There’s a popular phrase called the “Freshman 15” that means when freshmen come to campus, they eat so much that they gain 15 pounds during their first semester. When you look at the options at Penn State, it’s not surprising why that happens.
State College is, in my mind, a place that doesn’t have consistently easy access to healthy and affordable food.
I can’t help but notice that every time a new restaurant opens downtown, it’s hardly ever healthy. More often than not, it’s some variation of fast food that we already have.
There’s nothing wrong with a good fried chicken sandwich. The problem starts when we’ve got half a dozen fried chicken shops on the same street.
There’s no need to name any names. None of these businesses did anything wrong. In fact, their food is probably good, and they just saw a vacant property and decided to set up shop. That said, students and townies alike don’t always have much of a choice when finding a place to eat downtown, and those are often not great for them.
Every time I go into a dining hall for lunch, I’m forced to pick between pizza, cheeseburgers, or the “Frankenstein’s Monster” in West known as the “turkey burger”. The healthy options are a dismal-looking salad bar and whatever they’ve tried to disguise Grilled Chicken Thigh Halal as this week.
How about the HUB, you may ask? You’d be hard-pressed to find something without high amounts of fat and sodium.
Have you ever noticed the wait time for McAlister’s in the HUB? When McAlister’s was online-order only, you’d need to place your order hours in advance. Now that it’s back to its normal operations, the line wraps all the way around the queue. The same goes for Roots, one of the few health-minded restaurants located downtown.
The farther out you get from State College, the healthier the food gets. If you’re committed enough and have a car, it’s not that much of a problem in theory. Students living on campus, meanwhile, are stuck with their meal plans and what’s downtown. Grocery markets like McLanahan’s and Target offer wide selections of produce, but students stuck living on campus hardly have access to kitchens or appliances.
As for the rest of us: Do you really want to drive out of town if there’s something you know tastes good just down the street?
I’m not Michelle Obama circa 2009 telling you to eat carrot sticks instead of french fries. Not even a week ago, I was proudly scarfing down a chicken basket at 4:30 a.m. during THON. I’m far from a health nut, which makes me feel like I’m qualified to say that State College’s food needs a bit more romaine and a bit less lard.
There’s clearly a demand for more nutritious food in State College. Businesses aiming to set up shop here should take notice of that.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to State College as a “food desert,” a term reserved for specific classifications of areas with little access to affordable and nutritious food.