Number one dining is not number one for everyone

Dining halls lack options for dietary restrictions

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Collegian File Photo

By Lily Fitzgerald, Collegian Contributor

I have a bone to pick on campus –– and it happens to be in the vegan section of the dining halls. From an outsider’s perspective, the University of Massachusetts dining program seems to be very inclusive for students with dietary restrictions, whether religious or health related. Upon further observation, however, there are cracks in the dining experience. I don’t think UMass Dining is all that when it comes to catering to people’s needs.

UMass offers students designated gluten-free and Kosher sections in certain dining halls –– the key word is certain. You can find the gluten-free section in Franklin Dining Commons and Hampshire Dining Commons and expect abysmal options and conditions. At Franklin, the gluten-free food is prepared in front of you, with some options besides the main entree prepared. But, there are long lines and a chef is not always on hand. Even when an employee is there, the food isn’t always nutritious and is usually chicken and rice based. At Hampshire, the food is pre-prepared and quick to pick up, but it is the only option you have. One night, the food offered was a tiny bowl of pasta with vegetables –– not very filling.

Moving on to the Kosher options, there’s not much there either. The only dining hall with Kosher options on the entire campus is Franklin, and the food is situated in what can only be an old dish return station. With only one dining hall in mind, you would hope the service would be somewhat good. But their hours don’t accommodate all students. The dining section doesn’t serve breakfast because it is only equipped with one grill for cooking meat, opting for the chefs to close the section for the meal. The section also closes sooner than the entire dining hall, with its shutters pulled down at 7 p.m., compared to the rest of the dining hall that closes at 9 p.m. To make the hours more bizarre, it opens at 11 a.m. for lunch and closes at 2 p.m., only to reopen at 5:30 p.m. There are also no Kosher “Grab N’ Go” options, leaving students at odds with what to eat while charging them a $200 fee for Kosher dining.

Cross-contamination concerns are raised with other dietary restrictions that don’t have a designated section. There are no Halal and Hindu designated sections in any of the dining halls, making it difficult for people that practice. Halal has markers to show which food is safe and follows religious traditions, but the foods are limited and are typically displayed next to non-Halal foods, like pork, that end up sharing serving utensils or mixing with each other. Hindu foods aren’t even labeled and can be confusing, especially since practicing diets tend to vary, with the only unifying measure being no beef. Hindu foods also suffer the same fate as Halal by being situated next to and contaminated with non-Hindu foods. One particular issue with both has been in the stir-fry sections where the same grills, uncleaned, are used to cook beef or pork and other meats and veggies. Cross-contamination even happens in designated sections, as my friend once found a bone in her “vegan” potatoes.

UMass praises itself for its inclusivity, but this University has nothing to scream and shout about when it comes to what it offers some students in the dining halls: few options, difficult hours and cross-contamination. Serving people with different needs is not impossible.

Many college campuses are doing amazing work fulfilling dietary restrictions, like Boston University that has the Florence & Chafetz Hillel House –– an entire dining room dedicated to Kosher dining. Mount Holyoke has Baraka, a designated Halal section known for its Indian Dal.

Food is one of the most important daily necessities, and UMass Dining has made it so difficult for people that some give up their religious values and eat food outside their restrictions so they can eat. That’s not right, and that’s not what I expect from a campus that hails itself as uber inclusive. People shouldn’t have to worry about what they’re going to eat –– especially when they’ve already paid for it.

UMass needs to do better, because “number one dining” is not number one for everyone.

Lily Fitzgerald can be reached at [email protected].