Guest blogger: Convenience store gluttony

As a kid I ate the same kind of lunches that Mrs. Q posts on the blog, albeit on styrofoam trays.  As an adult, I worked for a state university food service program for 3+ years until we were downsized.  After being let go, I found work at a local convenience store as the night clerk.  Between working in the food service program and the convenience store I see a clear picture of what our college kids are eating.  Here’s a hint… it’s not pretty.
In the food service program, I started at the same time as a new executive chef, who was, in fact, an awesome guy.  He was very interested in increasing the quality of the food, i.e. fresh(er) ingredients, making food from scratch, etc.  In the three years he worked with us the food was actually pretty decent.  The kids still went nuts for the nachos and chicken nuggets, but at least we were making salsas from scratch (mmm, fresh cilantro!), serving steamed veggies and spanakopita and the like.  The chef, regrettably, moved on, and when our new chef was hired he was the “balance the budget” guy.
I was the “grab and go” cook, and when the new chef came in, we eliminated half of the fresh stuff I was making right away.  Freshly prepared lasagna was replaced by frozen “lasagna rolls” and freshly steam-baked chicken breasts for sandwiches were replaced by frozen, pre-cooked, pre-seasoned breasts (complete with fake grill marks!)  Since we weren’t making so much food from scratch, he was able to cut 5 full-time jobs (of which mine was one) and replace us with a few part-time students.
It was a win for the company, in eliminating the additional overhead of more workers plus benefits for the full time folks.  But for folks like my boyfriend (a non-traditional student at the U) it was a loss.  I recently met one of my former co-workers, a guy who had worked his way up from dishwasher to cook under the previous chef.  Apparently they didn’t need him as a cook, either, so he’s been demoted down to a server at the cafeteria building.  I can only imagine what they’re serving these days that requires 3 less full-time cooks (plus the other employees that lost their jobs) than it took a year ago to prepare decent food.  My former coworker said that everyone wished the old chef would come back.

Anyway, I currently work at a convenience store located across the street from the dorms and right next to a mobile home park and an apartment complex which in sum house hundreds of students during the school year, in addition to the full-time residents of our little town.  The kids pop in all the time during the school year, and the food they eat makes me cringe.  I took some pictures but here’s my summary:
For drinkables we have the “cappuchino” mixes that are served from the machine… I hate cleaning this machine because the sugary instant coffee mixes get everywhere and everything gets gross and sticky.  We also have flavored sugar waters, Gatorades, energy drinks, soda, slushees, sugared milk and beer, beer, beer.  For slightly healthy beverages we have the plain coffee that’s actually ground from beans and brewed, unflavored (but expensive!) bottled water, a few types of tea (with plenty of sugar) and the lone row of V8 drinks.  We also have plain milk, but it’s one of the more expensive items in the store.

I make a ton of fried food and a bit of baked.  I work the night shift so my focus is making edibles that drunks leaving the bars will enjoy.  I make cheese balls, mini tacos, potato wedges, waffle fries, and onion petals, all deep-fried.  For baked goods we serve chicken patty burgers, beef patty burgers, breaded beef burgers (it’s called a “pizza burger”), the same square pizza slices I used to eat in school, pre-fried egg rolls, and TWO varieties of corn dogs.  It’s pretty similar to what Mrs. Q and her students ate all year.

