Daniela Gomez / Daily Nexus

Leaving the comfort of home and heading off to college has been very exciting, as I am finally independent to do whatever I want. However, it has also involved taking full care of myself and my body. This is probably the most difficult thing I have had to do ever since moving to Isla Vista, mainly because it can be expensive and time-consuming to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And that’s what most college students lack: time and money. This results in more than 70% of college students eating fast food at least once a day, according to a study conducted in 2015. Considering how stressful and busy college life is, fast food can seem like a smart solution, but it might not be the best way to get enough energy and nutrients for a good overall well-being. 

Many students might be fine with that way of life and think that since it works, there’s no reason to change it. I might eat fast food every day and still feel healthy, but my lifestyle now is also what might determine if I am going to be healthy when I am older. Various studies conducted in Western countries revealed that changing the typical American diet and lifestyle could prevent most cases of coronary artery disease, diabetes, stroke and many cancers. The World Health Organization published a report in 2003 that highlighted certain dietary changes that could protect you from developing some chronic diseases. Specifically, the report suggests that replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, as well as limiting the consumption of sugar and sodium, could have positive long-term health effects. Not surprisingly, most fast food is high in sugar, saturated fats and trans fat, making it one of the most dangerous nutritious choices that college students make. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is another reason to strive for a strong immune system. With classes in person, there is always a risk of getting the virus, and along with the protection we take by putting our masks on and following social distancing, taking care of our bodies is an extra step we can take to fight the virus. Building a good immune system requires eating a lot of fruit, vegetables and foods with healthy fats. A study conducted in six countries in 2021 revealed that people following a plant-based or pescatarian diet were less likely to have moderate to severe COVID-19. Even though a good immune system does not guarantee that one will not get COVID, it can ensure that one’s body is more prepared to fight the virus and have fewer harmful health implications

Before moving to I.V., I would hear a lot of stories about many diseases going around UC Santa Barbara and how common it is to get sick. After two years of living here, I can agree that I.V. is indeed very prone to disease outbreaks, and I constantly see students getting ill from either the flu, respiratory infections, mono or strep throat. This is one more reason why it is important to keep our immune systems healthy and take care of our bodies while living here. A study was conducted in the United States to find out what percentage of college students had been diagnosed with health issues in the past 12 months as of fall 2020, and it turned out that 28.2% of college students had to deal with a virus or respiratory illness.

Sometimes being healthy is not only important for our health but also for environmental sustainability. As shocking as it sounds, the food choices we make every day directly affect the environment and global warming emissions. There are foods that require more energy and release more pollution, such as highly processed foods and foods higher on the food chain, which contribute to plenty of environmental concerns. In contrast, foods lower on the food chain and fresh, organic foods can reduce our carbon footprints. The fast-food industry is known for its fuel consumption, packaging and food waste, water contamination and emission of volatile organic compounds, which are all extremely harmful to our planet. Hopefully, knowing about that impact can serve as another reason to stay away from fast food and build a sustainable lifestyle.

Even if I’m right in that being healthy during college is very important, many might argue that there is no time and money to adapt to all those habits and maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially in a town like I.V. that has limited food options. However, after researching every market and food store around our town, I believe that there are many ways to stay healthy without it being expensive and time-consuming. 

For grocery shopping, I always have the Isla Vista Food Cooperative as my priority. The Co-op is just one block away from campus, and it is Santa Barbara County’s only community-owned grocery store. This means that it contains high-quality and affordable products from local farmers and producers. Two of the Co-Op’s strategic priorities are to provide access to nutritious, high-quality, affordable and culturally inclusive food as well as to model environmentally sustainable products. I’ve been shopping there ever since I moved here, and I am always able to find affordable food options that are also easy and fast to cook, making my cooking much less time-consuming and complicated. 

When I have extra free time during the week, I always choose to buy my fruits and vegetables from the farmers market at the Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta. Shopping from a farmers market doesn’t only support family farmers, but it also protects the environment and nourishes the body. Food at the farmers market is grown using sustainable methods and is transported across shorter distances, avoiding resources used by conventional agriculture that pollute the water, land and air. It is always a good idea to prefer food grown by sustainable techniques rather than the highly processed food found in grocery stores.

If healthy food can still appear unattainable to some, applying for CalFresh is my next suggestion. California’s food stamps program can be indispensable to many who cannot afford their groceries. The only thing you need to do is apply, and upon approval you will get an EBT card for groceries that works in most food stores and farmers markets. All eligibility requirements for CalFresh can be found on the UCSB Basic Needs Resources website, and it is a great option for students who are also eligible for Work-Study. UCSB also has Basic Needs advocates who can streamline the CalFresh process for students, so make sure to pass by the Student Needs Advising Center at the UCen to get all the support you need. Fresh, free and nutritious food can also be found at the Associated Students Food Bank. It is located at the UCen, at the entrance on the Ortega side, and is open Monday through Thursday from 9:30-6 p.m. and Friday from 9:30-4 p.m. 

There are times when I don’t have the time nor energy to go to the food bank or Co-Op, and I start debating whether I should just order fast food as a solution. That’s when I remember that fast solutions exist in our town that do not involve unsustainable food. Through Instacart, you can order online groceries, choosing from a great variety of sustainable store options, and they will be delivered to you after a few hours. If that’s too long, try ordering something from the 10-minute delivery services Snag or Duffl. Both stores have healthy options that can nourish you on a stressful study night when you don’t have time to grocery shop or cook.

Overall, it is not as expensive and time-consuming to be healthy as most people assume. Everything comes down to the choices one makes every day and the priorities they set. Healthy food choices can be combined with other daily habits, such as using a bike instead of a car, joining a sports club to get some exercise and spending less time on a screen to reduce radiation levels. Since early adulthood is a period of both physical and mental development, it is important that we make the right choices for our bodies and take the best care of ourselves that we can.

Athina Mihalopoulos argues that there are ways to be healthy as a college student living in Isla Vista without it being expensive and time-consuming.

A version of this article appeared on p. 14 of the April 14 issue of the Daily Nexus.