Navigating on-campus dining options with dietary restrictions
College can be a trying time for any student. Between academics, jobs and social situations, students can become easily overwhelmed with the amount of decisions they need to make. Students with dietary restrictions are faced with additional daily decisions that make their lives even trickier.
Whether for religious, medical or moral reasons, dietary restrictions can be difficult to navigate in any public setting, and UMBC’s campus is no exception. Even when available foods seem to fit in with one’s dietary needs, incorrect labels and incomplete ingredient lists can make finding suitable foods an extremely daunting task.
While some venues such as Au Bon Pain are reasonably thorough with their allergen and ingredient labels, other on-campus restaurants fail to adequately represent ingredients which may be hazardous to the restricted eater.
People with dietary restrictions must place a large amount of trust in the people who prepare their food. They must have faith that the people cooking and serving their food are not only knowledgeable about the food they serve, but are also forthcoming about the ingredients they use.
In the case of students who cannot tolerate dairy products, for example, it can be extremely frustrating when dining options, already narrow from the prevalence of cheese and cream sauces, are winnowed down even further by hidden landmines of scant amounts of butter and milk. Furthermore, it is absolutely maddening when one asks about the ingredients in a dish and is mistakenly told that it does not contain an offending food, only to become sick from exposure to a “bad” ingredient.
Alfred Hayre, a junior computer science major, is lactose intolerant and allergic to dairy and shellfish. When asked about tips for other students with restricted diets, Hayre said, “learn your limits early and then be careful to stick to them. Generally there is some amount that you can still consume even with restrictions and that will make all the difference.”
Although some on-campus dining establishments attempt to be transparent by having menus available daily online, most descriptions of menu items are basic at best and ingredient lists are hardly comprehensive. This only applies, of course, when the online menus actually accurately reflect what is being served.
The Kosher Korner at True Grit’s, while a great example of an institution which provides accurately updated menus, falls a bit short in that it never seems to be open for the entirety of its posted hours.
Hayre appreciates that some places like Mondo’s and Salsaritas “have a build your own meal thing so that you don’t have to worry and can get exactly what you want,” but says that he would like to see “more places for specific restrictions, or like an Outtakes that sells stuff that could help people prepare their own food.”
On the whole, while some restaurants at UMBC make efforts to accommodate students with unique dietary needs, there is still much room for improvement.