At Clemson, Low-Carb Diets Raise Prices

Monday, November 22nd 2004, 10:17 am
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ The days of college students slurping down cheap ramen noodles in a cramped dorm room might be a thing of the past at Clemson University.

Clemson administrators say students are eating more pork than pasta as the low-carb craze takes hold. The cost of providing more meat was cited as one reason the college had to raise meal prices.

``For the last couple of years, the college kids have become more aware, I guess since Mr. Atkins came out with his diet,'' said Rex Graves, coordinator of food and vending services at Clemson. ``The kids seem to go for more protein.''

Marina Harmon, a 19-year-old freshman from McLean, Va., said she did her part to drive up Clemson's food budget. For weeks, she avoided breads and ate mostly meat, cheese and vegetables.

``It was really hard to maintain it, because I never felt like there were any options here,'' Harmon said. ``So I just stopped doing it, and I went back to normal eating.''

Clemson fiscal affairs director John Newton told his trustees that changing student tastes, along with higher insurance rates, were the reason the school upped meal prices nearly 3 percent this year.

One meal in the campus dining hall costs $6.19, a 30-cent increase. For a 15-meal-a-week plan, the $1,022 cost per semester is up $25 from last year.

Some Clemson students say using protein consumption to justify an increase in meal rates sounds like baloney.

``I don't think they should raise the cost just because of a diet,'' said Scott Abrams, an 18-year-old freshman. ``They might just say something like that to raise their meal plan.''

Chuck Gagliano, assistant vice president for housing and food services at Michigan State University, said he would never use such a justification.

``Gee, I've never tried that before,'' he said. ``I can't ever imagine standing in front of a board of trustees ... and saying, 'This is the reason we have to raise food prices.'''

Gagliano said he has not noticed Michigan State students eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates. ``I'm not even sure they know what carbohydrates are,'' he said.

But Clemson's food service provider, Aramark Corp., has numbers to back up claims that students there are eating more meat than potatoes. Aramark bought 16 percent more protein products for the school in 2004 than in 2003.

Aramark, which provides food for 400 college campuses, said the company has seen no national low-carb trend in university food sales.

A January survey of 639 college students by the company found that most tend to focus on fat, calorie and sugar intake when dieting. However, 18 percent of students did say their focus was cutting carbs or increasing protein.

Officials at other colleges say the changes at Clemson are no big surprise.

``I would say it's an overall trend throughout food service,'' said Clint Campbell, director of retail food service operations at California State University at Long Beach. There's been a 3 percent drop in business in the pasta line, and hamburgers without buns are popular, Campbell said.

University of Georgia food services director J. Michael Floyd thinks the trend toward diet-conscious eating has to do with the increase in women at campuses. Nearly 58 percent of Georgia students are women.

``On the average, I typically find our female customers more diet-conscious,'' he said.

But carb-cutting isn't catching on everywhere.

``I've found in the food industry that sometimes what happens on both coasts takes time to filter to the central U.S. You've got the heartland, and they're going to eat hearty, and they do,'' said Texas A&M Ronald Beard, executive director of food services.

``They wait in line for those cookies and chase it down with Blue Bell ice cream,'' he said. ``It's a small percentage of students that are really, really bent on cutting calories.''