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College Student Drops Out After School Denies Request to Opt Out of 'Unhealthy' Meal Plan

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By Missy Martin

I wrote the below letter to fight for the right to my health and to act as a voice for all other students who are also required to pay for unhealthy, poor quality food over the course of their college careers. Students should not be required to pay for meal plans that do not support their health and well-being. I believe all students should be eating FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal and non-GMO) food. Otherwise, they should be given the opportunity to opt out. My hope is that our decision makers realize the impact their choices are having on our minds, bodies and future.

After writing the letter, Belmont University denied my request to opt out of my meal plan. This response tells me that my school values the price of a meal plan over my health. By my school not allowing me to opt out of a meal plan, I am being forced to feed my body with food laden with toxic chemicals. I refuse to put harmful food in my body. Belmont denying my right to health is unacceptable.

As a result of Belmont's response, I decided last week that I am taking a gap year and transferring next year to a school that aligns with my values for human and environmental health, and that will support me in my development as an advocate for environmentally sustainable and socially responsible choices, practices and communities.

I started a petition to show Belmont leadership that this issue matters, and although I will not be attending the school anymore, I still want to continue to be a voice for my Belmont friends and all other students required to have a meal plan because they live on campuses all over our country.

Join me in demanding the #RightToHealth. Sign my petition, and let's continue to voice the right for students to choose what they put in their bodies and the need for healthy, fresh, and affordable food on college campuses.

Below is a shortened version of my letter to Belmont:

Dear Dining Services,

The reason I am writing is to discuss my meal plan. I understand that students are required to have a meal plan, but I am hoping that we can work together and make an exception for my circumstance.

First, I would like to share a little bit about my story. Then, I will discuss how healthy food is a passion in my life both at Belmont University and beyond.

This summer I ate by FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal and non-GMO) criteria. I noticed that when I eat food with integrity, I feel better in mind, body and spirit. I have more energy to do what I love and to lead with passion and purpose. I have really struggled being on a meal plan the last two years. I am eating food that I don't believe in and that doesn't support human and environmental health. It has contributed to a college experience that, for me, is unhealthy and unhappy. How can I function when I know that each cell in my body is being fed with food laden with toxic chemicals?

Did you know that the average non-organic apple contains 42 pesticide residues (5 known or probable carcinogens, 19 suspected hormone disruptors, 10 neurotoxins and 6 developmental or reproductive toxicants)? The Environmental Working Group listed 12 of the most heavily sprayed food items and many of those listed are what our school refers to as the "healthy" options in Belmont's cafeteria—apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, spinach, peppers and greens.

It's not just about organic, but I also stand behind and fully live by a non-GMO lifestyle. Here's why:

This is an excerpt from my letter to 50 senators asking them to oppose the DARK Act:

"One of my main concerns with GMOs is the relationship between GMO crops and agrochemicals. Use of toxic herbicides, like Roundup, have increased 16 times since GMOs were introduced. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was listed as a 'probable human carcinogen' last year by the World Health Organization (WHO), reinforcing the numerous research findings that have proven the detrimental effects of this toxic ingredient."

I want to avoid the foods that contain GMOs and agrochemicals. Protecting the health of my body, my future and our planet is important to me.

How is FLOSN food a part of my future aspirations?

By becoming an environmental lawyer, I hope to reflect change by protecting both human and environmental health from destructive pesticide exposure and GMOs by reforming legislation. I attended the Tennessee Local Food Summit and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conferences and by listening to what the farmers in the region have to say, I believe the most pressing issue farmers face is feeling voiceless against big agribusinesses. I want to give them a voice. I want to be a change maker by fighting for funding and sustainable tools and practices for the farmers and their communities. Through informing, inspiring and mobilizing people at the local and national levels to start supporting, growing and buying FLOSN food, I believe food and health systems can be transformed.

Now, I want to address all of the other students required to have a meal plan because they live on campuses all over our country. I believe all students should be eating FLOSN food. Otherwise, they should be given the opportunity to opt out.

We need to care for each other and cultivate a healthier world. Belmont says "Belief in something greater." Well, let's live by that phrase! I have talked to dining services in the past and I want to continue to collaborate with them on how to take steps on doing right. I have experience working with Turning Green's The Conscious Kitchen, a program that created the first FLOSN school district in the country at affordable price points.

By working together, we can shift the paradigm of college dining. Acting with a conscious mindset and thoughtful perspective is critical. We need to assess our surroundings and investigate the impacts of what students are exposed to every day. We need to see ourselves as catalysts for the change our world needs at every level. Will you stand up for students' right to the access of healthy, fresh and affordable food and protecting their health?

I need to opt out of a meal plan because I do not support the food that is currently being served both at the cafeteria and campus stores.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

With kindness,

Missy Martin

Missy Martin, from Naperville, Illinois, is pursuing a double major in environmental science and social entrepreneurship with a minor in public relations with a concentration in contemporary social issues.

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