Dietary restrictions and medical conditions seemingly of no concern at café
Sabrina White, Editor-in-Chief
With the excitement surrounding the renovations of Saint Gertrude’s Café, and the hope for a revamped menu as well, many students have started to feel disappointed with the daily selections offered. From serving the same food a few days in a row, especially at dinner, to a lack of options for those with dietary restrictions, many students have expressed concerns with the café foods and practices. These concerns were often similar and echoed frustrations that students have held for the duration of the semester. I interviewed students from across campus to get more information on the opinions of the student body. The students who responded to my inquiries asked to remain anonymous, so names have been omitted to reflect their privacy.
The café has been quite lacking in options for those with dietary restrictions, especially vegan and gluten-free foods. For many, this is quite disappointing. Not only is it an inconvenience, but it also discriminates against those students who have severe allergies or diseases that require a very specific diet. One student commented on the lack of vegan options, as the only truly vegan food item is the white rice offered at the kettle. The sophomore student stated, “I wish there was more vegan options so that my family could come in during meals with us, but due to the fact that they have literally zero vegan options for dinner choices they can never come and visit.”
In addition, a vegan sophomore student mentioned “I would like more vegan options. I’m vegan and I’m tired of only eating vegan burgers.”
Another student, a junior, mentioned that the café seems to ignore severe allergies and medical conditions. He was very passionate about the topic, as it severely affects his life because he was diagnosed with Celiac disease. “In 2016 I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. This was a moment of shock, and a momentous life changing event. For nineteen years I ate what I wanted and without the slightest care in the world, like any teenager. Of course, this all changed, and now I have to worry what I eat, for if I ingest gluten I become very sick, and not just for a few days, but months. This can be triggered through a small amount around the size of the tip of your pinky. It doesn’t take a lot. Celiac disease is where your body cannot process gluten, which can cause you to become very sick. With my Celiac, my body removes not only the gluten but any other food in my system, which in short makes me starve myself. If I continue to eat gluten my intestines collapse and will then lead to death.”
The student continued, discussing the options available at the student store on campus as well as practices that led to him being unable to continue to eat at the Café entirely. “When I was informed that I had Celiac I was uncertain of how I would eat food on campus. The student store has little that is certified gluten free, and for the Café, well that’s another story. You may inform staff of your medical need, but the chefs working there seem like they could care less. Of course, that was my personal experience.”
“I would order a chicken breast with vegetables, and I would look over to the grill, where right next to my order was a wheat bun. I wondered how many orders ago there was a wheat bun toasted where my order was being cooked. In general, looking at the descriptions of meals, none of them are “gluten-free certified.” None. To me the school doesn’t really care for those with dietary restrictions or medical needs, even though Celiac disease is an increasing disease in America.”
Other students were generally upset with the quality of the food and service. A sophomore student remarked, “The food isn’t all that great and the service is mediocre. It’s disappointing because the café is a fun place to be at but getting disappointed by the quality of food and service is just frustrating. The options for food are limited and more often than not, it takes forever to get your food.”
Another sophomore stated, “The food is delicious, but after after awhile it starts to feel really repetitive.” Many students feel the same about the repetitive menu options.
In my own experience, I find that there are not many options available for students with dietary restrictions or medical conditions. I am lactose intolerant, and much of the food in the café is made with dairy products. Most often, I am limited to the salad bar when I choose to eat at the café, and even then, the salad bar does not look very appetizing. When I ask the staff whether or not an item is gluten-free, they mention that certain things are made without gluten but cannot be certified gluten-free, this is due to cross contamination across the entire kitchen. Even if something is carefully prepared, there seems to be no way to avoid cross contamination in the kitchens as they use the same utensils and surfaces to prepare all of the foods. This is quite frustrating for me, as it makes it infinitely harder to be gluten-free and lactose-free on campus.
Though some of the foods are labeled with indicators to alert students of possible allergens, there is often no specific answer for what exactly contains the allergen. I am quite disappointed with the lack of attention for many students who require dietary restrictions, and the general lack of options for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free students.