OPINION | Tulane’s limited dining hours promote dangerous eating habits

Hannah Levitan, Contributing Columnist

Limited dining hours create a culture of meal skipping at Tulane. (Gabe Darley)

COVID-19 is not the only epidemic on campus. When combining uncertainty with a new sense of freedom and the opportunity to go out almost every night, the independence that teens look forward to in college can often be the same factor that drives college students into disordered eating. 

At Tulane University, party culture emphasizes the expectation to obtain the “ideal body” and avoid the infamous “freshman 15.” Daytime parties and warm weather call for shorts and bikinis, which can lead to skipping meals and obsessively counting calories. 

It is normalized for students to skip a meal just to offset calories from drinking. What some refer to as “drunkorexia” is the act of saving calories for drinking rather than eating, in fear of excessive intake. Indulging in such harmful behaviors can result in alcohol poisoning, Tulane Emergency Medical Service calls and even hospitalization. 

“It’s really dangerous because a lot of times girls get way more drunk than they anticipated and get sick,” sophomore Laine Vande Hei said. “I’ve even been in situations before where I’ve had to take girls home because they hadn’t eaten all day and they got really sick from drinking and being out all night.”

The Commons operates from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday, but closes at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Those who choose to go out on weekends have few late-night on-campus dining options and, while no meal is worth skipping, not eating dinner before drinking can heighten dangerous consequences. 

Unfortunately, nearly a third of college students report skipping meals to save calories as well as money on alcohol. When Tulane limits dining hall and food court hours, this restrictive behavior only becomes a more frequent trend. 

“I think it’s really unfortunate that there aren’t a ton of late night dining options,” Vande Hei said. “If you get done with all your classes and work and get back a little later, it’s super easy to just not eat before you go out because [dining is] not as easily accessible.”

Last year, Tulane offered “Commons To-Go,” an alternative to sitting in the dining hall which was at half-capacity due to COVID-19 precautions. This online order system not only ensured three meals for all students regardless of limited seating, but also gave many who struggled to fit meals into their schedules the opportunity to pick up food on their way to class or before leaving for a night out.

When students build their own class schedules, they may forget to make time for meals and ultimately develop dangerous eating patterns. Although introducing a to-go option was primarily related to COVID-19 precautions, many students relied on this flexible alternative during busier academic periods. Tulane has replaced this option with Provisions To-Go, which only serves a table’s worth of hot meal choices. 

“I’m someone who has a lot of late night meetings that go anywhere from 6:30 to 7:00 until night, so it’s … really tough for me to sit down and enjoy dinner. Panera was one of my only options last semester along with Commons To-Go to supply myself with a healthy alternative … that I can get to-go,” Karry said.

Though the Lavin-Bernick Center food court appears to have a sufficient amount of food options, its restaurants also have limited dining hours. Restaurants like Al Fuego and Zatarain’s are only open until 3 p.m. on weekdays, while other options often appear closed regardless of their posted hours. Until 2 a.m., students are left with Wow Cafe to fulfill late night cravings. 

Additionally, despite negative student feedback, Tulane is replacing Panera Bread with Dunkin’ Donuts, a menu limited to coffee, baked goods and breakfast sandwiches. This decision limits dietary choices and may dissuade those with eating disorders from eating healthier options as some students might suffer from “carb guilt” and may feel uncomfortable with Dunkin’s inadequate menu. 

“I … think that, because caffeine is an appetite suppressor, adding another caffeine place is upsetting to see, [especially] knowing the amount of people at Tulane who suffer from eating disorders,” Karry said. 

While Tulane does offer an ample amount of eating disorder resources, these support systems must be made known to incoming freshmen who have not experienced the academic and social pressure that arises with party culture. 

Furthermore, if Tulane is willing to replace a food court restaurant so fundamental to the Tulane community, the administration should at least continue to offer a to-go alternative with more meal choices for students who do not have time to sit down in the Commons. 

“Now that Commons-To-Go is gone and … Dunkin’ isn’t even open and doesn’t plan to open until late in the semester, I’ve been having a really hard time eating at night,” Karry said.

It is nearly impossible to eliminate the pressure from party culture, but it is possible to provide students with proper nutrition and a way to break out of harmful eating habits perpetuated by said culture.