EDITORIAL: Sodexo pamphlets: Good intent, harmful impact
Recently, Sodexo has begun supplying students with nutritional information through a series of “Mindful by Sodexo” pamphlets available near Sherman Dining Hall. On the surface, the initiative seems like a great idea, and this board appreciates the dining company’s attempt to connect with our community. However, many of these pamphlets promote unhealthy attitudes towards food and body image. This board calls on Sodexo to reevaluate the messaging they use to connect with students, as well as for other campus organizations to closely scrutinize the ideas they promote.
In one pamphlet, Sodexo shared models of how to build plates that contain fewer calories and reminds students that often when one thinks they’re hungry, they are actually just thirsty. Verbatim, the pamphlet suggests that those trying to “drop some pounds” can use water as an “appetite suppressant.” In another pamphlet, they tell students about “sneaky” ways they can incorporate more exercise into their lives, but put the focus on how many calories those simple acts burn. These tips are good advice for someone who is trying to lose weight, but the conflation of healthy habits with weight loss is deeply problematic. Many students attempting to live healthy lifestyles are not trying to lose weight and will not benefit from additional pressure to do so. Moreover, many of the tips suggested in these pamphlets are strategies employed by individuals who have disordered relationships with food and their bodies. By having these pamphlets easily available in the dining halls, which is already a place of some stress for many individuals, Sodexo risks encouraging harmful behaviors or propagating new ones.
There are methods for speaking about food, bodies and health without drawing on disordered tropes. Per the National Eating Disorders Association, ways to develop a positive body image include appreciating all that your body can do, looking at yourself as a person beyond your body parts and focusing on altruism instead of worrying about weight and calories. Moreover, per the same website, striving for a healthful lifestyle can mean focusing on balance and moderation, looking for physical activities which genuinely bring you joy and not speaking about foods as positive and negative calculation. This board suggests that Sodexo, and by extension the campus conversation around health and wellness, rest on these tenets rather than solely on food restriction and weight loss.
A new campus initiative, Body Positive Brandeis, will train peer facilitators and “serve people of all identities and create space for dialogue” about identity and oppression’s impacts on body image and self-care, per the BPB website. This board appreciates their effort, and hopes that BPB will incorporate truly valuable and positive information, take caution not to leave potentially triggering material around campus and work with Sodexo to promote body positive rhetoric both in the dining halls and outside of them.