We have the pre-packaged cereal cups (and don’t forget  your strawberry or chocolate milk, mmm…), a nacho machine complete with liquid cheese dispenser, chips, candy galore, frozen pizzas, Little Debbie cakes, giant cheesy prepackaged burritos, and prepackaged sandwiches of all varieties.  We have breakfast pizzas and burritos that I make around five in the morning, and a pre-fried breakfast taquito called a “Tornado.”  I looked at one of the completely white, sugar coated “Honey Buns” the other day; it has 610 calories in one bun.
After the college kids eat their chicken nuggets and french fries in the college cafeteria, they come here and buy all the crap I’ve listed above.  “Eating healthy” isn’t just about providing healthy food, it’s about changing attitudes and teaching people to CARE about what they feed their bodies.
When Junior heads off to college and is on his own for the first time, he’s going to choose the same stuff he ate in the school cafeterias as a kid.  He’s going to choose the same food that’s served at McRestaurants around the country.  He’s going to choose the same food that his parents eat: the high-fat, high-sugar, deliciously deadly junk that infests this country as a whole.
I have a next door neighbor that is a single mom with three kids, all under the age of 10.  When I worked at a different gas station during the day, her kids would come in every day with her food stamp card and buy candy and soda.  I can just picture her handing them her card and saying, “Go get a snack and get out of my hair.”  This is the reality we live in, and unfortunately it’s a whole lot bigger than just the school lunches.
Just putting a salad bar in the cafeteria doesn’t help (although for those already inclined to eat well, it’s a somewhat welcome refuge, despite the bacon bits, ranch dressing, oreo pudding, and peaches in syrup that regularly grace our university’s salad bar).
My boss at the gas station is a health nut that doesn’t eat anything we serve here.  But she has to answer to the bottom line, which means we sell what the kids and locals want to buy.  Our store has five full-time workers and four part-timers whose lives all depend on our store doing well.  And in order for us to do well, we sell beer, cigarettes, and junk.  If we put in a salad bar, we’d end up throwing out a lot of produce and the waste and cost would drive us out of business.
I guess in the end it’s not about simply changing what food we provide but really about changing attitudes.  It’s about educating kids to care about food, to be enthusiastic about cooking and eating natural, healthy foods.
***

Bonus for the adults: I couldn’t get a good picture of the cappucino mix labels, but here’s the ingredient list for the “Red Line French Vanilla Cappucino” (the extra caffeine version):

Ingredients: Sugar, nondairy creamer [corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated coconut oil, sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), dipotassium phosphate, sodium tripolyphosphate, monoglycerides, datem, sodium silicoaluminate, artificial flavor]. Dairy product solids, maltodextrin, instant coffee, carboxymethyl cellulose gum, salt, artificial flavor, silicon dioxide (an anticaking agent), cocoa (processed with alkali), caffeine.

Bleh. All that garbage for instant coffee, and below the ingredient list they have the nerve to say “Directions: By the cup- place 2 tablespoons of Connoisseur’s Choice Premium cappucino in a cup or mug. Add hot water and stir. Enjoy!”
As if you could read the ingredient list and then go on to blithely enjoy your corn syrup solids, sodium silicoaluminate and instant coffee.
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30 Responses to Guest blogger: Convenience store gluttony

  1. Nancy June 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    This week's challenge on Top Chef was for a team of 4 chefs to produce a balanced school lunch for 50 kids on a budget of $130. One team failed miserably (2 pounds of sugar in banana pudding and Sherry for the chicken!), but the winning team made pork tacos w/oatmeal tortillas, beans, salsa and a dessert. I wouldn't want to run the food service for a school system!

    In the housing development for lower income in our town there is a convenience store at the end of the street. They recently installed a soft service ice cream machine. I have had a few kids at school tell me they had an ice cream before school….

  2. krista June 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    yuck! i worked the night shift at a neighborhood at a bar for a few years. there weren't any options for dinner at 4:00 a.m. near me besides one local gas station. they had the same exact food. believe me when i say, the heaviest i was, and the most gastric problems (yuck) i had was during that time.

    needless to say, since leaving that job, and making proper dietary choices. i have lost 50 lbs.

    i ended up going vegan, and now happily, i can't eat anything at any convenience store.

  3. Barbara June 25, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    It's all poison….such a shame.

  4. traveller's wife June 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    I used to work in a convenience store in my younger years. It was a fun job but at the time I wasn't the least bit aware of stuff that was in our foods. Today as a parent it appalls me what is in not just convenience foods but just about everything. My kids are adults living on there own and for the most part are very healthy eaters and try to eat fresh unprocessed foods but it's not an easy task when you're on a budget.

