There is a near-unanimous consensus amongst students that the mess food simply isn’t good enough. It’s oily, it lacks vegetables, and it can cause liver conditions, amongst other things. But, as we are only human, we still need to eat. So we look at the alternatives to mess food.
While most people on campus agree that there are sufficient alternatives to mess food on or near campus, opinion is divided regarding their healthiness. Revati, for one, would suffer through mess food every day of the week rather than buy food from M’s, one of the stores on campus that also sells food. “Have you seen the condition of the store? I wouldn’t be surprised if it spawns the next Black Plague. Give me mess food any day over that stuff”were her exact words. This is a fairly popular opinion – while the mess receives a lot of flak for its lack of hygiene, its competitors are just as bad. Mama’s ingredients are exposed to flies, and the dhabas outside campus use just as much oil, if not more, as the mess.
Conditions in which food is prepared in the mess
However, there is a significant chunk of students who believe that the alternatives are far superior to mess food. Lawrence eats non-mess food on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, and claims that he can’t survive without the various alternatives. “I’d die man, I’d die if I had to eat that shit every week”he said, in reference to the infamous Tuesday lunch. Hygienic or not, a lot of people agree that non-mess food simply tastes better. And this is sufficient incentive for students to disregard their health concerns. Moreover, the alternatives are free of some of the constraints of the mess. For example, during Ganesh Chaturthi, the mess refuses to prepare chicken. However, a student who wants to eat meat will find it at PM (another “cafe”on campus). His craving for meat overrides any hygiene concerns he may have. In fact, Lawrence and his ilk would eat outside the mess more often if only they had more money to spare.
This leads us to the next issue – eating non-mess food isn’t exactly cheap. A fair amount of people estimate that their monthly expenditure on food was about 20% of their total budget. And so a lot of students are faced with the dilemma of enjoying a meal that doesn’t taste like cardboard, and having to ask their parents for an advance on their next allowance. And this has a cascading effect on one’s social life – by the time the weekend rolls around, people have spent so much money on food that they don’t have enough to go see the latest movie, or visit a “real”restaurant with “real”food. This in turn leads to students leading more boring lives in general, because they’re unable to get out as often as they’d like.
Another thing about the food that is served in these cafes is that it falls under the category of junk food. Junk Food is appealing due to convenience, price and taste. Its appeal is magnified in a college where the mess serves poor quality food.
When we asked students as to whether the quality of food in the mess compels them to have food outside, a whopping 86 percent of students said it does force them to eat outside, while 14 percent said that they have food outside only when they want to and not just because of the quality of the mess food.
The alternatives like M’s and PM serve junk food, including snacks which are oily and high on the calorie count. When we asked Mangeshas to why he eats at M and PM after knowing that the food at these outlets isn’t healthy, he replied that he doesn’t care about the calorie count or the oily food, what he cares is only the fact that on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays (when he usually eats out), the food in the mess is not edible.
Eating snack foods that are high in fat and calories does contribute to weight gain. When the students were asked as to whether they observed any body weight issues after coming to the college, there was a also a substantial chunk of students who say that they have gained weight after coming to the college, specially due to eating at M’s, PM, Chacha’s. The food available at these outlets, though tasty isn’t very healthy, it contains too much oil. Anmol says that he was 78 Kg when he joined the college last year and now he is just 67, which he claims is due to eating too much at M’s and PM. Indu who gained 5 KGs this semester, attributes it to the life style, which doesn’t include much physical activities or sports due to the burden of studies, though she also that there is an association between eating high-calorie, nutrient-poor food and poor health.
Deepti says that on Tuesday lunch and Sunday dinner, when according to her the food is not edible she resorts to junk food. Jeetu says that he cannot afford to eat outside mess and hence has to eat whatever the mess serves, he also interestingly points out that, there might be a politics behind serving bad food so that the consumption is less and profits are more.
So many of these health issues which the students face due to eating junk food can be solved, if the quality of food in the mess is improved. This would also reduce the burden on the pocket of students. It can be concluded from the responses we received that there is a lack of will on the side of the contractor of the mess in serving good quality food as the students have observed the mess serving phenomenally good food during admission days and during the end of every semester.
