Navigating the Dining Hall with Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions

Navigating the Dining Hall with Food Allergies and Dietary Restrictions

By Grace McIntosh Contributing Writer

Walk into South Dining Hall and you’ll witness busy Sodexo employees hustling around in their bright blue uniforms as they work to provide students their meals. What’s on today’s menu? For some people, the importance of this question is all too real with their food allergies or dietary restrictions.

The Simple Serving station, an allergen free station, is useful for people with dietary restrictions. (Photo by Keely McConomy)

   Doug Winslow, executive chef of South Dining Hall, clarified why these concerns won’t be a problem at UMF. “We have identifiers at every station at every meal that show whether it is gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, or if it contains allergens,” said Doug. “If there is ever a question they can ask the person working the station or come find any of the managers. The doors to the kitchen are 100% open.”

   First year student Toni Facciponti, who has been a vegetarian for two years, was afraid she wasn’t going to have healthy options to fit her needs. “I was worried I would only have salad or cheese pizza to eat,” Facciponti said.

   However, when Facciponti arrived at UMF, it was clear there would be a variety of options. “The stir fry bar is a nice area for lunch, they’ll usually have rice or noodles and will cook up veggies of your choice and sometimes tofu, ” Facciponti said. The aroma of curried vegetables can often be smelled as students enter for a meal.

   At the far end of South Dining Hall, next to the kitchen, lies an allergy-friendly food station that has become a safe haven for students. The Simple Serve station is free of the eight major allergens – peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soybeans, fish, shellfish, and treenuts – making it the perfect place to grab a bite worry-free of cross contamination.

   First year student Brandon Marx, a pescetarian, says the Simple Serve station is his go-to for dinner. “UMF has a good selection of vegetarian choices and there will always be at least one available each meal,” Marx reassured.

   Of course, the dining hall is not a perfect system and there is always room for improvement. One student found their experience with Sodexo quite difficult. Junior Alexis Libby has a gluten allergy that caused dining during her sophomore year to be challenging.

   “Choices were always so limited. I lived on salad,” Libby said. “Frankly, the lack of options was unacceptable and I think a greater variety of gluten-free options should be available.” Libby acknowledged that the Simple Servings option was usually her safest bet. Her advice is to advocate for yourself if you don’t feel your needs are being met.

   Regardless of people’s experience with the food, Sodexo workers have a reputation around campus for being some of the warmest and kindest people.

   “The workers have been extremely helpful and pleasant during my interactions with them,” Marx said. Facciponti also agrees with the staff-friendliness saying that they make an effort to know your name as well.

   Whether today’s menu looks good or not, the dining hall aims to make your experience pleasant from start to finish for each meal.

 

Options in the Dining Hall Pose Problems for UMF Student

By Emilee Eustis Contributing Writer

The dining hall at UMF has given one student months of frustration after Sodexo has been unable to accomodate the student’s diet. Adlin Chaparin is a first-year student at UMF “on a strict vegan diet” due to a severe lactose intolerance. Because of Chaparin’s strict diet, options in the dining hall are very limited.

   “Since I am a first-year student here at UMF and living in residence halls, I am required to have the all access meal plan, which is something I cannot be paying for while also paying for my weekly groceries,” Chaparin said. This poses a big problem because Chaparin has to pay for a meal plan she isn’t using as well as pay for groceries that she needs due to her inability to eat in the dining hall.

   Chaparin has tried many times to go to the dining hall and make the best of her situation. “One day I went into lunch between my classes, and the options for me were very limited. I asked for a veggie burger, which I waited twenty minutes to receive, and when I finally got it, it was burnt completely and inedible.” She said many weeks she would go to the dining hall, and end up eating nothing.

   Chaparin also said the issues with the dining hall are affecting her health, and could be affecting the health of many other students who are faced with the same problems. “I lost a lot of weight which wasn’t healthy, and I overall didn’t feel good. On days when I was able to find something in the dining hall to eat, I would always feel very sick afterwards, and I’ve heard the same remarks from other UMF students.”

   Chaparin is also a collegiate athlete and burns “approximately 2,500 calories a day” but was only taking in about 1,250 calories,  making it difficult to perform well in sports or in the classroom.

   To make changes in the dining hall, Chaparin said that involvement from students on the campus could be beneficial, since complaints from a few students do not seem to wield results. Chaparin had “heard a lot of students complaining” about the food in the dining hall and knows a few other vegans/vegetarians on campus who are fighting a similar battle.

   Moving forward, Chaparin wishes to see the dining hall have a wider variety of choices, and for members of the UMF community to understand that students are paying a lot money for a service, that does not always accommodate to the needs of everyone. Sodexo has not made a comment at this time.