  5. Viki June 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    Great post. What was it that Ed said on his blog once…Schools are food deserts. Evidently colleges are too. I know most of the town town area of my town is too. Nothing but convenience stores which sell no real whole foods. Well they may sell a bit, but the price is out of sight! So for your money you can get junk which will fill your tummy but wont give you good nutrients.
    How many kids who live on a college campus have a car. How many people who live on aid have a car that would enable them to easily get to a real store where they could buy food that is good for them?
    Also, it is difficult to actually cook if you live in a college dorm. I know I had to either sit in the dinky kitchen the whole time my food was cooking or it would be snatched…or cook in my room, which was against the rules. It is a shame that the food service took away the real food because of the bottom line. Sad.
    Sad what we are teaching our kids. So, in order to change the way a person eats one has to first change their perception as to what food actually is now.

  6. Mama Badger June 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    I agree with most of what you're saying. I think it's part of a bigger problem. We all live under the impression that we need to do more, know more, and do it faster and be part of everything. We don't give ourselves time to cook, eat and socialize with our families. That's something that needs to change or nothing else can.

  7. Anonymous June 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    We have great students at the college where I work and a fantastic food service director who has been a chef in Europe (still not sure why he agreed to come to HERE! LOL!). Our campus is very concerned with sustainability and we have a number of "green" student organizations as well as an environmental science major. The students voted to institute a "green fee" each year from every student which is set aside specifically for student initiated sustainbility projects on campus.

    Our students have planted community gardens around town as part of their experiential learning requirement for graduation as well as planting and maintaining a garden on campus. Our food service director works with local farmers to buy as much locally grown produce as possible during the school year. These local farmers have actually started planting items in response to the produce he's requested that he could not get elsewhere (I benefit because I own shares in a CSA run by same farmers so I get wider variety of unique veggies).

    Not only do we have fresh, wholesome, healthy meals served in the dining hall (fresh salad bar, stir fry veggie station, indian theme nights, are some of faves with students), but we also have a wide variety of healthy items to choose from in the "convenience" store on campus. In addition to whole fruits and bags of cleaned/cut veggies, many of the prepared foods are those you find in whole/health food stores or sections of your local grocery store. Things like Annie's frozen meals or Horizon organic yogurt, milk, cheese. Students can make requests for new items and they will usually try to order them; as long as they sell, they will continue to stock the items. These requests usually seem to be the off-the-beaten-path items so students are clearly demanding healthy alternatives. The store haves its fair share of candy bars & chips but it has a better selection of whole/organic/health foods than my local big name grocery store.

    There is also a vending machine on our campus that sells healthy options. I haven't investigated it carefully because I usually use the convenience store, but I know it's stocked with several varieties of soy milk, among other healthy options.

    I'm sure many college kids do eat crappy food but there are bright spots out there. There are many many intelligent, driven, dynamic students in our colleges and universities who are passionate about environmental issues, public health, hunger, and nutrition. For many, college is their first exposure to eating a different way, especially IMO students who are coming from a low income, inner city background to a more rural, agriculture based economy. I know I never knew any vegetarians or people who ate organic and didn't know what vegan, whole food, or local food meant before attending college. Now living and traveling frequently in the midwest I still find the highest proportion of people who are concerned about these issues to be those who are in some way affiliated with an institute of higher education, which would seem completely counter-intuitive from this blog entry. Please know that this is one snapshot of one college in one city in America. There are some really amazing things going on in higher ed in many other places all across the country. I truly believe there is a much higher proportion of people passionate about these issues on college campuses than almost anywhere else in our country, especially once you get away from the west coast.

  8. Anonymous June 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    In reference to what college students are eating:

    I was raised by parents with an immense knowledge of nutrition who packed very healthy lunches for me until I was in high school. A typical lunch for me in elementary school consisted of:

    peanut butter sandwich on whole seed and nut bread with the grind your own peanut butter ( didn't like jelly on my sammeis)

    Some kind of fruit-dried or fresh

    Some kind of veggie-usually carrots or broccoli

    and slices of cheese

    perhaps some healthy cookies or fig newtons.

