The University of Georgia’s Dining Services and the Coca-Cola Company plan to install around 30 Campus Market Express vending outlets across UGA’s campus. One of the first is open now in the lobby of the Biological Science Building, replacing the old Bulldog Café. Here is my first impression: the market offers low-quality food at high prices. The vending outlets are a step in the wrong direction, and they don’t work for our community.
The Campus Market Express sells numerous products with a steep markup. Lay’s Sea Salt and Vinegar chips, for example, cost $1.00/oz in the Campus Express but only $0.68/oz in the Creamery. Coke is only available in large 20-oz bottles while the 12-oz cans available elsewhere have vanished. The price increase is ~40% per oz of Coke. Many other products from headache pills to coffee are more expensive than elsewhere on campus. The Coca-Cola Company cannot be blamed for increasing its profits, but UGA can do better.
No doubt, feeding the tens of thousands of UGA students and faculty requires all kinds of styles and tastes. The offerings of this market, however, are not in line with UGA’s obligation to provide healthy nutrition. Most products contain too much calories, salt, sugar or fat. Don’t get me wrong: everyone craves ice-cold soda, chips or chocolate once in a while, and it will not kill us. We need vending options to fulfill those needs, but do we need marketing of such products in the lobby of the Biological Science Building with numerous video screens showing slices of pizza and glasses slowly filling with Coca Cola? Indeed, moderation is key. According to a recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association, higher consumption of sweetened soft drinks was associated with higher mortality. Aggressive promotion of sugary snacks and drinks goes against providing healthy food to students and faculty.
When UGA Dining Services left the Biological Science Building, it could have chosen someone else to take its place. However, UGA and the Coca-Cola company, a long-time supporter of the university, entered into a multi-decade contract to exclusively sell Coke products on campus. This contract would require food carts and other independent food vendors on campus to only sell Coca-Cola products, preventing variety on campus.
Are there any advantages to the new Campus Market Express? The UGA Dining Service webpage declares such markets “are on the leading-edge of today’s food service trends … for universities across the nation … allowing individuals ... to purchase food anytime the building is open.” I used to do all-nighters in the lab and, yes, it might have been nice to be able to buy a snack. However, for this purpose, a standard vending machine such as the ones present in the 3rd-floor lobby of the Biological Science center would suffice.
Automated non-stop vending of expensive unhealthy food should not be the future for UGA. UGA can and should do better promoting healthy eating habits including freshly prepared food, local sources and vegetarian offers.
Correction: An original version of this article misidentified the building in which the first Campus Market Express is located as the "Biology Sciences" building. The Red & Black regrets these errors.