Anna Sharpe

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Some of the hallmarks of college life are often centered around food.

For example, many students may be familiar with eating ramen noodles multiple times a week, making a frozen pizza at 2 a.m. or eating as much as possible during a trip to the dining hall to stretch out a meal swipe.

While these might be stereotypical eating habits of many students, often, the relationships formed with food formed during college can last well into adulthood.

Anneissa Rollinson, a graduate student in Winthrop University’s Department of Human Nutrition, is researching how coming in contact with fresh produce in a cooking class will inspire a student’s eating choices later on.

Rollinson’s cooking class involves two groups of students and each group will prepare the same meal: a chicken burrito bowl.

The catch is that one group will use pre-packaged produce. The other will pick their produce fresh from a small garden Rollinson has been keeping on the third floor of Dalton Hall.

“I think going to the garden and letting students actually pick their own vegetables and feel around in the dirt and smell it while it’s still fresh and see something that hasn’t been sprayed or packaged or rolled up and shipped across the country. I feel that that provides a different level of connection that can inspire them to go out and consume mindfully,” Rollinson said.

People who have little interaction with cooking can be intimidated by incorporating fresh ingredients, she said.

“The more connected you feel, the more likely you are to consume. I guess, in general, I feel like we’re a little disconnected from our food. Cooking is something that we do every day. The disconnection comes when we just go to Walmart and pick the lettuce off the shelves and we just put it in a bag, we go home, we cook it and we’re done,” Rollinson said.

Junior integrated marketing communications major Victoria Howard said she is comfortable with cooking, but hesitates using certain ingredients she isn’t familiar with.

“In high school I did a lot of the cooking for me and my dad, so I learned a lot in doing that, but I definitely don’t think that I know enough. I know how to work with a few different things and I’m confident with those, but there’s not much diversity within that,” Howard said.

Dr. Hope Lima, assistant professor of human nutrition, said college students often prioritize convenience, which leads them to choose processed foods over fresh foods.

However, Lima said that fresh foods can seem harder to prepare, because students can be unsure of how to handle them.

“The part that is concerning to me as a nutrition professional is the immediate predisposition of the students to choose a processed food, because it seems easier. If there are some educational steps in there, really fresh foods are easier because you can take them and just eat them,” Lima said.

“You clean them and eat them, but that sometimes is boring to college students because they don’t know how to combine them. They don’t know how to make creative meals from them,” she said.

Rollinson is interested in food security and competency for cooking, sparking from the “injustice” she sees in connection with food.

“I saw a lot of injustice in our lives and how we had to go about and connect with food. You know, ‘America the brave’ and they love their soldiers. My dad was a veteran,” Rollinson said.

Her father, aunt and grandmother were all diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She said her parents worked hard to put food on the table, but they made too much money to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“How is it now that this veteran who’s fought for his country is now battling a chronic disease? How is it that both of my parents are working and the government is saying ‘no you can’t get assistance. You can’t get SNAP, you make too much money.’ But I see them everyday sort of struggling to put food on the table,” Rollinson said

“It’s not just in my household. It’s households across the country where people are struggling to gain access to food.”