information systems student.

However, two new additions to the dining facilities on campus will come in the fall: a Carnegie Mellon Café in Resnik, and the Maggie Murph Café in Hunt Library. Michael boasts that these venues will maintain longer hours of availability.

So do we eat balanced meals?

Probably not. Many students claim their favorite foods on campus include pasta, pizza, cereal, loaded sandwiches, fried foods, and Skibo subs. While everyone is, of course, entitled to indulging in such comforts, it can get out of control with the freedom that comes with college.

The meal plan system of blocks and DineX is one that is supposed to provide structure to our daily lives — act as a nutritious intervention, per se.

“The block is a ‘value meal,’ ” said Michael. It is designed so that students “get a full, nutritious meal” for a supposedly lower price than if the items were bought separately.

However, as Weinberg said, “The meal blocks really screw me over because they include things I don’t even like and big portions ... [and] I don’t have a big appetite.” Other students have echoed the sentiments that the meal blocks are easy, but they often end up feeling like a waste of money.

The diets of Carnegie Mellon students on the meal plan are in fact dictated by its quality. Although Housing and Dining Services does now employ an in-house dietician, Paula Martin, many students agree that it is still difficult to stay healthy while simultaneously balancing a busy work load. If you are content with your Pepperazzi pizza or your Sí Señor quesadilla, rest assured that many of your academic peers are on the same page. But, if you want to change it, you can do that, too. Go to bed earlier (yes, easier said than done), go to the salad bar, and just eat — healthily, contently, and fully.