During my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to sit in meetings with the dining hall staff, and discuss ways to improve their services. I had all these ideas more our meals more nutritious: whole wheat pasta, less prominent sugar-sweetened beverage options, spice ranks in every hall, etc. Staff and students alike can agree that they want a healthier campus. But at the end of the day, the dining halls are still a business. Their bottom-line depends on making students happy. And what 18 year old doesn’t want the option of all-you-can-eat burgers, pizzas, fries, soda, and ice cream?
The reality is for many, happy does not equal healthy.
People strive towards happiness, and often this happiness takes the form of earthly wealth. Unfortunately, some people do not value their health until they lose it. They feel that being in good health is the baseline. This is a faulty mentality, people should view good health as an achievement. Each meal, movement, and laugh is another step towards attaining and maintaining that health.
“The first wealth is health.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today’s culture of convenience can make the each one of those steps even more challenging. Why would I pick that balanced grain salad, when those calorie-dense nachos are cheaper, more filling, and full of cheesy-goodness? Why would I take 10 minutes to walk, when I can drive there in less than one? Why would I go to that improv show just to lose another 2 hours of work and pay?
It is natural for people to take the easiest path towards happiness. There is a great need for us to re-engineer our world to make healthy path the easiest path. We need to make more crossroads between healthy and happy, and eventually make the happy path be the same as the healthy path.
Side note: I love my alma mater, I feel that UCLA dining did really well in quality and variety back when I lived in the dorms (2007-2009. I believe our dining halls were ranked second in the nation at the time). We had vegetarian options that went beyond salads. Vegan options. Kosher meal plans. Ethnic foods. Great staff. Long hours. Cute nutrition education by a cartoon apple core, whom I affectionately named Cory . And since then, they have only gotten better with their garden initiative, gluten-free pantry, and health-themed dining hall.