Below is a fabulous Letter-to-the-Editor from fellow Smithie and student blogger Jackie, published this past Thursday in the Sophian, our student newspaper.

Jackie’s letter addresses Smith’s recent decision to post nutrition information (calories, grams of fat, protein, etc.) on the dining menus available online.

To the Editor:

As a senior at Smith, I’ve seen many unfortunate changes take place within our campus and community, many as a result of recent budget cuts. Despite this, I adore Smith College, and it pains me when the administration or offices on campus make choices that are out of touch with the needs and desires of the students. Dining Services’ recent decision to provide nutritional information alongside the online menus strikes me as a choice that, while surely well-intentioned, reflects an ignorance of the type of student body we have.

I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for nine years, and though recovered now, know many other Smithies who also deal with eating disorders and disordered eating. Although I have no hard facts, my personal estimate is that at least 20% of our campus has had some struggles with this, if not more. It is nearly epidemic.

While attempting to fight a mental illness and maintain a real concept of what healthy eating looks like, easy access to calorie counts can be devastating and a real setback. I have no doubt that many of the students dealing with EDs on campus can estimate the calories in their food with startling accuracy, but I see no legitimate reason to provide us with the cold hard facts to further enable eating disorders. Even for students who may be trying to lose weight for legitimate health reasons, given Smith’s style of dining services, it’s hard to make healthy choices if you realize the mac n’ cheese has a bazillion calories, but there’s no other real option presented except the salad bar, which does not a dinner make.

I fully support Dining Services in publishing allergy information, ingredient lists, sodium, and the like, and even macronutrients like carbohydrates and protein. Providing this information gives individuals with health conditions the ability to eat with confidence that they won’t be adversely affected by their food, and that’s great. But to put the fat grams and calorie counts for foods I’ve eaten, blissfully ignorant of their caloric values over the past three years, seems to be a decision out of touch with the needs of Smith’s unique student body. Women already fight an uphill battle in trying to treat their bodies with love and respect, and Smith shouldn’t make this any harder than it has to be.

Sincerely,
J.S.

First off, I applaud Jackie for making her voice heard. Like she says, Smith has made quite a few decisions in recent years (phasing out college chaplains, for example) that have angered the student body. Yes, cuts must be made to maintain a viable college budget, but many such cost-saving measures seem to have gone too far. Similarly, with Dining Services’ decision to publish the nutritional and caloric break-down of our beloved vegan Caesar salad, chocolate chip brownies and cheddar-broccoli bake, we students have once again a chance to make our opposition heard.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jackie on this issue. Smith College is home to 2,500-some young women who regularly push themselves for excellence in the classroom, on the soccer field and in all aspects of their lives. As a result of our collective tendency towards perfectionism, it is unsurprising that many Smithies have struggled or struggle with disordered eating and eating disorders. As Jackie points out, providing such students with yet another reminder of the ways in which food (that which is meant to nourish and sustain) can ohmygod! make you fat! is unnecessary and in fact harmful.

Because I am often at UMass for Anatomy & Physiology and Biochem., I eat most lunches in the university dining halls. Beyond providing far greater variety (and soft-serve!), UMass also adorns its many eating options with nutrition tags. Brown rice, I read today, contains 107 calories per serving, and 1.4 grams of fiber. Couscous, on the other hand, contains only 100 calories per serving, but less fiber. Interesting for a future nutritionist, yes, but dangerous information in the hands of someone who has struggled with disordered eating.

I understand as Jackie does that such nutrition tags can help students avoid allergic reactions, and influence a student to pick a protein-rich item over one that has comparatively little protein, but, especially on a campus where so many of us attach undue meaning and importance to food, publishing such information can be quite damaging.

If Sally Smithie reads that her favorite pasta dish contains 200 calories more than another entrée, she may decide to forgo the pasta. It is Sally’s right as owner of her body to choose what goes into said body, but what if Sally is a recovering anorexic? The dining halls then becomes a minefield for S.S. and similar students for whom eating is no second-nature affair.

I understand that Dining Services’ intentions are good, but I must, like Jackie, remind the administration that such a decision should not be undertaken without consideration of the myriad ways in which making calorie- and fat-counts part of the dining experience can endanger the health of the student body.

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