February 9, 2021

EPSTEIN | Cornell Is Too Sweet

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Last fall, to help ease the experience of returning to campus from states on New York’s 14-day mandatory quarantine list, Cornell promised to welcome back out-of-state students with a comfortable quarantine, meals, and a smooth transition to in-person study. Cornellians found all the mentioned necessities waiting for them, albeit with a slight twist. The three meals usually featured soda, chips, and cookies with a small quesadilla or salad. Many students joked on their social media about Cornell’s only distinction between lunch and dinner being a different brand of potato chips. As classes began, students returned to their routines and most put those welcome snacks out of their minds. But it’s worth another thought as the new semester starts.

Cornell is renowned for its meal plans, consistently ranking among top universities in the nation in terms of culinary quality, and in the past our university has made great progress in its offerings of healthy, fresh options and guidance on how to make healthy choices with food. In terms of Cornell’s response to the pandemic, last semester the university set the bar for institutions of higher learning across the world by coming up with in-person instruction protocols centered around student safety. Yet, as part of its future pandemic response, Cornell could do much more to encourage healthy eating and exercise and  reduce sugary and processed foods on campus. 

A higher body mass index is directly linked to developing serious complications from a COVID-19 infection, as reported by the Center for Disease Control. Being overweight and obese can triple the risk of hospitalization from infection by the virus by weakening the immune system. The CDC has said that along with its general recommendations to slow the spread of the pandemic, maintaining a healthy diet and properly exercising can shield against the adverse effects of COVID-19. With this information, as with other guidelines set by the CDC, Cornell could do a lot of good for students by adding a dietary consciousness and exercise component to its response to the pandemic. A healthy diet and exercise are more important now than ever, just by virtue of lowering BMI and bolstering immune system function. The healthier students are physically, the safer they will be against the virus and the better they will fare if infected.

There are a lot of ways this could be accomplished. One could be as simple as small reminders through the Daily Check or periodic newsletters, offering ideas for healthy food options on campus and where to find them. Another idea could be to describe exercises that could be done in dorms, apartments or outside, socially distanced with friends. The most direct approach, of course, would be to reduce the amount of sugary and processed foods that are part of Cornell meal plans or served by on-campus vendors and as a replacement, sourcing more healthy products from local small businesses and restaurants in Tompkins county. 

With these two measures alone — reducing unhealthy products and more visibly promoting healthy diet and exercise — Cornell could help give its students a big advantage in reducing the risk of contracting and suffering the worst symptoms of COVID-19.

Joshua Dov Epstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, and can be reached at jde74@cornell.edu. His column, Heterodox, appears every other Tuesday this semester.