Pricey Colleges, the High Cost of Nutella and Timberlake’s Vegan Shake

Is it just New York’s Columbia University or is the insatiable demand for this thing called Nutella spreading throughout the land? Nutella, for the pure and uninitiated, is that heavenly peanut butter-like, chocolate-based spread made with hazelnuts. Suck one spoonful and you’ll be dipping and sucking for hours, thanks to Nutella’s No.1 ingredient, sugar. Chocolate junk food, sure, but its Italian origins give Nutella the panache to practically lift it into the gourmet realm.

College students apparently have developed a bona fide craving for the stuff, leading to massive amounts of recreational Nutella abuse.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that at Columbia, the amount of Nutella taken out of the dining halls to be consumed later in dorm rooms amounted to “thousands of dollars a week.” Among the dining hall crowd, Nutella is tantamount to Columbia’s drug of choice.

Like recreational drugs, Nutella is not cheap. Two big jars go for just under $7 at my local Costco.

Could that be the reason why tuition at Columbia is $47,246 a year?

The high cost of college certainly should be a concern to all, especially after that report released last week by the non-profit State Higher Educaton Executive Officers Association, cited in Charles Blow’s column in The New York Times:

“In the ‘new normal,’ retirement and health care costs simultaneously drive up the cost of higher education, and compete with education for limited public resources. The ‘new normal’ no longer expects to see a recovery of state support for higher education, such as occurred repeatedly in the last half of the 20th century. The ‘new normal’ expects students and their families to continue to make increasingly greater financial sacrifices in order to complete a postsecondary education. The ‘new normal’ expects schools and colleges to find ways of increasing productivity and absorb ever-larger budget cuts, while increasing degree production without, we hope, compromising quality.”

Blow adds that “in constant dollars, state and local educational appropriations per full-time student reached their high in 2001, at $8,670. In 2012, those appropriations fell by nearly one-third, to just $5,896.”

Pass the Nutella? State schools might be lucky to have Nestle Quik.

Of course, after paying $47,246 a year at a place like Columbia, students may feel a sense of entitlement to their Nutella binges, or to use it as a salve after a particular tough class or exam.

But that’s when colleges should look at diversity from a nutritional angle.

Why are college dining halls enabling the bad eating habits of students? They should take a cue from hipster Justin Timberlake in a tofu suit doing the Harlem Shake vegan-style. Nutella is not vegan. Healthy eating is in. (Chocolate? Got to go bittersweet, 70 percent cacao.)

Dining halls are the great enabler of the Freshman 15. So old school. But it still happens. And it’s a bigger threat than you think.

All you have to do is look at the different rates of diabetes among the different groups to know that as campus diversity grows, one can’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition.

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Different studies found that African-Americans are from 1.4 to 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes than White persons;
  • Hispanic-Americans have a higher prevalence of diabetes than non-Hispanic people, with the highest rates for type 2 diabetes among Puerto Ricans and Hispanic people living in the Southwest and the lowest rate among Cubans.
  • The prevalence of diabetes among American Indians is 2.8 times the overall rate.
  • Major groups within the Asian and Pacific Islander communities (Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Filipino-Americans and Korean-Americans) all had a higher prevalence than that of Whites.

As a scholarship student to an Ivy League school when college tuition was just $5,000 a year, I discovered my big dining hall binge was with orange juice. I would sit by that dispenser and keep my glass filled. Fresh squeezed O.J. We never had it at home. Too expensive. Tang maybe. Some orange “drink.” More likely it was orange pop. But O.J. was pricey and wasn’t junk. It had vitamin C and pulp! I could ward off scurvy and read Moby Dick. This Nutella thing is something else. It may be a relatively small part in the high price of college, but in the enabling of bad habits, colleges are contributing to the high cost of health care in the future.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator on race and diversity issues. Based in California, he writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) and www.amok.com