OPINION: Feeling conflicted at the J dining hall

Students complaining about the food at their school’s dining hall is nothing new, but I noticed these comments were making me uncomfortable as someone who struggled with food insecurity. 

I’m a new transfer from Cerritos College in SoCal experiencing the dining hall for the very first time, so I don’t particularly know as much as the other students who’ve been here longer.

When people complain, I listen and I laugh and I try not to throw in my own personal experiences. I don’t think it’s always fair or productive to remind people that others have it worse.

The sad thing, though, is that some of the happiest memories I’ve had since being here have taken place at the dining hall.

I didn’t care if it was the finest cuisine available to me, even though I’d argue that the vegan selections at the J are absolutely amazing. It meant more to me that I didn’t feel hungry anymore, and that when food was available to me, it was more than my usual options like McDonald’s and Maruchan. 

Food insecurity is a rampant issue and I was unfortunately a victim to it for the past few years. My first experiences at the dining hall included taking pictures of my food and celebrating the fact that I actually had access to unlimited hot meals thanks to my meal plan and the buffet-style dining experience available.

I noticed that listening to these complaints about the dining hall were making me feel stupid and embarrassed.

Fortunately, I’ve sat with the feeling and have come to the conclusion that even if I do have some less-than-desirable experiences at the dining hall, it won’t take away from the gratitude I feel for having secure, stable access to food.

The fact that the dining hall is all-you-can-eat, and allows you to take an Ozzi container filled with food back home, is a huge privilege that I don’t think a lot of people fully recognize. Having to pay per item was the system at the J before and it’s like that at many other institutions.

There’s a wide selection of different food items available, including vegan and gluten-free options. Nothing is perfect, but it seems evident that the institution is actively trying to enhance the dining experience for its students.

I still remember the moment I realized my financial aid was going to cover the cost of a meal plan. For the first time in years, I wouldn’t have to stress about hunger. It felt unreal.

This gratitude feeling is something I hope everyone gets to experience in their college life, and for those who already do have it, I hope you recognize and appreciate it. 

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