Is Aramark doing enough?

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February 16, 2007

3:22 PM

Chances are, you’re not going to die from a massive heart attack anytime soon. However, you can rest assured that if you do, it probably won’t be from food in the campus dining halls now that Aramark, the folks who run our food service, decided to eliminate trans fats from its products. Trans fatty acids (or “trans fats”) occur naturally in some dairy products but are more often found as an artificial creation designed to preserve the useful life of fryer oils and improve taste. Apparently, these fats have a nasty habit of raising bad cholesterol and contributing to the deaths of around 30,000 people a year.

p. But the change took place in August, and did anyone even notice? Prior to this decision, it’s entirely possible school food was killing you, or at least that’s what Harvard says. But if we stopped here and gave Aramark a big gold star, we’d be missing a lot.
When the people at Aramark say they’re eliminating trans fats it means they probably are in some areas, but maybe not in all of them.

p. Additionally, not all pre-packaged food made by outside vendors falls under the change. The result is that our food is now fried in zero grams trans fat oil, which doesn’t mean what you think it does. It’s the government’s way of saying “less than .5 grams per serving.” So, you’re probably safe with the fried catfish, but who knows about the morning’s doughnuts trucked in from an outside company.

p. Aramark made this move of its own volition after discussing it with nutritionists and others. Whether this was the result of corporate altruism or sheer business savvy is debatable. But elsewhere, the government is calling the shots and one wonders about the wisdom of their meddling in such things. New York City, in addition to banning smoking in bars, has also already banned trans fats, and a number of other cities are contemplating following suit.

p. The Washington Post in its staff editorial on the subject has likened these bans to the save-the-kids laws which removed lead from paint. The argument has appeal, but the comparison is unjust. When was the last time Mom got off the phone only to find that three year-old Timmy went out and ordered some Chicken Selects and a Biggie Fry while she wasn’t looking?

p. The FDA made the right call in 2003 when it required trans fat content to be listed in nutrition information so consumers could make intelligent choices. Banning trans fat, however, eliminates choice, adds cost to business, and goes even further in our government’s campaign to save us from ourselves.
But are we really being saved? Removing artificial fats might help our hearts, but it doesn’t do much to affect the calorie content of fatty foods. On campus, that means that Aramark has decided their “all you care to eat” meals will no longer get us fat and give us heart trouble — now they’ll just get us fat. Terrific.

p. Props to them for making some foods safer, but additional, healthier options would be more beneficial than merely removing trans fats from current choices. The salad and deli sandwich bars are great, but consider the fact that there are no non-sugary cereals at the Caf, and grilled (as opposed to fried) options outside of hamburgers are rarely available in the University Center. Even the yummy salmon from the Caf, which ought to be good for you because it’s fish, is deceptively unhealthy. One serving of that yummy salmon has more calories and fat than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Go figure.

p. Judging from the frequent and campus-wide use of the Rec Center, we’re a health conscious bunch, and the folks at Aramark deserve a hand for this step in the right direction — despite some inconsistencies they’re working to fix. But if they truly have student welfare in mind, the changes cannot stop here. They could at least give us some aspirin; the people at Bayer say it prevents heart attacks.

p. __Andrew Peters, a sophomore at the College, is a Staff Columnist. His columns appear every Friday.__

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