    In high school I was given the option to pack my own lunch, or my Parents would give my $5 a day to buy food at school.

    what did I eat? French Fries. almost exclusively. And what I remember most about high school was always being hungry.

    College? Fries were a staple, so was grilled cheese. Sometimes I would order the made to order stir fries.

    I guess I was just tired of the "tyranny" of a healthy food childhood free from artificial anything.
    I ate a lot of things I would never eat now.

    Now I think I'm at least as nutrition and health oriented as my parents tried to raise me, if not more. REAL, whole, local fresh food is my undying passion. I'm eating Nancy's whole milk honey plain yogurt right now =)

    What this rambling post is aiming at I guess is that we don't always take the most direct route to a healthy diet.

    I started off great, took a bit of a hiatus and now and back and going strong!

    The bottom line for me?

    TEACH NUTRITION IN SCHOOLS at all ages, over and over again-and make it a requirement.

  9. Buy Cheese Online June 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    This is horrible, but unfortunately how it is. I worked at a convenience store when I was in high school, but luckily, because I had a health conscious mother I steered clear of this stuff and many times brought my own "brown bag" food.

    I think the key is, as stated, it's really about educating children and changing attitudes.

    Because I am health conscious, after having five children, I am still thin and energetic and receive comment all the time like "how do you stay so thin?" and "you look so good". So education and changing attitudes is the key.

  10. Jennelle June 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    Great post! This guest blogger hit the nail on the head that it's not just serving healthier meals at school, but chaning the attitudes about food of Americans altogether. I only occassionally drank the "cappucino" at gas stations before, but I probably will never drink another one again. Gross.

  11. becboo84 June 25, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    This was an AWESOME post!!!

  12. Anonymous June 25, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    Excellent post!

  13. Mrs. Q June 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    @Julia — I just deleted your comment. I'm not sure where you read that I ate an Lean Cuisine everyday prior to the project, please let me know where you read that. Certainly when pressed for time I might eat the occasional microwave meal, but I try to make responsible choices including organic brands.

    As far as "excuses" that I'm making…I'm not perfect. I'm certainly not trying to hold myself up here as something everyone needs to emulate. In fact, I'm anonymous, which makes this blog not about me at all. The whole point of the "pimp my lunch" post is saying, "hey, make my lunch better, I'm still learning too."

    It was the last week of school last week. I just got around to grocery shopping this week. It's the truth, not an excuse! Jeez

  14. WordVixen June 25, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    Partially hydrogenated coconut oil? Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature! Why on earth would anyone want to (let alone need to) hydrogenate coconut oil?

    It's totally true though. I always wanted to eat healthily, but never knew how. Now that I'm learning a few things to cling to and a few things to avoid (cooking in veg oils because they oxidize, soy in all forms, high fructose corn syrup), it's getting harder and harder to actually eat badly. Generally speaking, I can now walk happily through the processed aisles and not even feel a twinge of "I want". But, it's not something that happened on its own! It wasn't just my attitude that changed, it was finally learning good vs bad.

    Nancy- oatmeal tortillas? That sounds yummy!

  15. Catha ;o) June 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Insightful post! I remember having pretty good home cooked meals growing up and eating out was a VERY infrequent treat. It would have been nice to learn as a kid why we went to the farmers market at o'dark hundred on the weekend (support local farms and eat inexpensive fresh whole foods); or why my mom said no sometimes when I wanted candy, chips or other unhealthy snack (fruit is a better snack choice and candy is only an occasional treat). Though my family comes from the dreaded "clean-your-plate-club" mentality, they did try to feed us well rounded meals. I just think I would have followed through on a healthy diet as a young adult with better guidance early on instead of the standard "because I said so" answer. Now that I have my own family, I'm getting us off HFCS, processed food and buying whole organic foods as much as possible. I plan to arm my 8 month old daughter with the knowledge of *why* regarding a healthy diet and set the best example I can as she grows up. I know we won't be perfect but who can say they are? I just want to make healthier choices for us and do the best I can. My baby is worth it and deserves it! Funny how much your perspective changes once you have kids.

