Food-shaming signage doesn’t belong in Temple dining halls

Two students urge Temple University to improve nutritional signage on campus to decrease disordered eating amongst students.


Content warning: This article contains mentions of eating disorders and calories. 

March was National Nutrition Month, and April 7 is World Health Day, but it’s important to continue promoting healthier mindsets and behaviors about eating throughout the year. 

Temple University’s most readily available nutritional resources are signs posted in dining spaces, like large displays of calorie totals in Morgan Dining Hall and posters and the food court in the Howard Gittis Student Center, directing students on how to make meals healthier. However, some signs perpetuate harmful eating habits and mindsets rather than being informative. 

For many students, college is the first time they have complete control of what they eat. Dining halls are often where disordered eating habits emerge, especially when there are endless choices.

However, Temple can play a vital role in helping students establish healthy eating habits. The university should replace harmful language and labels in dining halls and food courts with informed signage to empower students to make guilt-free meal choices. 

Morgan Dining Hall and the Johnson and Hardwick dining hall display all foods’ calorie counts to help with mindful eating, but displaying only calorie counts can be triggering for students who struggle with eating disorders. 

Counting calories can become an obsession for some, leading to an unhealthy relationship with food. It makes the consumer feel guilt for eating anything that falls outside of one’s designated calorie range, Time Magazine reported.

At Morgan Dining Hall, calorie information is displayed on large, hard-to-miss screens above each station, making them difficult to ignore. 

“I work with a lot of students who struggle with eating disorders and disordered eating, and I’ve definitely seen a negative impact with posted calories on that population,” said Lori Lorditch, the senior health services coordinator of Temple’s student health-operations.

Harvard University, University of British Columbia, University of Montana and Saint Anselm College removed calorie cards from their dining halls. Instead, they offer a website for students with special dietary needs or athletes who wish to know calorie and nutritional information. 

By removing calorie cards, these universities shifted toward a realistic approach to healthy eating, taking into account the nutritional value and the individual’s relationship with food, not just the quantity being consumed. 

However, counting calories isn’t harmful to everyone, as some students and athletes use calorie surpluses and deficiencies to aid their fitness journeys. Temple can provide a QR code that students can scan to see additional nutrition information. With this, Temple can continue to provide this information to those who use it while keeping it out of sight of the students who might find it harmful.

“I think when you start to kind of label food by like certain, either healthy or unhealthy, good, bad or even when it comes to the calories, like you’re kind of labeling food by a numeric value, and I just feel like there’s so much more to it than just a numeric value,” Lorditch said.

Some students, like Elizabeth Knight, feel overwhelmed navigating their meals as freshmen.

“I was worried about what I was eating, when I was eating to the point where it over consumed me and I didn’t eat,” said Knight, a senior public health major. 

In addition to calorie signage in dining halls, signs are posted in Temple food courts at chain restaurants. 

In the Student Center food court, a sign at Wingstop’s counter advises students to order veggies instead of fries and to “skip the dip.” Another sign at BurgerFi reads “don’t double up” and “keep it classic,” advising students to order one patty instead of two and to avoid high calorie toppings. 

While these signs may appear to promote healthy eating habits, they’re problematic because they contribute to food shaming. Students who choose to order fries or a double-patty burger may feel guilty or ashamed, leading to a negative relationship with food.

“It’s just kind of propaganda in a way and, in reality, they would do better if they actually offered healthier food options,” said Mary Catherine Finley, a freshman undeclared major. 

There is no need to emphasize nutrition and calories for every single Temple student, especially when they might be struggling with disordered eating. 

New signage must be introduced with subtle labels to show that calories aren’t the only nutrition information that matters.

Students should not feel ashamed or uncomfortable when it comes to making decisions about meals. Temple University needs to change signage in its dining halls and food courts to make the dining experience inclusive of all students and improve the overall health of its student body. 

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