Ithaca College has recently increased the options for students with food allergies and intolerances, but some students with dietary restrictions feel the college’s dining services are not catering to their needs. For students balancing a desire to eat healthy with a restricted diet, eating in the dining hall can limit their social opportunities by forcing them to eat food solely from certain stations and add food-related stress to their college experience.
Living with a food allergy or intolerance is a challenge many Americans face, and the numbers of those affected are only rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies in those under 18 increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Given this dramatic increase, future classes of students at the college will likely be composed of higher numbers of students with special food needs, looking to find ways to eat well on their college campus.
The dietary accommodation process at the college offers students the opportunity to opt out of a meal plan. However, it requires them to meet with Ithaca Dining Services for a consultation and complete an application for dietary accommodation. Following the meeting and completion of the application, a student must work with both the Hammond Health Center and his or her external health care provider to evaluate whether or not his or her needs can be met on campus with a traditional meal plan. In a time when students can make their college decisions based on lists like “The Top 10 Gluten Free Accommodating College Campuses,” the college should be seeking to improve the dining hall experience in order to be inclusive of those with dietary restrictions.
Forcing students to go through a lengthy and challenging process in order to create a safe dining experience for themselves can create resentment among students who feel that the college should be more accommodating of their dietary needs. While the college is limited in what it can change by its partnership with Sodexo, it could take initiative to provide clearer labeling and educate student workers on allergy issues. If Sodexo is unable to provide a wide variety of options to suit dietary needs, perhaps the college should seek new vendors who are able to accommodate dietary restrictions.
In order to provide a healthy and safe dining experience for both current and future students, the college needs to improve its food labeling, increase allergy-free options or make it easier for students to opt-out of a required meal plan. The college cannot afford to drive students away based on a lack of dietary accommodations and must therefore implement healthful offerings that will accommodate medical dietary needs.