    Curious about Julia's deleted comment. Things that make you say hmmmm… I'm going to guess she just doesn't get it or is taking this project personally for some reason. I've read your blog since day one and nowhere did I find that you ate Lean Cuisine daily prior to this project. I also find you to be open to differing opinions so I assume her comment had an attacking nature. Keep on bloggin' on Mrs. Q! You can't please everyone all the time right? ;o)

  16. Losing Weight After 45 is a Bitch June 25, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    It makes you almost want to cry. What's really distressing is the difference between "convenience store" food here in the US and in Europe. I was in Ireland this year, and was amazed at the fresh fruit, great cheeses and breads etc. you could get in any convenience store.

  17. Julia June 25, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    I'm very sorry Mrs. Q that my comment to this post sounded as negative as it must have to your years. Sometimes it is difficult to word things so that the tone reflects our intent where there is no voice inflection.

    I do stand by what I said earlier, but not with the intent you interpreted me to have. I was just urging us all, myself included, to face our own failings and culpability head on with as much relish as we like to point the finger at the system.

    I also fully understand if you redact or choose not to post this. This message was more for you personally than for the board, but unfortunately it seems the only venue for communication at this juncture.

    Again, I stress as I had earlier, that I really do think what you are doing is amazing, and I wish you good luck (and continued anonymity for the duration of the project 🙂 )

  18. Mrs. Q June 25, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    @Julia – Thank you. No worries. If I wasn't so tired, I probably would've posted your original comment. Sorry about that!

  19. Stepshep June 26, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    The only thing I fear with posts like this is people just see the chemicals listed in the ingredient list and assume it's bad for them. I'm not saying everyone does and certainly just listing them isn't your intent to make people think they're bad…but it happens.

    I mean..read through this list and tell me if it sounds healthy: Sucrose, Dextrose, Fructose, Lactose, Maltose, Galactose, Starch, Selenium, Pantothenic acid, Choline, Lycopene, Fatty acids (mono and poly), Phytosterols, Tryptophan, Lysine, Arginine, Glutamic acid, Caffeine, Theobromine = Parts of an apple's flesh and skin.

    PS Those honey bun things are FTW!

  20. T. James-Moss, Author June 26, 2010 at 1:55 am #

    This is an EXCELLENT post. It is for this reason that I joined this blog. Bravo!

  21. Carly Findlay June 26, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Hi there
    I saw an article similar to this and thought of you.
    http://www.newstime.co.za/Health/British_kids_are_fatter_than_American_kids/6816/
    I saw the Australian figures.
    You are doing a great job 🙂

  22. Kim June 26, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    This place looks and sounds more like a chemistry experiment than a place where people can buy food. Are customers putting flavored milk on their cereal? This is a totally new concept to me. I'm sure they're not putting it on their oatmeal. How about some strawberry milk on those Fruity Pebbles? That ought to help you study better.

    The visual I got when I read "…nacho machine complete with liquid cheese dispenser…" was particularly disgusting. I'm sure customers aren't drowning their broccoli in this molten "cheese food" either. Just when you thought junk food couldn't get any junkier, someone comes up with a way to junk it up even more with chemical concoctions you can put on top for added malnutrition.

  23. Anonymous June 26, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    The problem with fresh food is that is does go bad. But I think you could order things like bananas and apples in small quantities. I know when I go to a convenience store I always appreciate seeing an option like that. Also, dried fruits are a great option because they basically don't go bad. I know most people don't automatically see raisins or dried apricots and go YUM but they are actually sweet and with the right marketing they could catch on.

  24. Mendy June 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    Unfortunately this is what a lot of middle school and high school cafeterias look like! We all know it's hard enough for adults, but think how all those displays with their pretty packages and colors affect kids. I know middle school kids who stand at our "grab and go" window for several minutes trying to decide what "treat" they want to get for lunch. It's a real shame!

