Campus, News

Students with dietary restrictions, allergies comment on limited dining options on campus

A vegan breakfast taco at the vegan station in West Campus Dining Hall. Boston University students with dietary restrictions and allergies have expressed dissatisfaction toward several meal options available at campus dining halls. AMANDA CUCCINIELLO/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University students with dietary restrictions and allergies ranging from mild to severe have expressed dissatisfaction with the variety of dining options available on campus.

Of its seven available dining plans, BU Dining Services offers one specifically designed for dietary restrictions — the Kosher Plan, which allows full access to Fresh Fuel at Granby Commons and meals served on many Jewish religious holidays. 

BU Dining provides allergen and nutritional information on their website and the screens in all dining halls, with codes that indicate when something is vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, “Sargent Choice,” kosher, halal and “Climate Friendly.” 

The website also lists an allergen guide for students detailing the environment in which the food is made, guides for specific allergens and student resources, such as scheduling a meeting with a registered dietitian to develop a plan to address specific special dietary needs.

Jada Araki, a freshman in the Questrom School of Business, said she is gluten-intolerant and mainly eats at Marciano Commons. 

Araki said while there are technically enough meal options available to her at the dining halls, there could be a better variety in terms of protein and carbohydrates. 

“I know not many people are gluten-free, but for those that are, the variety that’s there is not that big,” she said. “[The dining halls] have a pantry with stuff in it, but they don’t really have food, it’s more like snacks.”

Araki added she has to shop at local grocery stores in search of food that fits her nutritional needs because of the limited variety in BU’s dining halls. 

“I would want more savory stuff, or just more options that are more substantial,” she said. 

BU Dining deferred to BU spokesperson Colin Riley when asked for comment.

Riley wrote in an email that 14% of BU’s student population follows some sort of vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diet and that efforts have been made to improve their variety of selection in the dining halls. 

“New recipes are added or changed each semester to improve the variety based on student feedback,” he wrote. “We did add about 10 recipes to the cycle to add seasonality and to include some suggestions from students.”

Riley added that BU Dining has accumulated a “robust menu selection” in the last five years, when the University first began serving vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. 

“We run a six-week menu cycle that includes more than 20 different vegan or vegetarian options each meal period,” he wrote. “We also feature significant gluten-free options, including gluten-free pantries to complement the GF options in our dining halls and to our dedicated gluten-free kitchen.” 

Anthony Vallone, a sophomore in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, wrote in an email that his experience with BU Dining has been “average at most” given his allergy to dairy, nuts and shellfish. 

“The safest option for me at the standard dining halls like Marciano and Warren is just to go to the vegan station,” he wrote. 

Vallone wrote that there have been times when he “put faith into a meal” that he saw listed on the online menu, only to arrive in the dining hall and find no staff member running that particular service station. 

“As a result, I have wasted a swipe and have to resort to vegan food, or exit the dining hall with only a wasted swipe,” he wrote.

Vallone added that he changed his dining plan from the 330 Plan to the 250 Plan — a $590 increase in dining point value for 80 fewer dining hall swipes per academic year — because in his experience, more allergen information and variety is available at the locations on campus that take dining points. 

“The only BU-associated meals I have are from the restaurants of the GSU 3 times a week, namely Panda Express due to their allergen information,” he wrote. “For the rest of my meals, I usually make myself a sandwich or use the kitchen of Myles […] to cook for myself using the groceries I have to purchase.” 

The BU dining hall website does allow students to filter food options for the menu that day by allergens such as egg, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, milk and wheat, and lists which dining categories, such as vegetarian or gluten-free, meals fall into.

Bridget Gomez, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she has been a vegetarian for about seven years and often eats in the Warren dining hall. 

Gomez said that compared to her old high school cafeteria, BU’s dining halls offer a larger variety for vegetarians, but the quality is either “hit or miss.”

“It’s either good or it is not good at all,” she said. “It’s been easy for me to find things off campus and on campus too.” 

Gomez added she switched from the Unlimited Plan to the 330 Plan earlier this semester after feeling like the meal options were too repetitive. 

“I felt like I was eating the same thing every time I went in there,” she said. “There wasn’t a big variety, especially because the vegan section is good maybe one out of three or one out of four times I go in.”

Emily Puglisi, a vegetarian sophomore at the College of Communication, said she eats most often at the West Campus dining hall and has noticed a positive change in the availability of vegetarian options in comparison to last year. 

“Last year, it was all the prepackaged meals so you basically could only have the vegan option,” they said. “But this year is buffet style, I feel like you can get what you want.”

Puglisi said the West dining hall has a wide variety of sides students can piece from to make their own plate rather than grabbing an already constructed meal. 

“I can get rice from one station and brussel sprouts from another instead of me getting the meal that’s brussel sprouts and chicken or something like that,” she said.  

Puglisi said although the service stations in each dining hall have digital signs displaying which ingredients are in the food being served, clearer options could be provided for vegans and vegetarians. 

“It would be helpful if they always had at least two meals that they knew were vegetarian or vegan,” they said. 

BU Housing sent out a survey run by an independent consultant to students Oct. 29 asking for feedback on dining services to help BU dining improve, entering students who complete it into a raffle for prizes. 

Puglisi added that as difficult as it may seem, students seeking better dietary accommodations in BU’s dining halls should make an effort to speak up. 

“That’s the biggest problem I had last year,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask the people at the dining hall or the workers at the GSU if they can accommodate for you.”

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