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Healthy eating at MIT is crucial

Choice is a deeply held value in student life at MIT. I am writing in defense of a choice that is currently lacking on our campus: an adequate dining plan as one of the options in the residential system.

As someone with a responsibility to promote health and fitness for the MIT community, I speak with students all the time about nutrition and eating habits. When we developed our health and wellness curriculum in 2007 for the Physical Education program, student input was critical. In addition, more than 300 students have now taken the nutrition/fitness course we developed as part of the GIR drawing from that input. What have we learned from the students? That they perceive numerous barriers to healthy eating on campus, including breadth of choice, time, availability, cost, knowledge, and accessibility—and that these obstacles have persisted for years.

The new House Dining program reduces the hurdles for students who want to eat healthy. Every week I work with students who are dissatisfied with their dining patterns, who tell me they want to eat better than they do, and who wish there was an option on our campus to support them in forming healthier habits. In true MIT fashion, these students are often scientifically and practically oriented: they know that studies show a strong link between healthy eating and improved academic performance. They know why it’s important to eat healthy, what happens when they don’t, and that “eating healthy” doesn’t mean a complete overhaul of their diet.

But they also know that their options are very limited right now at MIT. Such students — and I acknowledge that this isn’t all students — want access to a comprehensive dining plan and a supportive eating environment. I look forward to the new House Dining program because I believe they should have that choice.

Carrie Sampson Moore

Director, Physical Education

DAPER supports dining reform

Last year, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) executive committee, a group that represents the varsity athletes at-large to the DAPER administration as well as to the NEWMAC and NCAA, conducted a general health and wellness survey of student-athletes. The survey showed that 75 percent of student-athletes considered nutrition a top priority, but only 39 percent said that healthy food is easily accessible.

Last winter, when the SAAC executive committee and team captains were asked to give input into the HDAG/dining process, it was a unique opportunity for their voice to be heard. Even though varsity athletes comprise between 20-25 percent of the undergraduate population at MIT, many of them continually have expressed concern about proper nutrition and even getting enough to eat on campus. These students were asked to review and give input on the different ideas for the dining plan, and then were asked to obtain feedback and ideas from their teams and the general student-athlete population. The response from the student-athletes was extremely positive; in fact, many of them wanted the all-you-care-to-eat plan to be implemented this fall rather than next fall.

With all the talk on campus about student choice and dining, I am struck by how this significant student constituency does not have a choice they desperately need: an all-you-care-to-eat option in the residence halls and more than just dinner. Knowing that we also have 900 club athletes on campus, many of whom compete at a level requiring a substantial caloric intake, we in DAPER believe this is the right plan for the campus community, not just the varsity athletes.

I know that some students are concerned about the changes. We in DAPER have been waiting a long time for a plan that addresses the needs of our student-athletes and the campus community. We have that plan now, and we support it for the sake of many.

Julie Soriero

Department Head / Director of Athletics

Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER)

Editor’s Note: The following letters were addressed to Dean of Student Life Chris Colombo and copied to The Tech, as part of a letter-writing campaign in response to Dean Colombo’s Monday announcement on dining reform. A total of 58 letters were sent as of Wednesday evening.

Teach students to cook for themselves

First of all, I appreciate the efforts you have made in trying to fix the dining situation for the MIT undergraduates. I think it should be said that it is no easy task and you seem to be putting the best possible effort into it.

While reading the current proposal, I could not help but to find it reasonable — until I saw the price tag. The plan would cost well over $10 a meal; for this price, students could have each meal cooked for them by a professional chef in most eating establishments in Boston. If students could simply go to any restaurant and purchase all of their meals at the same price (probably even less, to be honest), the entire concept of a dining plan seems incredibly contrived.

This led me to think about the dining situation in general. It seems to me that restaurants, such as those in the student center, make a decent profit selling (mediocre) food to students and it confuses me as to how any food establishment in the basement of a dormitory could possibly not make an enormous profit. I am sure that, even if MIT were to charge absolutely exorbitant rates, several restaurants would be able to run a highly profitable business in the basement of a dormitory if they were given the opportunity to rent it.

On top of the practical issues, I also question where it is MIT’s responsibility to feed its students. As an institution that has historically done things differently (a tradition I believe many of us are quite proud of), I think MIT should consider outside possibilities. At some point in the very near future, current students will have to learn to feed themselves. As a resident of a non-dining hall, I have learned that I am in fact incredibly fond of cooking (something I had done little of before arriving at MIT), and even bake different kinds of artisan bread on a regular basis for myself and hallmates. Perhaps the option of expanding kitchens and offering cooking classes would be a better use of resources both now and in the long run?

Alejandro Ruiz ’12

Parents against dining

As parents of a MIT student, we are most disappointed with Colombo’s latest offer. It is inadequate at addressing student and parent concerns, extremely expensive, and completely at odds with the independence that MIT has always fostered in students on and off campus. We sincerely hope you will truly listen to student concerns on this topic — after all, every student on your campus is smart, thoughtful, and articulate — that’s why you accepted them in the first place!

Carol and Gary Levin

Work with the UA on dining

I’m writing to express my displeasure at the modified House Dining program emailed on Monday afternoon. There have been no significant amendments to the dining plan as it will apply to members of the class of 2014 and beyond. The transition plan may placate some upperclassmen, the ones with most likely to make a stink about the issue, but it does nothing to address the fact that the dining plan is fundamentally flawed. The dining plan is too expensive, too inflexible, and will erode the culture of MIT dorms and FSILGs. You acknowledge these concerns in your email, but I don’t see how the modified dining plan addresses any of them.

I do not feel that the House Dining Advisory Group, even though it consists of undergraduates, represents my interests about the dining plan: I didn’t elect them. I did elect my dorm’s representatives in the Undergraduate Association. Please, Dean Colombo, work with the UA in developing real modifications to the current dining plan. It is the only way I’ll trust the plan to be sustainable and also to uphold the interests of MIT students.

Allison Schneider ’13