More inclusive meal options needed… and on the way

By Gabriella Caruso

Salem, Mass., Nov. 5, 2016 — Maintaining a healthy diet is hard in college, even for those without dietary restrictions. But for those outside of the dietary norm, on-campus dining can be even more of a challenge. Salem State is not exempt from this issue, but soon will be implement new options aimed at addressing the issue.
 
 Salem State requires all students, except commuters and those with permission from the dean, to have a meal plan, which can cost $750 to $3,720 per academic year.

Students wait for food at a Salem State University dining hall. Salem State and Chartwells say they are working towards having more inclusive menus for those with restrictions. Photo: Gabrielle Caruso

The point of a meal plan is to ensure that students always have access to food and proper meals, but those who don’t eat the standard “meat and potatoes” can’t always find the options they need. It’s difficult to get accurate numbers, but some suggest that as many as 16 million people in the U.S. are vegan or vegetarian, and according to the National Institutes of Health, one in 141 people suffer from some form of Celiac Disease
 
Junior Patrick Braley has had challenges.

“My experiences with on-campus dining definitely been a struggle,” he said. “I have Celiac disease so it was really difficult for me to find gluten-free food.” 
 
 For those who have dietary restrictions, including vegans and vegetarians, the failure to properly meet their restrictions can not only effect their moral health, but their physical health, too. 
 
 Some studies suggest that long-time vegetarians can experience symptoms such as bloating, gas and nausea. This is due to the body not having to digest meat for long periods of time, the body has learned to function without it. Those with gluten-intolerance can experience a sudden drop in blood pressure and intense fatigue minutes after gluten is ingested, according to one website.

But Chartwells, the food service provider for the campus, says it is providing some options and soon will introduce more.

According to Teresa Brady, Assistant Director of Operations for Chartwells on campus, Salem State, is the only school that uses the “Just Ask” program, a system that allows students to call ahead and place custom orders. 
 
Although the Just Ask program offers one solution, it still isn’t the most convenient.

“[My options] were very limited, and always took extra time to cook,” Braley commented.

Being that college students are busy, students don’t always have time to call ahead and are often left waiting in the dining hall for the amount of time that it takes to prepare their meal.
 
“I would always be the last person [served],” Braley said.

The empty ready-made gluten-free section in Marsh Dining at Salem State University. Students with dietary restrictions often have few ready-made options. Photo: Gabrielle Caruso

But now, Chartwells is working on introducing a new vegan/vegetarian menu, according to Brady who was interviewed via email last week. 
 
 “We’re introducing the “Rooted” program which is 100 percent vegan meals that are sourced from local farms,” she said. 
 
 One of the biggest areas of concern for those with dietary restrictions is cross-contamination. Cross-contamination occurs when cooking supplies are not properly cleaned and the gluten or meat from a previously made meal is added to the meal currently being made. Even indirect contact with the food in question can cause serious symptoms in those with dietary restrictions. 
 
 For those with extreme allergies, Chartwells offers students tours of the kitchens, during which the student and the staff discuss the best way to meet the students needs.

“[Chartwells will] invest in utensils specifically for the students and develop a menu that caters to their likes,” Brady promised, and said that she and her colleagues encourage students with concerns to get in touch.

“We encourage students to reach out and let us [at Chartwells] know how we can make their dining experience as easy and fulfilling as possible,” she added.