Keeping Students’ (and Stomachs’) Interests in Mind

Two weeks ago, when a mass e-mail announced the commencement of campus shuttle service to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, students cheered. For the health-conscious, the gourmand, or the simple eater alike, improved accessibility to these popular grocery markets is certainly a win.

The shuttle to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods was conceived in response to the current Star Market shuttle service — a collaboration of the GSC, Campus Dining, and Star Market. A parent looking for a healthier alternative approached MIT Medical, and a private donor generously agreed to fund the pilot program.

The donor then worked with the Parking and Transportation Office, the Center for Health Promotion and Wellness at MIT Medical, and the Development Office during this past academic school year to get the ball rolling. The new shuttle will run on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and will make stops at or near several undergraduate dorms (East Campus, McCormick, Burton-Conner, Simmons) and grad dorms (Eastgate, Tang and Westgate, Warehouse, Sidney-Pacific), serving a majority of the on-campus community. Due to funding restrictions, the shuttle will operate on a pilot basis from Jan. 23, 2009 to May 23, 2009.

I personally doubt that the establishment of the new shuttle service will result in a marked improvement of the diet of the average student’s diet. If you’re a glutton of sweets, you will fall prey to temptation regardless of which grocery store you frequent.

As I perused the baked goods section of Trader Joe’s, there were certain decadent goods that would have made Twinkie eaters blanch in fear: Dark chocolate and almond cookie crisps, Belgian biscottis dipped in chocolate with vanilla swirls, and Coconut and chocolate coated almonds. (Granted, they were organic almonds and fat-free chocolate, but the grams of sugar in the ingredient listing don’t lie.)

However, according to Susanna Barry — the program manager at MIT Medical responsible for the shuttle — the ultimate purpose is twofold: convenience and steering students to develop a healthier eating style. While some undergrads may not be any more inclined to cook whole meals simply because they can obtain organic ingredients, Trader Joe’s carries relatively inexpensive and healthy microwaveable meals.

Whole Foods may be better for grad students with families. They offer a wider selection of fresh produce and locally grown goods. Not only will students be exploring another dining option, they’ll be doing it while benefiting local farmers.

While some may argue that Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s aren’t far enough from campus to warrant a shuttle, additional factors — such as the ever-mild Boston weather, slick sidewalk conditions and multiple bags of heavy groceries — can combine to make the trip a daunting excursion.

A fifteen-minute bike ride may not seem too bad, but add in the wind chill factor and fifteen minutes begins to feel a lot more like fifteen hours. And that’s not even considering the trip back to campus. If one is biking, the quantity of groceries is strictly limited. In regards to walking: well, if one enjoys braving single digit temperatures, I salute them wholeheartedly.

Taking this all into consideration, a typical MIT student would probably stare glumly into his cupboard and then head to the dining hall. I believe that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with having and using MIT’s dining halls — in fact, I buy stir fry from Baker Dining at least twice a week — but being forced to always eat at the dining halls is both unfair and overly regimented. With the establishment of the shuttle program, students will now have more choices to find good, healthy food of their own selection and on their own time. Kudos to the administration for keeping the students’ interests (and those of their stomachs) in mind.