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You know what I am talking about: Our stomach’s guilty conscience

By Siri Murthy UG25

Mid-semester and end semester is the most dreaded time for students in any educational institution. Exam stress, staring at blank submission deadlines and coordinating group projects become a daily feature. In such high-pressure environments, it is natural that students resort to unhealthy amounts of junk food, especially chips, chocolates and coffee at odd hours of the day.

When asked about their eating patterns during mid-sem and end semester, one UG’23 student remarked, “I consume twice as much coffee as I would otherwise”. Another sighed, “I ate three packets of lays before my last exam”. However, both agreed that such an unhealthy pattern of eating does not stem from only dealing with exam stress or coping with deadlines. It is assimilated into the ethos and student culture on campus.

It is fashionable to grab a coffee empty stomach on the pretext of sleep deprivation for a morning class. It becomes habitual to order THC in the middle of a winter night. Although I agree that junk food is consumed copiously on any other college campus, Ashoka was built on the promise to create a difference not only academically but also in student culture. The fact that we are a completely residential campus associates greater responsibility with the students. We enjoy greater academic freedom. We do our own laundry and are entrusted to maintain healthy sleep schedules. Eating habits fall within the same spectrum. Naturally, in accordance with the education imparted here, the students must be on a journey to inculcate and imbibe these values.

However, when inquired about the students’ responsibility in maintaining a healthy eating cycle, some indicated that this vicious unhealthy eating cycle is a product of the kind of food that is available on campus. A UG’24 student said that Ashoka facilitates such eating patterns with the installation of vending machines in every residence hall.

“I eat finger foods like chips because that is the most convenient and available almost everywhere,” a UG’25 student remarked. They also hinted at a possible freedom trap for freshmen students. Since it is the first time many freshmen students like myself have financial freedom and no restrictions, it is easy to go out of our way and consume the junk food available in surplus across campus at odd times.

It has only exacerbated since returning from the winter break. New installations of Nescafé and two new vending machines in AC 02 are also making junk food more accessible to students. They do not prefer walking to the Dhabha or Dosai for a cup of tea. Néscafe, which is also closer to the RHs becomes a natural next option.

It is not only the amount of junk food that is available that feeds into unhealthy eating habits; proximity is another major factor. Apart from the vending machines, the library cafe located in AC04 registers a considerable amount of students between class timings. An ASP’23 said, “most of my classes are in AC04, the library cafe makes it easier to work and eat at the same time. Otherwise, I would have to walk till mess, which can interfere with my schedule”. When asked if they would frequent the library cafe as much if it started selling more healthy items like salads, and smoothies as opposed to brownies and coffee, they remarked that it depends on what the case is. “I would keep an eye out for the mess food snacks in that case”, said another UG’24 student.

These responses clearly show that first-year freedom, proximity and surplus of junk food have cumulatively produced an unhealthy eating pattern in the student population. In the midst of this, a group of YIF students have embarked on setting up a healthy sattvic food joint on campus. They have curated responses from the students and would be modelling their menu based on these responses.

Although it is an appreciable initiative, I have concerns about the project’s reach. One of which is that unhealthy patterns of eating have permeated into the student culture to such an extent that an overnight remedy to the situation is a distinct dream. Even if a healthy food joint opens in the stipulated time frame of 6-12 months, it is likely to register a low turnout until the students are mobilized to consciously consume healthy snacks and foods.

Healthy food even outside the Ashoka campus is quite expensive. Considering that Ashoka has students from varied financial brackets, it is crucial to keep the foods affordable and yet make profits. With in mind that the joint itself will take some time to gain popularity. Prices too cannot frequently fluctuate over the semester.

This cannot be the only initiative to foster a culture of healthy eating on campus. I agree that many students on campus are health-conscious and maintain a regular gym routine. Yet healthy eating habits can help maintain good physical and mental health. Ashoka’s administration and student government must take some responsibility and strategize to foster more healthy eating patterns on campus.

Selling unhealthy foods across campus and merely pointing to the presence of a state-of-the-art gym will not fulfil this duty of the administration. Although a liberal education and the residential campus provide a greater responsibility to the students, the choices are very minimal. The mess and TKS offer healthy alternatives. But the mess is also not open at odd hours of the night. Other options like vending machines, and Nescafé are open virtually all the time. In that case, where do we go for a quick healthy snack at night?

This is not to hold the students any less responsible. After all, we have four years to spend here, might as well stay healthy!

You know what I am talking about

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