By: Zahira Vazquez Pacheco
Staying healthy is one of the most important factors in college life. Students at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez face a huge barrier when it comes to finding a nutritious meal within such a busy time schedule. For most students, there are only three options; fast foods, the campus cafeteria or bringing your own food from home.
Fast food restaurants have always been recognized for their high-fat, high-calorie food options, but their fast working environment makes it an advantage for students that are on a busy schedule and don’t have much time on their hands . Mayagüez Town Center offers a variety of well-known restaurants such as Wendy’s, “El Meson Sandwiches”, Church’s Chicken, and Taco Maker just within a short distance walk.
“I always have to go to the Town Center’s food court and eat at the fast food with the shortest line to be able to get to class on time,” said the 3rd year political science student, Salvador Pérez.
Time is a key element in college students not getting the right nutrition they need. Healthy foods aren’t so common among college environments. Most students go by the phrase “the faster the better” even if it’s not necessarily better for their health. Cooking healthy meals requires time and effort which many students lack of.
Raquel, a 4th year Nursing student said, “I know how to cook really good but I don’t have time to make something before I leave to class and I’m always too tired to cook when I get home late, so I usually just pick up something from a fast food.”
Obesity has begun to have a huge effect on college students at the UPRM because of the high number of them that turn to fast foods. Puerto Rico’s obesity rate was 22 percent as of 2002 and overweight rate was 39.6 percent, according to the statistical website tendencias.com. These rates have continued to rise over the last years due to bad eating habits and low exercise lifestyles. It has been predicted that in the next 30 years, 80 percent of Puerto Ricans will be obese, according to an investigation in Dorado, Puerto Rico last March.
“Not all students are obese but most of them will be in a nearby future if they keep eating at fast food restaurants,” stated Barbara Vazquez, a loyal customer of the UPRM campus cafeteria.
The second option students have is the campus cafeteria. It is currently ran by the multinational Food and Facilities Management Service, Sodexo. This company claims to have years of experience in serving hygienic, nutritious and quality food all around the globe, as stated on the company’s website. At UPRM, Sodexo hasn’t been very appealing to students. Even a boycott against the campus cafeteria was organized by students for not providing the promised service.
“The campus cafeteria has very few healthy options, but they are kind of pricey. A plate with just rice, beans, and a little piece of chicken can easily count up to seven dollars,” Salvador said.
Barbara added, “Prices are high, but you would spend about the same in a fast food restaurant, and plus fast foods get tiring.”
Recently Sodexo had to close the facility due to health risks. It was rumored that there was an invasion of rats, as stated in a news report on the online newspaper “La Estrella”.
“The cafeteria is nasty. They don’t clean, the food tastes horrible, stupid prices and it’s probably full of rats and other pesticides,” exclaimed Yashira Rodriguez, a 5th year office administration student.
The third option UPRM students have is to bring along their own food from home. It’s cost-effective and more nutritious than visiting a nearby fast food restaurant or the campus cafeteria. But a very low percentage of the student population actually bring along their food. The UPRM doesn’t have a designated area with microwaves for student use. Those who carry their food will most likely end up eating it cold. Another barrier against home packed meals is that students at UPRM already have tons of books and other materials to carry, that adding a lunchbox would be too much to handle and something most students aren’t willing to do.
“There is nowhere on campus to warm up food, the cafeteria doesn’t let us use their microwaves, but if there were a place to do this I think many more students would bring food from home,” stated Tatiana Colon, a 2nd year Industrial Engineering student.
Living a healthy lifestyle is an option. College students may face challenges when it comes to finding the right things to eat or the time to exercise but in the end it is the student that makes the final decision.