Eating healthy means avoiding the ‘food trap’

Columnist Sarah Sanders explains uncontrollable, unhealthy eating habits. Since the birth of this column in September, hopefully I’ve made you think more than you wanted to about food – at least once. Maybe you were

Columnist Sarah Sanders explains uncontrollable, unhealthy eating habits.

Since the birth of this column in September, hopefully I’ve made you think more than you wanted to about food – at least once. Maybe you were in Johnson &

Hardwick cafeteria and realized a lot of the food served is the same color or different shades of brownish tan. Perhaps it was your lunch break, and you were failing to think of a lunch truck that serves a nice green salad.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been sitting on a bench with an empty bag of Cheez-Its and another empty bag of Skittles, feeling unsatisfied and a little sick.

The horrible, cynical, pessimistic truth is that most of us have fallen into a food trap. Unless you’re making the effort to grow, kill and harvest all of the food you consume, you rely on someone else. Some of us are a little more dependent than others.Screen shot 2010-11-02 at 12.01.47 AM

College students have a lot going on: papers, exams, jobs, relationships, second jobs and the occasional party. Consequently, it makes sense that food quality is a low priority. You might even say that Temple students pride themselves on their expertise concerning cheap food. We like General Tso’s, lo mein, Maxi’s pizza and cheesesteaks because they’re salty, abundant and inexpensive.

However, I think this era of our lives also serves as a predictor for how we take care of ourselves later. After all, how is a full-time career – or a full-time job search – any less time-consuming than four years in college? On top of entering the real world, you’ll have more bills and college loans to pay back.

But I’m not trying to scare you into a super-senior year at Temple. In his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan reveals one out of five American meals is eaten in a car. This finding shows convenience remains a priority throughout our lives. Being a student isn’t any different from retirement; we’re all victims to the food trap.

I think about my food a lot – not just about how it tastes, but where it comes from, what it contains and how it’s going to impact my body. So when I’m sitting on a bench with a bag of Skittles, I ask myself, “Why did you even buy this?” The answer is indubitably, “I was hungry.” Hungry for something sweet, no doubt. I know I would have preferred raspberries, but you’d be hard-pressed to find those on Main Campus.

I could have gone to Fresh Grocer, but late-November raspberries are never very fresh. Most likely they came from a nonorganic farm in a South American country, which means I’m paying for more than just raspberries.

Nevertheless, I could have bought what I wanted, as opposed to Skittles, which give me a stomachache. But as I stood there at 12th Street and Polett Walk, I could think of at least three locations within half a block where I could find Skittles – or something sugary like Swedish Fish.

Why walk all the way to Fresh Grocer to buy some potentially soggy, flavorless raspberries when the sickeningly sweet taste of candy is so predictably mediocre? Plus, I pay less than $1 for sweets and usually almost $5 for quality fruit.

This example demonstrates the four elements of the food trap. First, there is the craving. In my last column, I discussed the consequences of our evolutionary history: We’re addicted to carbs and salt, so the taste is what gets you yearning.

The next two elements are interchangeable in terms of individual priorities. Maybe time is at hand, so riding your bike or the subway to a Philadelphia food co-op as opposed to Fresh Grocer isn’t practical. And making a vegetable stir-fry, as quick as it can be, just won’t fit into your night of studying.

For many of us, however, money is always the issue. Processed food items are inevitably cheaper than their fresh counterparts. Organic fruits and veggies are usually more expensive than those treated with chemical pesticides. Government subsidies, mass production and the media portrayal of “health food” make the ideal meal seem impossible. Time and money force us to settle.

That settling represents the last food trap element: the sacrifice. Some of you may not realize what you’re giving up by giving into convenience food, but there are plenty of people – including myself – who make decisions contrary to what they prefer when it comes to grocery shopping or buying lunch on campus. We not only sacrifice our health but also our own enjoyment of quality, prepared meals as well.

This food trap is complicated but not foolproof. So this week, I’ll give you an Obama-tastic recipe for change – seeing as how you can’t say the word anymore without invoking his holy face.

Sarah Sanders can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. I would argue that most comments are usually left by people complaining, while people who agree usually don’t say anything. This article was a fantastic and fair analysis of what it’s like to be literally surrounded by cheap greasy food all the time.

    I think most people don’t realize that food truck food is delicious, but has absolutely no nutritional value. And the side dish is always fries, never fruit or a salad. There is so little fresh food here to be bought, and the lack of energy from eating the wrong foods leads to feeling more sick. Not to mention the unhealthy slop at J&H.

    The worst part is North Philly at night is a haven of chinese food, pizza, candy & booze. Obviously people don’t have to eat it, but the availability is overwhelming and hard to shrug off.

    Definitely gotta go to the Fresh Grocer and cook fresh for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I wish Insomnia Cookies would post their nutrition info online too!

    Great article, hope there’s more like it.

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