COA's Blair Dining Hall, affectionately known as Take-a-Break, often features meat and produce from College of the Atlantic farms.COA's Blair Dining Hall, affectionately known as Take-a-Break, often features meat and produce from College of the Atlantic farms.

It’s the fall of my daughter’s senior year in high school, and we’re in the thick of college shopping season. Together we’ve toured a dozen schools – big and small, public and private, urban and rural. These tours are always exciting, but few elements are more entertaining than the trip through the dining hall. The full-spirited guides become especially energized as they describe their “unlimited swipes” meal plans.

“Armed with your student ID, you can eat as much as you wish, at any time of the day or night, as often as you wish. Pizza, ice cream, cappuccino, chicken nuggets …” One school had the College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins ’92.College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins ’92.perverse idea of a declining balance. The poor tour guide had to describe such a heinous system under her breath and was accosted by the parents in the group – “You don’t have unlimited swipes?!”

The caloric intake at some schools must compare to that of many small, impoverished nations. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but consider the suggested daily caloric intake of 2,300 calories, and compare that to the average 2,900 calories consumed by each of the planet’s 7 billion people. With 1 billion to 2 billion people suffering pervasive hunger, that means many of us are eating way more than we need.

Unlimited access to comfort foods might be enticing, but I find it misguided. Food is important and should factor into the college decision-making process, but the focus on quantity sends the wrong message. We should be inspiring prospective students with how food is grown, prepared and consumed. The way we approach our food systems and our daily meals should be considered a vital part of the undergraduate curriculum.

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