Health, religious diet restrictions tested by dining halls
Editor in Cheif
One sees many things during a college visit. The dorms, the academic buildings, the libraries, all are staples of a typical campus tour. They are the most essential parts of on-campus life. But colleges are smart, and they know what sells to youth. How do these tours end? With a trip to the dining hall.
Unfortunately for junior Leah Greenwood the college experience at the dining hall has been a nightmare. She has a gluten allergy that causes vomiting and concussion-like symptoms just minutes after ingestion of wheat. She knows firsthand the deficiencies the dining hall has with gluten-free options.
About a month into Greenwood’s freshman year, she went to the dining hall to receive her normal gluten-free dinner. The school currently offers the opportunity for gluten-free students to pre-order their meals online every week, she said.
However, that night when she received her food, she noticed that her gluten-free cream of rice was actually cream of wheat. After speaking with employees, Greenwood decided maybe she had misjudged the food. But when she took her first bite, she discovered she was right all along. Her body’s typical volatile reaction ensued, and Greenwood decided that would be her last trip to the dining hall and has not returned since.
“Last year, I probably lost 10 pounds,” Greenwood said. “Because I just wasn’t eating enough. I would have like a yogurt in the morning and a yogurt at night, and that was it.”
The dining halls on the university’s campus also suffer from a lack of sufficient options for those who face religious dietary restrictions, such as senior Madinah Wilson and her husband Isaiah Anton, a recent graduate. Both are strict Muslims who, when away from campus, do not eat pork and refrain from eating any meat that is not halal, which is the meat preparation requirements for Islam.
However, Anton said, adhering to such rules while eating at the dining hall is nearly impossible. The meat is clearly not halal, he said, and even when he decides to bend that rule he knows the meat is prepared in the same pan or on the same grill as pork cooked for that meal.
An Aramark representative stated in an email that though a kosher option was considered for some of the already existing dining halls, the facilities were deemed inadequate in size and mechanical operations to support it. Aramark also stated there is a kosher dining option in the new dining hall on Academy Street, but not halal. Wilson said worse than the lack of halal is the insufficient labels placed on some food in the dining halls.
“What I’ve noticed this year is, online it will say ‘green beans’, but when I walk over to get my green beans there’s bacon on them,” she said. “It’s hard because we are required to buy a meal plan, but then we can’t get a full meal out of the dining hall, and I’m eating cereal for dinner.”
Anton has had similar experiences with pork being subtly added to foods during his recent trips to the dining halls, highlighting one experience in particular during which he accidentally violated his commitment to avoid pork—without even realizing it.
“Last time they had clam chowder, it had bacon in it,” he said. “And it wasn’t labeled. Normally, clam chowder doesn’t have bacon in it, so I didn’t even realize until I had already ate it.”
Those with religious requirements are not the only ones who find the dining halls at the university difficult to navigate. Senior Shelley LaMotte said she became a vegetarian after learning more about the food industry in high school. She said in order to maintain her lifestyle she is forced to resort to the salad bar in The Scrounge for dinner, where at least she can choose which ingredients look the freshest.
She echoed Wilson’s and Anton’s sentiment and said just a few weeks ago she had planned on eating broccoli salad one night for dinner at a campus dining hall, only to find slices of ham buried inside of it.
“They definitely have to do a lot better job of labeling,” LaMotte said. “It’s just a hassle. They could do a better job, but they definitely acknowledge that there are a lot of vegetarians and vegans on campus. They just aren’t giving us a lot of options.”
Aramark did acknowledge that they are working to better adapt their dining options at the university. In the new dining hall on Academy Street, there is a dedicated gluten-free station, the company said. The company said it hopes this will help cater to what is now its most common dietary restriction among students, a result of the growing figures of celiac disease, personal avoidance of gluten and gluten intolerance.
However, gluten-free options at Trabant and Perkins remain exceedingly thin. Greenwood said the university can definitely be doing better, using evidence she’s seen at other schools as her basis.
“I’ve visited friends at Bentley, Trinity, University of Miami, Stonehill—they all have designated gluten-free sections,” Greenwood said. “I think [the university] would really benefit from something like that. A lot of people I know feel that way.”