FOOD AND HEALTH
Also something else we found surprising was that most people in college didn’t relate their health to the food they were eating at all. You are what you eat is an age old adage and till we actually got down to survey people at college we thought it was something most people believed in. It was only about fifty percent of the people we interviewed who though college mess food had any impact on their health or energy levels while they are at college. This was very surprising to all of us as the general conversation around food on campus is more often than not about how unhealthy the food is.Ravindra was one of the few people we talked to for whom the link between the food and its effect on our health came out clearly. He said, “There is no point to elaborate any thing it is visible from the quality of food we get here.” In addition to him there were a significant people who thought that the food in college was making them put on weight as it was very oily. Manjulita for instance had the following to say about the food and its effect on her general mental and physical well being, “I generally feel much more lethargic, might have gained weight too probably because of all the extra unhealthy junk food”. People like Rsihika and Lalita saw a direct correlation between the lack of green vegetables in our food to iron and vitamin deficiencies they suffer on campus. Last year at a blood donation camp that was held on campus most female students were told to refrain from donation blood as they had low hemoglobin levels. Vitamin and iron deficiency has been shown to directly effect your energy levels yet not many people were able to make that connect with how lethargic they feel. Akhilesh and Shreyashee did however say that they feel more light and enthusiastic at home and manage to do more things in a day at home than in college. However, they were not very sure if food was the causation. Charu linked the lack of vitamin to the hair loss she was suffering on campus. A large group of people agreed that their stomachs were usually upset on campus. Bhat said that this was not only due to mess food but also because of having food at one of the small canteens that have opened on campus. Anita shared with us that in her first year she had to use the washroom every time she would eat a meal in the mess. It is also interesting to focus on how so many people didn’t see any correlation between the food they eat and the health conditions they have developed after coming to campus. Some of them admitted to not being observant of the effects the food has on them and hence they couldn’t give us a definitive answer. The more cheeky ones amongst us on being asked if they developed health issues after having had mess food said that while they were fine they have heard that a certain professor has developed liver issues because of the mess food. Irrespective of whether the correlation or causation was made by the student body the food needs to become more nutritious and use less oil in its preparation. People on campus might then become aware of the positive effect the food will have on their mental and physical health.
It is common knowledge that where monopoly exists, one is left with fewer options. Since various complaints have been heard time and again about the quality of food, or the wastage of food, one of the serious alternatives that can be looked into has been the existence of the token system-which basically refers to purchasing (via tokens) certain quantities of food as much as one requires at each meal. When we asked the student body of the viability of such a token system, a whooping 90 percent opted for a token system over a buffet system.
This of course brings about the question as to whether such a system would bring about a reduction in wastage of food or improvement in the quality of food. When we asked around, Kanika vehemently stated that such a token system would bring about no change in terms of either. This opinion was surprisingly voiced by around 10 per cent of those who voted on the proposal. However, the majority believed it would definitely bring about an improvement in both. As we were analyzing the results, we came to the interesting finding that while people had the option to choose which of the following a token system would impact most- wastage of food has emerged as a higher priority concern over improvisation of food quality. This clearly depicts the fact that wastage of food is a bigger concern in the present rather than the food quality, which is surprising, considering most of the concerns that are voiced generally surround the quality of food!
When we asked whether it was more viable to have a student run mess system or one as exists currently with the mess contractor at the pinnacle, we received a plethora of options. About 20 per cent of the people had not really thought about the issue. However, the rest of the people who responded to the questionnaire were largely in favour of an over hauling of the system with the mess contractor. Rajesh proposed an alternative in the form of having a competitive mess system wherein there would be two contractors (as in the case of another law school). He raised a valid concern with respect to geographical considerations of the student body affecting the kind of food that is provided. The anguish was clearly felt, especially when Sairam said, “Fire the mess contractor”. However, it was also balanced by some moderate voices that sought to remedy the situation by having a greater participatory role for the student body so as to take the student’s opinions into account. Thus, there was no unanimity in this aspect of the discussion, the opinions largely heard mainly focused towards a reform in the system since there seem to be a general attitude of discontent prevailing with the existing situation.
There are serious issues with the food on campus, whether it be the mess or its alternatives. However, the fact that there are alternatives at all is encouraging. And none of the issues are insurmountable. There is hope that in a few years, campus food will be, if not excellent, at least of a decent standard.
(This is a college assignment and not a regular blog entry on this blog)