The search for fresh produce: Students need healthier meal plan options

Natalie Jensen looks through groceries at the Village Market.
Monday, April 10, 2022. (Illustration by: Adam De Lisser)
Natalie Jensen looks through groceries at the Village Market. Monday, April 10, 2022. (Illustration by: Adam De Lisser)

Written by: Lindsay Beckwith

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr,” rumbles my stomach alerting me that it must be time to eat again. As I ponder where I want to eat, it occurs to me that what I really want is to make my own food according to my dietary needs. 

While Southern Adventist University provides several venues and locations for its students to obtain a tasty vegetarian meal, many of the options do not cater to an all-organic, non-GMO and ultra-fresh diet. 

The Village Market (VM), which has produce and groceries, remains the next best option for students who prefer fresh alternatives to packaged or pre-made foods. However, much of the produce is either not offered on the meal plan or is in grab-and-go quantities. This forces students to have an alternative form of payment in addition to the meal plan if they wish to buy the food they want in the quantity that they need. 

According to the Adventist health message, we are to avoid harmful substances, regularly exercise and maintain a balanced vegetarian diet with large quantities of fruits and vegetables. I find this statement to be ironic considering much of the food on campus is deep fried, caffeine is sold at the Village Market and a pint of ice cream is more likely to be available on your meal plan than a head of lettuce. 

To be fair, the Village Market did expand its meal-plan-available produce section in the fall of 2022 to include items such as avocados, packaged tomatoes and single pieces of fruit. According to Nick Johnson, VM assistant store manager, “Southern wants to give students options,” which includes caffeine “specifically in teas.”

Johnson said the VM adheres to Southern’s suggestions and has discontinued products like Kombucha for its alcohol content as requested. Caffeinated tea does not appear to be a concern at the moment.

Doug Frood, associate vice president for Financial Administration, and Jackie Rose, Manager of the Village Market, responded to criticism about the limited meal plan produce in emails stating that the fresh produce options have to do with sales tax exemptions.

“The state of Tennessee exempts university meal plans from state sales tax,” Frood wrote. “Ten or more years ago, the café had a selection of produce and single serve items that fit under the exemption of the meal plan. When we remodeled we decided to move these items under the purview of the VM. By limiting the items to single serve and such we were trying not to run afoul of the state sales tax rules.

“We could let the students buy more stuff from the VM, but it would need to be sales taxable since the exemption is more about prepared food,” Frood added. “ … Most schools don’t have a VM as a part of their meal plan. We have tried to find balance between the hot meal (prepared) side of the meal plan and groceries.”

Regarding caffeinated teas, Rose wrote: “The caffeine content in tea is very low like chocolate. If we went totally caffeine-free we would have to take all chocolate products out of the store.”

     Still, students are faced with a choice. Do we eat at the cafeteria, CK2, The Garden or the Deli and have our food quality decided for us? Or do we spend additional funds, if we have any, to buy organic, non-GMO, fresh, bulk produce?

While I respect that Southern has provided several options for its students and has put time and effort into providing cultural and diverse cuisine, students’ food choices should not be limited, especially when it results in making nutrition-deficient snacks more available and easier to purchase than produce.  

In my opinion, the health message is being compromised by restricting students’ access to healthy foods like fresh produce and staple foods like bread. 

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1 thought on “The search for fresh produce: Students need healthier meal plan options”

  1. Great blog post, Lindsay! I appreciate your insights and concern for students’ access to fresh, organic, and non-GMO food options. It’s encouraging to hear that the Village Market has expanded its produce section and adheres to Southern’s suggestions, but I’m curious if there are any plans to further increase the availability of healthy food options, such as expanding the meal plan to include more produce or bread options that fit under the state sales tax exemption? Thanks for sharing your perspective on this important issue!
    Michael Thomas

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