Like many college students, I am a big fan of food. So, imagine my excitement when upon hearing that there would be a new Douglass Dining Center opening just in time for the start of my freshman year.
In the past two months, only one thing has gotten in the way of my full enjoyment of the food at Douglass: the lack of nutrition labels.
A few weeks ago, Douglass started posting food labels at each station in addition to the digital menu boards already available. While these labels attempt to provide students with nutrition facts and alert people to the most common food allergies, they fall short.
I have found that many foods still remain unlabeled throughout Douglass. One of the biggest culprits is the soup at the Street Station. There have been days when I have wanted to get soup, but walked away with nothing, simply because the pasta fagioli looked too similar to the minestrone sitting right next to it.
Even when there are labels, oftentimes they are not easily accessible. At the Bistro Station, the labels scroll digitally, so for a student to figure out what they want to or can eat, they either have to hold up the line or wait out of line for all of the labels to appear on the screen. A student with a food restriction or allergy may wait in line for 10 or 15 minutes just to find out at the front that what they thought was normal chicken was actually egg-battered.
Then again, many students may not even realize that what is being served is something they shouldn’t eat. Just last week, I took a couple biscuits from the Bistro Station, only to discover that what I initially thought was cheese was actually bacon, which I do not eat.
How could this situation be avoided? Simply by putting a food label in front of the biscuits.
When I first told my friends I was writing this article, all of them, even those who have been eating in Douglass for nearly every meal, didn’t realize that there were food labels to begin with. Even with the labels that are present, there is a significant lack of information available. Sure, I can easily avoid that Thai dish at the Street Station if I have a gluten sensitivity, or an egg or peanut allergy, but if I’m a vegetarian, I may not realize that the small strips in the noodles are not tofu, but actually chicken.
The labels are so vague that frequently, the only way for someone who follows dietary restrictions to find out what is being served is to ask. But Dining staff are frequently difficult to approach, if they are even present at all (I’m looking at you, Asian Station). Many of them also lack knowledge about what is in the food they are serving. Additionally, some vegetarian items, such as french fries and falafel, are fried in the same oil as meat products.
I was talking with a close friend, and the topic turned to Douglass. He lamented the lack of labels and the fact that the few food labels that are posted fail to note whether a dish is Halal. He was upset, since there have been times when he has passed on good-looking food because it was impossible to tell what was in the dish.
This problem, if it persists, can ultimately alienate people from Douglass. It is critical that we know what we are eating to remain healthy. The issue of food labeling goes far beyond allergies; it is a matter of respect for the health, culture, and religion of University students.