For 425 consecutive days, 25-year old Instagram gym-rat Devin Cunningham ate at least one daily meal at Chipotle. The rules of his challenge were simple enough: eat Chipotle every day. However, his journey was not without the occasional hiccup. When going on trips or holidays, Cunningham often had to remember to buy extra meals the day before, in case he would be heading somewhere that did not have Chipotle. Then there was the E. coli outbreak in late 2015 which was linked to Chipotle. As a result of this scare, Chipotle temporarily closed all of its locations in the US. When these closings were announced, Cunningham frantically raced from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver twice to purchase a week’s supply of Chipotle meals. Yet despite these “speedbumps,” Cunningham succeeded in his challenge and spent over a year on a Chipotle diet.
Needless to say, Cunningham’s Chipotle challenge turned some heads. A self-styled fitness aficionado and aspiring body builder, Cunningham has claimed that that the gym “is his life.” Chipotle, however, is not traditionally known for being gym-food. The Mexican-style chain restaurant specializes in tacos and burritos, foods which are calorie dense, often with high fat contents.
For instance, at Chipotle, a single chicken burrito with brown rice, beans, vegetables, and cheese is almost 1000 calories, with around 31.5 grams of fat. This amount is, of course, compounded if customers decide to add sour cream or guacamole. Adding these condiments, as well as a side of chips, puts the meal at around 1800 calories, well over half of the 2200-2400 calories most men need every day. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Cunningham received many messages admonishing him to abandon his challenge or risk getting sick or fat.
Yet despite the naysayers, Cunningham was able to complete the challenge without illness and successfully reduced his body fat by approximately 4%. He posted progress on his Instagram, which gained several thousand followers in the process.
How did he achieve his fitness goal, eating what was ostensibly junk food? The attitude implied by such a question is, in so many words, precisely the ignorant outlook Cunningham was trying to correct by undertaking this challenge in the first place. There is a large amount of mysticism surrounding food and dieting. Folktales, myths, and clichés rule a domain which is actually very well understood within scientific circles. Cunningham was trying to show that dietary and nutritional goals succeed for predictable and physiological reasons.
For the goal of weight loss, the crucial metric of significant is caloric balance. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not necessary to abandon luxury foods to lose weight, so long as one maintains a calorie deficit. The food in question is largely irrelevant: a calorie of spinach is not superior to a calorie of Big Mac in this regard (again, specifically for the goal of weight loss). One might just as well compare the weight of a ton of feathers to a ton of bricks.
The key is information. As long as one is reasonably informed about the number of calories they are eating and the energy they are expending, it is very hard to be surprised by the results of their diet. If, however, you have no clue what your calorie consumption is, things may get dicey. One hardly needs to imagine how difficult it would have been for Cunningham to achieve his body goal without the robust nutritional guide available on Chipotle’s website.
Weight loss is not the only nutritional goal which requires information. Many athletes track their macronutrients to achieve an efficient body composition. Some people are tremendously underweight or anemic and thus need to make sure they are getting enough calories or iron respectively. For others, nutritional goals might include avoiding allergens or incorporating more fiber and vitamins into their diets. All these goals and more require us to know what we are eating.
It is clear, then, that to make completely informed nutritional choices, people need access to detailed and comprehensive information about the food that they consume every day. This was possible, Cunningham demonstrated, at Chipotle.
Yet it is not possible at Bates. Bates is a school lauded for its excellent tasting and nutritious dining program and for having one of the best vegan bars in the country. We as a school have implemented a myriad of fitness programs and sponsored outdoor activities (for both faculty and students); we fund dozens of varsity, club and intermural sports options; and we force our students to obtain PE credit for graduation. Yet despite this apparent emphasis on healthy eating and an active lifestyle, Bates Dining does not post nutritional information for its food.
I maintain that Bates Dining has an obligation to disclose this information. How can such a praised dining hall like Commons be lacking such an integral component which is available at hundreds of other colleges and universities across the country, let alone thousands of Chipotles, McDonalds, and Taco Bells the world over? Moreover, how can Bates students make the best decisions about their body and lifestyle if they are kept completely in the dark about the nutritional content of their food?
So why does Bates Dining not publish such information? The answer will shock and anger you. When asked on the “napkin board,” why calorie and nutritional information has not ever been posted, Bates Dining responded thusly:
“Because studies have shown that posting calorie and nutritional information on dishes can be detrimental to those who are struggling with food and body image issues we have chosen not to post this information. If you are interested in checking the ingredients in a recipe, the recipes are available at the stations during meals.”
Did you catch that? Bates Dining has “chosen” not to post calorie and nutritional information. The word “choice” confirms that our current blindness is not an incidental or administrational accident, but instead a deliberate policy of nutritional ignorance. And the reason? To spare the hurt feelings of those members of our community who most need this information.
First off, I challenge Bates Dining to produce any study which “shows” that nutritional information is damaging or suggests hiding nutritional information as a university policy. Even if there exists one such study (which I doubt), it would be disingenuous to behave as though such a study proves any kind of medical consensus on the effects of nutritional information. To the contrary, it seems obvious that denying nutritional information to those with body image issues is akin to denying information about the risks of alcohol to alcoholics. It is doing no kindness to those with these issues, but instead purposely limits their understanding of what they could be doing to their bodies. The potential harm that such a withholding could have is self-evident, and thus the current position of Bates Dining on this matter should be far beneath our contempt.
Furthermore, even if it could be proven that nutritional information is harmful to certain groups of people, this would still not be a good enough reason to withhold the information. Nutritional information need not be conspicuous or ostentatious (though it should be!). As long as it were available in a discreet page online, the nutritionally conscious could still access it while Bates Dining maintains its veil of ignorance over students they judge as too delicate to know the truth.
Solving this problem would not need to be a one-way street either. Students could help in this process by either donating our time or money. On the technological front, savvy students could help integrate with apps like “MyFitnessPal” and “Lose it!” which would make tracking nutritional goals a breeze. Better yet, this is a great opportunity for students and the administration to collaborate on a comprehensive Bates App which could show nutritional information in addition to Bates news, student articles, surveys, and upcoming events! The possibilities for students to use this deficit for constructive purposes are endless.
But the status quo is a disgrace, and it deserves an answer now. I encourage any concerned party to send emails to both the office of the president (email@example.com) and Vice President of Dining Christine Schwartz to let them know you want nutritional information posted for Bates students (firstname.lastname@example.org). Ask them to please explain the response given at the napkin board found at this url: http://www.bates.edu/dining/napkin/nutritional-info/. Furthermore, use the following link to sign a petition and show the administration that you care and want access to this information NOW: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-want-nutritional-information-at-bates-now. Delicious or not, Bates students have a right to know what is in our food.