A College Student’s Guide to Eating Well

This past spring, Sno-Isle Food Co-op partnered with Ian Porter, a co-op owner and a writing and communication instructor at University of Washington-Bothell, to have an essay contest for the students in his class. The prompt of the essay was about eating well, and what eating well means to the writer. While each of the essays we read were thoughtful and well-written, biology major Dylan Sweeney’s essay came out on top! We hope you enjoy reading this essay as much as we did.

A College Student’s Guide to Eating Well

By Dylan Sweeney

Most American consumers would come to the conclusion that America is doing well with our food. Consumers can walk into any local supermarket, and select from a plethora of diverse food. While our society has more access to food than ever before, this luxury has come at a cost. Nowadays, the average consumer does not know much about what they are eating, often overlooking details like where their food is coming from. Shouldn’t the consumer know how the food was handled? Most importantly, how do we know if the food offered in supermarkets is safe to eat?

These questions introduce an overarching question that connects to American food culture: what does it mean to eat well? This is a subject that professionals have been studying for years, ranging from research scientists breaking down food to its raw components, to savvy nutritionists who push the latest diet trends to their patrons. Widespread dedication to this topic is a tribute to the challenges it presents. The choices we make as a consumer have effects they may not immediately see: effects on personal and public health, environmental concerns, even our social and mental well-being are all at stake when it comes to eating well. In this essay, I will be examining the various parts of the food industry. By doing this I hope to provide a basic understanding of what I believe eating well means, while also providing real life examples that highlight aspects of eating well in the form of a simple dish: spaghetti and meatballs. To eat well is a continuous effort to gain knowledge of where our food comes from. In the practice of eating well, consumption of food that is sustainable for future generations is essential. Beyond this, toeat well comes from the act of sitting down with others to enjoy a meal, an action of eating that American culture has grown away from.

In any supermarket, there is imagery of rural America everywhere. Corporations place this imagery around their stores because it is a good marketing strategy. Imaginings of rural America on the consumer subtly conveys the food they buy was grown and raised on a picturesque farm. Corporations do not want their customers to realize is that most of their products comes from a place that share more similarities with a dirty factory than the traditional farm. Supermarket meat is a prime example of this type of filthy food production. The film Food Inc. shows how large scale corporations are able to produce enough beef to feed the world. The things Robert Kenner and his team captured on film is quite disturbing. Hundreds of cows are shown confined in a small spaces, often standing in a collection cow excrement. These poor animals are raised in this environment for the majority their life before being butchered and sold for us to eat. Even if consumers ignore the ethical dilemma this situation presents, this type of business practice poses a danger to public health. Cows raised in this environment have shown to pose a higher risk of infection compared to cows raised traditionally. This means supermarket beef is in constant danger of infecting us with pathogens like E. coli. To eat well, It is important to develop an understanding of where food comes from and make our choices as consumers based off of this knowledge. The best way to avoid contamination in food is avoiding companies that sell mass quantities of food products. Instead, try and purchase food from local sources. The dish I made to accompany [this essay] incorporated meatballs made from ground beef which were purchased from my local farmers market.

To eat well goes beyond thinking about ourselves. Establishing a culture where the food consumed comes from a sustainable source. This is imperative to the environment and the consumers wallet. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan compares sustainability of corporation food production, to Polyface farms: known for their unconventional methods of growing food. The practice of using corn as a source of food for farm animals looks good on paper, Pollan acknowledges that a field of corn is able to provide more food for an animal while also accelerating their growth because of corns high energy content. In addition, growing corn is cheaper than other sources of food for farm animals. There are other costs to consider for a corn based diet however. Pollan suggests that this cost “doesn't take account of that meal's true cost-to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution)” (Pollan 200-201). Many of these indirect costs to the consumer’s wallet and the environment are avoidable simply by not buying corn fed meat. By doing this, you cast a vote as a consumer, promoting a culture that provides food that is sustainable fore everyone to enjoy.

Considering the physical act of eating is another facet to eating well. American food culture has encouraged eating away from the dinner table setting. As a college student, I find it challenging to eat with others. The people I would eat with, my room mates, live busy lives and because of this, we usually end up cooking food to feed ourselves rather than cooking food for everyone in our dorm. I often find myself eating in front of a TV, smartphone, or by myself. This habit of eating alone encourages overeating. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food compares the food culture of America vs the food culture instilled in the French. Pollan introduces the concept of “the French Paradox” which questions how the French diet consists of lots of saturated fat and wine yet, the French are generally slender. At face value, this seems impossible. Yet, Pollan states what the French paradox “fails to see is a people with a completely different relationship to food than we have… They seldom snack, and they eat most of their food at meals shared with other people. They eat small portions and don’t come back for seconds. And they spend considerably more time eating than we do.” (Pollan 182). The notion that the French spend more time eating than Americans makes sense. When you sit down and engage with others while eating, it distracts from the act of actually eating. This allows time to realize when you are actually full, eliminating potential to overeat. Engaging in dinner conversation also benefits mental well-being, while also providing a place to practice social skills. I cooked enough spaghetti and meatballs to share with my room mates and made sure I worked around their schedules so that we could all enjoy the meal when it was served. This is something I want to do more with others in the future because it is essential to eating well.

To conclude, eating well is a lifestyle choice. By choosing this way of life, you commit to an independent pursuit of food knowledge beyond the packaging. To do this consistently may sound difficult; people are busy with daily responsibilities and may not have enough time for extensive research on every product they purchase. You do not need to have information of food to this degree, rather small life choices can go a long way. Choosing to shop at places that sell local organic products exclusively like a local farmers market or food co-ops allows you as a consumer to take control of the food products available for purchase. Simple lifestyle choices like not eating alone can make a tremendous difference when it comes to eating well. Taking all the facts and statistics away, the act of eating should be an enjoyable experience shared with others. This how eating has been depicted in many traditions, and in my opinion, the way it should be. Eating is a luxury and should be celebrated as a way to connect with others. Use this celebration of eating as a way to change American food culture for the better.


About the Author

Name: Dylan Sweeney

Age: 20

University: University of Washington Bothell

Major: Biology

Hometown: Spokane, WA

Interests: Basketball, baseball, hiking/backpacking, technology, and medicine 

Rebekah West