What’s the Sitch with Salads at HSJI?

During the 2017 IU High School Journalism Institute (HSJI), if you took a quick glance across the Wright Food Court, one particular pattern would jump out at you. You would face a field of greens. 

At nearly every table, booth, and counter, students were eating salad. Caesar salads, cobb salads, taco salads, you name it. It seemed to be the most popular food item in the food court. Why was this substantial salad phenomenon taking place? Why was this lettuce-filled legacy being left? The answer lies in student’s ideologies, health issues, and plain-old random preferences.  

Wright Food Court has eight different restaurant options available to students, each offering a variety of fares. According to the dining services website for IU, the salad bar in particular has “three different kinds of lettuce, 18 different vegetables, 8 kinds of fruits, and 13 different dressings” that students can choose from to spice up their salads. This variety of options may be one of the reasons that salads were so popular at HSJI.

“I like a lot of fruit on mine. Mandarin oranges, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries… that kind of thing.” said Jessika, a student who attends HSJI. “You can definitely make it different ways. You can always make it your own.”

Additionally, those with food allergies gravitated towards salads. Abby, 15, attends HSJI for the feature writing class. She is severely allergic to peanuts, and she said she really has to be careful finding food. She looks for options that she is familiar with and that she’s sure won’t cause her to have a reaction, sometimes as dangerous as her whole throat closing up. Although she avoids the topping area, “a salad is a safe bet,” Abby said. “I’ve had it a lot.”

Salads also seemed to be a consistent option for people who follow certain food practices. For example, many students who are vegetarian and vegan relied on salads for most meals.

“I’m a vegetarian and I’ve been [at IU] for almost three weeks now. I eat salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said Amelia, another high school student participating in an IU summer program. “I think it’s definitely a good option because you know exactly what you’re putting on it. Granted, we don’t know what the washing process is, or whether or not there’s GMOs,  but it’s definitely better than a burger.”

Another vegan student, Jessika, agreed. “As long as you make salads healthy, they’re a really easy alternative [to animal-based products],” she said.

Sometimes, however, salads were just the most appealing option to students. Despite the immensity of options, salads were just what they liked. “I’m vegetarian, and everything else is gross,” said Sophie, a student on campus for classes. “I like salad because it makes me feel better about what I’m eating,” said Sharon, another student.

From the students perspective, it was clear why they thought salads were dominating the game. On the flipside, Amanda Hernandez, the assistant manager of Wright Food Court, had a differing theory about the popularity of these crouton-topped creations. In fact, she didn’t think salads were the most sought after item at all, at least from the long-term trends she observes while managing the food court year-round.

“Right now during the summer, we have different groups of kids coming through here. Ones like the sports camps or ballerina camps always eat from the salad bar for sure,” said Hernandez, explaining that the short-term demand for salads also applied in the case of HSJI this summer.

“But then you have these young musician camps or kids that are like nine, and they’re super excited to be on their own without their parents. They literally come through the register with five donuts, two cookies, and fruit punch for breakfast,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez even goes as far as saying that during the school year, students can barely even be persuaded to eat salads, a huge contrast to how HSJI students behaved.

“People always say they want fresher options, but once we try to offer it to them they still just want starches and heavy food and junk,” said Hernandez. “It kinda seems like the people who speak up and ask for the healthy options must be a very small percentage.”

While salads were all the rage among HSJI students this year, it seems likely that this crouton-crazy trend isn’t prevalent at IU year-round.

“Salad bar in general is kind of a frustrating thing to offer and have people excited about. Whenever we can figure out how to fight that battle, on the global scale, then maybe we can implement it here,” Hernandez said.