  25. Anonymous June 27, 2010 at 5:21 am #

    Hi there, I'm the guest poster of this article, and I just want to chime in here:

    As for this school not being representative of all schools and locales, that goes without saying. But as for the assumption that people in a more agrarian area will be somehow more connected with the land… well, I'm afraid to burst your bubble but we are in a fairly rural area. Our town has less than 10,000 full-time inhabitants and we are surrounded by farmland.

    By the way, the town instituted a weekly farmer's market once a week… I went a few weeks ago for the first time and sadly, there were only five stalls, mostly selling jellies, doililes, and overpriced breads. We had one guy selling vegetables, and he was one of the university professors who gardens as a hobby. The entire time I was wondering where the heck all the farmers were! But unfortunately in this part of the country the staple crops are corn and soy- diversified crops grown for local sale are a rarity.

    We did have a few bright spots in the college cafeteria food before the new chef came in… We'd buy flats of straberries, wash and slice them, put them in 12 oz plastic cups, and sell them at the college convenience stores (which are strategically located around campus, and do indeed provide a host of healthier options.) They would sell out every day!

    I once spent an entire day, a holiday when only the convenience stores were open and the cafeteria was closed, slicing and prepping strawberry cups… We did 9 flats and they sold out in a single day!

    We also did grape and melon in cups, homemade sandwiches, salads, veggies and ranch dip; at one point my old chef had me making falafel and hummus from scratch! Perhaps I'll run by one of the campus convenience stores and see how things are with the new chef. If I do I'll make sure to bring my camera 🙂

    My point in writing this post was not to demonize college kids or to imply that they're all little piggies with no sense of how to eat healthy or without the desire to eat local, fresh, sustainable food; we have our share of vegetarians and health-concious folks, including the kids.

    But the fact that kids raised on junk food or given carte blanche to choose what they want to eat without guidance will often choose crap is a reality. I had a younger guy in here tonight who was chatting with some of the other customers- he had a bunch of junk food. One of the guys in the store asked him, "Stocking up on snacks?" to which the other guy replied, "No, my girlfriend is pregnant, and she wants 10 candy bars."

    They bantered back and forth, and junk food guy walked out with 3 processed beef sticks, 8 candy bars, several sodas and a few bags of chips. This is what he and his girlfriend find appropriate for snacks and to feed their unborn child. I see things like this every night.

    That's why I think Mrs. Q. is right, and the healthy food in schools movement is so important- kids need to learn early on that their bodies are machines, and the quality of fuel you put in determines the health and performance of the machine overall. Schools need to reinforce this by, in my opinion, teaching both nutrition and cooking, and by serving healthy food.

  26. Anonymous June 27, 2010 at 5:40 am #

    Convenience Girl chiming in one more time; I wanted to reply to shepshep's assertion that simply because chemicals are named off doesn't mean that they're bad for us, or that we shouldn't consume them.

    Shep, have you seen the ingredients list for Haagen-Daz's coffee ice cream? I can't quote it exactly, but it reads like this:

    "Cream, sugar, milk, coffee, egg yolks."

    I'd rather have ice cream with the above list than a list with hydrogenated anything, simply because I know what the above are, and I know that they are naturally occuring foods that I don't mind putting in my body. Whether or not it's healthy for me, I don't want to eat sodium silicoaluminate.

  27. Monica June 27, 2010 at 6:07 am #

    Yes, students need to learn to care about what they eat and make healthy choices. But that's only part of the problem – availability and infrastructure are important too. With college students in particular, availability is key. Some colleges have great options – and the kids who already learned to make healthy eating a priority before high school generally gravitate towards those. For most students, though, availability is a huge part of their food choices. The dining hall often doesn't have many options, and is always limited in hours (and speed). When the dining hall isn't open, or you only have 10 minutes to grab a snack before class, you head to the campus convenience store. And those are generally stocked with junk.

