Campus / Featured / News / February 3, 2016

Dietary restrictions raise concerns in the cafeteria

Freshman Kiana Arango sat down in the cafeteria last term with a bowl of soup. By the end of dinner her face was swelling up and the reaction was spreading to her arms. She ran home in search of Benadryl, knowing the reaction could be worse, that the next time this happens her throat could close.

Arango is allergic to cauliflower, but because the soup she dished herself wasn’t labeled at the time, she was unable to determine precisely what she was eating.

As Bon AppŽtit adjusts its kitchen practices, students have had to adjust as well, creating feelings of both excitement and frustration about dining services at Knox. While many students are focusing on the taste and quality of the new meals, students with dietary restrictions, like Arango, want to ensure that what they are eating is safe.

Senior Amalia Hertel’s life practically revolves around her dietary needs. In addition to keeping Kosher, she has Celiac disease, a condition that makes ingesting gluten harmful to her body. Because of this, any contamination with flour or other gluten ingredients can make her sick. Like Arango, Hertel must verify every ingredient in her food.

“It’s not safe for me to make a guess. It has to be gluten-free,” said Hertel.

During Fall Term, Bon AppŽtit removed the laminated labels that displayed nutritional information and listed ingredients for the rotating meals prepared under the old management. Executive Chef Jason Crouch said this was done to make things more accurate for students. According to Crouch, the old cards were outdated and couldn’t account for recipe nuances. Since Crouch also encourages the cooks to express their culinary skills, a dish may not have the same ingredients every time it’s prepared. He provides the main ingredients and some guidelines, but the rest is up to them. To account for this, the new labels include stickers identifying a dish as vegan, gluten-free and more along with a recipe title and a list of main ingredients.

Eating in the cafeteria has been a challenge for Hertel ever since she was diagnosed with Celiac her first year at Knox.

Eating in the cafeteria has been a challenge for Hertel ever since she was diagnosed with Celiac her first year at Knox.

She went off-board, but when she didn’t have time to cook, the C-store provided her with a place to find clearly labeled foods that were quick, easy and safe. But Hertel began to notice a decline in the amount of gluten-free meals being stocked under Bon AppŽtit and has since given up shopping there. Last term, she would occasionally have dinner in the cafeteria with friends, something she no longer chances it due to concerns over cross-contamination.

“If they mess up, it can kill us,” Hertel said.

Junior Matt Koester, a vegetarian with a carbohydrate sensitivity, originally struggled to find food options that fit his dietary needs under the new management. He would sometimes go hungry rather than risk eating a meal that would make him ill.

He said that situation has improved over the past few months thanks in part to the increased variety of leafy greens in the cafeteria. But Koester sometimes has trouble identifying vegetarian options. Near the beginning of this term, he accidentally ate beef taco meat because there was no label differentiating it from the vegetarian meat substitute.

Bon AppŽtit’s labels feature symbols signifying vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and organic dishes among others. Recently, these icons were added to the online menu.

If dietary needs still aren’t being met, Crouch encourages students to speak with him or General Manager Diane Welker. Crouch’s office is decorated with large white posters that display meal suggestions from students. These suggestions are what fuel menu choices, he said. They’ve also led to the introduction of stations like the Protein Bar and the Grain Garden.

Crouch has been working with the Dining Services staff, too, scheduling additional training sessions on subjects like the hidden “sub-ingredients” in foods that can be problematic for certain individuals. For example, many vegans do not wish to eat honey and numerous sauces use gluten as a thickener.

“Come to us, we’ll make special accommodations for anyone,” he said.

Senior Rohail Khan did just that. Khan follows Islamic dietary laws and must ensure that his food is halal, or prepared in the manner prescribed by Islamic teachings. Last term, Khan and fellow members of Islamic Club approached Crouch about adding more halal items to the menu. Crouch began working on a new halal beef dish and dining services also prepared an entirely halal-friendly meal for one of the club’s events.

“He was very accommodating,” said Khan. A few weeks ago, Crouch also fulfilled Khan’s recent request for a few halal options in the Gizmo.

Junior Parker Adams, who is allergic to coconut, doesn’t share Khan’s experience. Soon after taking a bite of brussel sprouts one night during the beginning of term, Adams could feel a tingling in their mouth that later led to severe nausea.

Adams said they met with Crouch and Welker the following day to address their concerns over possible cross-contamination but did not feel they were particularly responsive to their needs.

“They do a very poor job of labeling,” said Adams, who recently decided to go off-board.

Although changes are being made, Arango will remember the allergic reaction she had to cauliflower for quite some time. The new labeling system doesn’t ease her fears, especially after experiencing a second reaction several weeks ago.

“Now I just avoid anything that’s white,” she said.

Kiannah Sepeda-Miller contributed reporting.

Celina Dietzel

Tags:  bon appetit cafeteria dining services food

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