The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is standing up for the farmer and the student.
In a school system where chicken nuggets and chocolate milk are the two accepted food groups, the USDA is outlining a third option.
Every year the USDA will offer five million dollars in grant money to schools in their Farm to School Program. The program connects students to local farms by bringing local produce to the cafeterias as well as educating youth about how their food is made, according to the USDA.
For University of Portland college students, learning about how food is made is a whole new game.
From the dizzyingly vast array of choices in the grocery store, students learning to cook on their own for the first time struggle between prices versus quality.
While senior Morgan Laug tends to buy cheaper store brand food, he still spends 250 dollars per month on groceries.
“It’s really important to learn to cook your own meals even though we’re all seniors and we don’t have a lot of time,” Laug said. “It’s a good skill to have.”
Juniors and housemates Kelsey Thomas, and Tai White-Toney are concerned with both price and quality of food. They tend to buy certain produce such as vegetable greens organic to reduce pesticides as well as cage free eggs.
“I guess we are really picky. We eat healthier than most people. But eating healthier foods is expensive too.” White-Toney said. “I recently found out that a lot of my friends are on food stamps right now which I just didn’t even think of that.”
White-Toney says that she has spent 200 dollars this month on food, but estimates that 100 dollars is the usual amount both she and Thomas spend on groceries per month.
Eating healthy can be a huge balancing act for college students without a meal plan. Small food budgets and even smaller schedules can make the frozen food aisle a safe haven.
“I know a lot of girls living off campus eat a lot of cereal, frozen pizza, and then spinach to balance it out,” Thomas said. “I think a lot of people eat less healthy to save money and time.”
However, Thomas points out that taking the time to plan and cook meals can make student life easier in the long run.
“When I’m eating a lot of carbs and not making an effort to get in vegetables and protein I notice I’m more tired,” Thomas said. “Our schedules are so busy so it’s really worth the time investment to me to make healthy food choices so I can get the most out of my time.”
Additionally, college students may not be aware of the impact their food choices have on animals, the environment, or themselves.
“This is the first time where I’ve really thought about the food I’m eating,” White-Toney said. “When I went home over break my mom sent me to the store and I came back with cage free eggs and my mom’s like ‘what are these?’”
Thomas acknowledges the difficulties of navigating the world of food on a college budget and time schedule, but points out that it’s also a matter of prioritizing.
“I spend a lot of money on food but I don’t spend a lot of money on alcohol or clothes which a lot of other college students do,” Thomas said. “It’s a financial priority for me.”
Disclaimer: Kelsey Thomas works with author Kate Stringer as a reporter for The Beacon.