    No, not every convenience store can have a salad bar. But I really think store owners who claim not to stock any fresh produce because "it would go bad when no one bought it" are just making excuses. Packaged baby carrots keep for several weeks. So do pre-sliced fresh apples – if McDonald's and Subway can sell them, why can't the campus convenience store? Or why not stock a freezer shelf with frozen fruits and set up a blender next to that coffee machine? Shelf life might limit the selection of fresh produce, but it shouldn't eliminate it entirely. I'd also be curious to know how much of the hot fried food offered at convenience stores gets wasted – if stores can actually cook foods, which have a shelf life of mere hours, why can't they stock produce, which will last for days or weeks?

    Of course, for college students in particular, the universities are often a big part of the problem. Dorms are often not conducive to healthy food choices – there's little space to store food, and no where to prepare it.

    I'm a recent college grad, and had the unique experience of going to 3 different schools (and spending a lot of time visiting a fourth), so I've experienced the good (a 40-foot salad bar! antibiotic-free chicken!), the bad (class schedule doesn't match the dining hall schedule? try the student center – you can get McDonald's, Taco Bell, or coffee!), and the ugly (the year I lived out of a microfridge). Eating healthy on most campuses – especially, in my experience, public university campuses – is HARD.

  28. Anonymous June 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    Heya Monica, Convenience Girl here:

    As far as the packaged baby carrots idea… We do have a very small selection of fruit cups, i.e. pineapple chunks in syrup. For a fruit cup they look pretty good… But you know what? I've been working at this store for months now and I have never sold a single one.

    The cost of fresh produce is relatively high compared to what you can sell it for; no one will buy a $2.00 banana, but that's probably what you'd have to sell it for to make up for the rest of the bunch going bad.

    You also run into the problem of food spoilage en route: in the university kitchen we regularly had to return molding fruit that had gone bad on the truck. For a grocery store, they sell enough produce to make up for spoilage, but I'm guessing that we would not.

    As far as the hot food getting tossed- you are absolutely right. Every shift throws away three to 10 servings on average of food. We aren't allowed to give it away, although we can eat it ourselves or take it home if so desired. The problem is not mainly the issue of storing produce, it's simply a question of what will sell.

    The limited supply of healthy stuff in the store (yogurt cups, pickles, cheese sticks, trail mix, sunflower seeds, fruit cups) generally doesn't get bought. What incentive is there for the manager to stock more of it?

    And in my several months of working for the store, I've passed on several customer requests as to what we should stock… guess what they asked for? Spicy Cheetos and a wider variety of cigars. If the kids wanted it, we'd stock it. The lesson here is that if kids want to buy healthy food, they need to ask for it, and ask and ask until their requests are heard.
    In any case our store has been bought out and will have new upper management… They are planning to install a casino and a bank of fryers. We currently bake our corn dogs, but apparently they deep-fry theirs, so I'm assuming we're going to go that route. Talk about from bad to worse, bleh.

    The best place to get quick, healthy food around here is from the on-campus stores run by the university food service company. They take in their funding at the beginning of every term, and the students then use their pre-paid credit to buy food. Whatever the kids don't use up by the end of the term, the company keeps.

    Therefore their funding is guaranteed and they can stock as they please without worrying about losing money. In our little profit-and-margin-driven store it's a much different story, unfortunately.

  29. Palila June 28, 2010 at 5:22 am #

    Bleh. Bleeeh! I got so sick when I got to college, from the food. The cheap meat, the cheap everything. I usually loaded up on grilled cheese & tomato soup, or on the salad bar, or on plain spaghetti (when they had it) and added my own cheese (all microwaved.) I loved when they had a "breakfast for dinner" option, because then I could see what was going into my meal.

    It wasn't until I graduated that I started frequenting the convenience store (I worked across the street.) I usually got a giant diet coke and some whole wheat cheese crackers for lunch (diet coke- refillable). I expressed my sadness when those 55-cent crackers weren't available in whole wheat anymore. Because that was anymore better than regular?

  30. Zoolsterr June 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    yes!! It is soo hard to find a healthy snack at a "convenience" store. I'm young, and work my butt off to read nutritional guides and information on everything. My breakfast today was a "Muscle Milk – Chocolate" which I bought at the gas station. But the glazed donuts, flavored drinks and just about everything in there is horrible for you.

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