“I was just about to put cream cheese on my bagel, when I realized that there were globs of peanut butter spilled over into the cream cheese container,” recalled sophomore Claudia Weaver, who is severely allergic to peanuts. “Totally could have died.”
When it comes to serving a campus community of over 6,000 undergraduates, successfully accommodating the dietary restrictions of every student who walks into a dining hall can be a daunting task. But the University has come a little closer to striking that balance with the unveiling of an allergen-free food station in the recently-renovated Douglass Dining Hall.
“Coming up with a menu free of the top-8 allergens and gluten that was exciting, flavorful, and would appeal to all students was definitely a challenge for our campus chefs,” said Christina Patterson, Campus Nutritionist for Aramark at the University. “I think they did a wonderful job with it.”
Students seem to agree.
“When I heard there was going to be an Allergen-Free station, I was psyched,” junior Mattison Flakus said. “It’s definitely my favorite station.”
The allergen-free station is a “micro-restaurant.” It exclusively offers menu items free of the eight most common allergens—eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat—and gluten.
“A lot of my friends have allergies and they’ve been really satisfied with the food at the station,” said Flakus said. “They even have quinoa!”
The focus at the station is to provide minimally processed fresh foods, with an emphasis on incorporating fruits, vegetables, and good protein sources into available meals.
“I have been to the allergen-free station and I like it a lot,” said junior Gianna Macri said.
The station is the latest addition to the suite of options on campus for those with specific dietary needs.
Within UR dining halls, there is a vegan station and a gluten-free mongolian grill in Danforth, as well as the allergen-free station and gluten-free pantry in Douglass. In Danforth, there are Halal options available at the sauté station on the weekends, and there is always a certified Kosher station in Douglass. Products like these are available in the Pit and Hillside POD as well.
“Coming up with a menu free of the top-8 allergens and gluten that was exciting, flavorful, and would appeal to all students was definitely a challenge for our campus chefs,” said Patterson. “I think they did a wonderful job with it.”
Despite the progress made by Dining Services in the past few years, some students still see room for improvement.
“I’ve always felt like the dining options were very accommodating to vegetarians,” junior Vada Coe said. “However, the new Douglass isn’t as straightforward for those with dietary restrictions.”
The primary complaint from students has been the lack of food labels in Douglass.
“I’m a bit concerned that I don’t see the allergy warnings on the other stations anymore,” Macri said.
“The labeling hasn’t affected me much during the day, but I’ve definitely had problems with breakfast at Douglass, because there aren’t ingredient labels for the food and the allergen station is closed at that time,” junior Gillian Schwartz said.
Nutritional information, top-eight allergens, and both vegetarian and vegan identifiers are consistently labeled on the signs in Danforth, but this system has not yet been transferred to Douglass.
“We are currently working on a similar labeling system in Douglass,” Patterson noted. “Though these services will shortly be available, we appreciate that it presents a unique challenge to students.”
“The lack of a labeling system wouldn’t be that much of a problem if there were people available to answer questions