Foraging in Wisconsin: Restrictive diets on campus

Recent events have caused students campus-wide to take action regarding certain new dining policies at Lawrence that they feel are unfair. For some students on campus, their major food-related struggle is an older one: the struggle of staying properly nourished on a Lawrence meal plan while also following a restrictive diet.

These restrictive diets can be due to religious or moral reasons, allergies and intolerances, or other less definable reasons. For this article, a variety of students were asked about their experiences as vegetarians, vegans, pesketarians, those who keep kosher, followers of halal diets, people with gluten intolerances and more.

Each student reported unique experiences with dining services and there was a range of levels of satisfaction from people with differing kinds of restrictive diets.

Zach Ben-Amots a senior who keeps Kosher reports that “In general, I do feel satisfied with the dining services, despite several specific issues.” One of these issues is that he has never been informed about “whether or not Bon Appetit’s food is ‘officially’ kosher food. So while I am able to satisfy my diet, more strictly kosher students would definitely have issues with the dining.” This is especially a concern with regard to kosher meat preparation.

Senior Amaan Khan, who follows a Halal diet, which includes a specific butchering process of meat in accordance with Muslim practice, described his experience with his restrictive diet at Lawrence. “Although they have other meats often enough, on some nights, there is barely anything substantial without some form of pork. On those nights, students like me—who do not eat pork for religious reasons—have an insufficient meal on a plan they are mandated to pay for. “

In regard to the specific Halal butchering, Khan said, “They are either forced to drastically change their diet or subdue their religious preferences. One of the chefs at Bon Appetit once mentioned to me that he would raise the issue with the management, but I am not aware of any changes regarding the matter.”

Khan reports that the difficulty in getting access to Halal meat has caused great difficulty for many Muslim students on campus and that some have opted out of the meal plan in an effort to get access to all the nutrition they need.

Executive Chef for Bon Appetit Alan Shook reports that Halal meat has been available upon request in the past and that he has not gotten any recent requests for it by current students.

For many students interviewed, meat presents a different kind of problem. According to a 2012 study in the Vegetarian Times, 3.2 percent of American adults follow a vegetarian-based diet with .5 of those 7.3 million people following a vegan diet. Another 10 percent follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.

Based on interviews conducted for this article, this large number of people seems to be mirrored by Lawrence University. However, the exact number of vegetarians and vegans on campus is unknown with there being nothing, such as an all-campus survey, to determine the percentage of people with dietary restrictions on campus so that any food offerings would be adjusted.

Senior Heidi Thiel reported, “As a vegetarian, one of the biggest problems I have eating here is that there aren’t enough protein options, and when there are, they are usually rather unappealing. In the Commons, tofu and beans are often available, but are also usually very undercooked to the point that many students avoid them.”

There is no specific training that exists for Bon Appetit chefs that addresses the quality of preparation of vegan and vegetarian proteins. According to Shook, the main training regarding vegan and vegetarian protein has been an annual seminar given by Bon Appetit in Minneapolis that has a different topic each year. This seminar is attended by the executive chef, who then goes back to the university and informs the other chefs about what was learned.

Other inspiration for dishes comes from reliance on old standards, testing of trends and exploration of the chef’s many cookbooks. The menu of each meal in Andrew Commons is considered in terms of a few different factors. The executive chef aims to balance each food station by including healthy options with less healthy options. Shook also makes sure that a full meal—vegetarian options included—is available at every station.

Thiel also touched on a subject that was brought up by numerous other students, “I think we have a lot more vegetarian options than many other schools offer, and it is a pretty well-known restriction. However, understanding it isn’t the same as trying to eat by it.“

While Bon Appetit has had vegetarian and vegan chefs in the past, according to Shook, there are currently no chefs cooking in the Lawrence kitchen who eat by any of the restrictive diets discussed in this article.

Junior Megan Davidson, also a vegetarian with a pineapple allergy and lactose-intolerance and, reported that she has struggled to find satisfactory vegetarian protein options. “Sometimes the protein or rice contains pineapple, or is unappealing. In that case, I usually eat pasta and that does not fulfill my dietary needs.”

Gluten-intolerance is another large restriction that has been more recently acknowledged to be a problem. Senior Jenni Sefcik spoke on her experience with the gluten free options and reported that, while she enjoyed some of the homemade items that have been removed, “It definitely seems like they’ve regressed as far as offering Gluten-Free friendly foods…I feel like a burden more than anything else. For people like me who have celiac disease, we’re probably just as frustrated with it as they are so that’s pretty hard.“

Most of this feedback is regarding Andrew Commons, where the greatest variety of options are available and students tend to expect the majority of their healthy meals to come from.

Kaplan’s Café is marketed as an option that allows students to get items from both a basic daily menu and changing special offerings. The amount of options in the café is largely dependent on the amount of space in the small kitchen.

Junior Megan Davidson reported, “The introduction of the vegan burger is greatly appreciated,” but she often does not get enough protein from café options.

The Student Handbook states that “Meal plans are required of all students living on campus.“ There are a few situations that allow students to not have a traditional Bon Appetit meal plan. While not written in the student handbook, certain dietary restrictions such as severe allergies or strict adherence to religious diets have allowed students to opt out in the past.

Lawrence is also host to a few alternative meal plans. These are usually house-based, and the money that would typically be paid for a Bon Appetit meal plan is used to buy food for the entire participating group. Some examples include the McCarthy Co-op, Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and the Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens (SLUG) club.

Members of these groups enjoy the freedom that they find in their self-maintained meal plans.

Junior Gil Etherington, a member of the SLUG meal plan who cannot eat gluten, enjoys the SLUG meal plan, for the freedom to prepare whatever she needs, as well as the comfort of knowing that what she eats is gluten free and not a threat to her health.

When Etherington was on the Bon Appetit mean, plan she found that they were “extraordinarily bad at labeling gluten-free items…Bon Appetit is obligated to students who are required to pay for the meal plan.”