Complaining about the awful campus food is a rite of passage for college students, but for those with any strict food restrictions, finding a satisfactory meal on campus makes the whole experience even worse. Binghamton University’s on-campus dining options may seem like they have a large variety, but for students with allergies or vegan and vegetarian diets, the options are limited.
Julia Rakus, a junior majoring in theatre, has severe food allergies to milk, eggs and tree nuts. Rakus shared how she felt the labeling for the food was not detailed enough for people with allergies, making it difficult and stressful to get something to eat.
During her freshman year, Rakus went into anaphylactic shock after ordering a drink from the on-campus Starbucks. By not recognizing Rakus’ allergies while preparing her drink, Rakus had her very first allergic reaction.
“I’ve never gone into anaphylactic shock in my life because I’ve been that careful,” Rakus said. “So then the fact that it happened on campus in my dining hall, that’s where my trust started feeling a little betrayed with the school in general.”
Additionally, while salad bars and fruit bars are great options for most students, for those with life-threatening allergies, this option is not always the safest. With food out in the open, it is hard to tell if students mixed utensils or if any of the food was touching and became cross-contaminated.
Samantha Boucher, a senior majoring in English, is a vegetarian. Boucher said she feels vegan stations, such as the one in the College-in-the-Woods Dining Hall, and non-meat meals should be implemented in the other dining halls so that students have easier access to meal options.
“Recently, when I’ve been in the dining halls, it’s very limited and it’s not fair for students who have restrictions because there really are no options,” Boucher said.
Moving off campus has been a big help for students with food restrictions. Having the ability to buy their own food and know they are following their dietary guidelines is both a relief and an improvement to their meals as they can make a larger variety of meals than what campus dining halls offer.
“I was going to live in the Susquehanna [Community] apartments on campus,” Boucher said. “I decided to live off campus instead because I just knew the dining halls wouldn’t provide many options.”
Lauren Metzdorff, a senior majoring in English, is a vegetarian with Type 1 diabetes. In her freshman year living on campus in Newing, Metzdorff found herself at the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4) salad bar constantly due to the lack of variety for vegetarians on campus. However, in her sophomore year living in Hinman College, her eating situation became even more frustrating.
“I had to make sure I had more food in my room instead of having something provided by the school,” Metzdorff said. “Having to make the walk up to [Appalachian Collegiate Center] is not going to work if I’m having medical problems.”
The Hinman Dining Hall has been under construction, further limiting options for students. Rakus explained that the Hinman Dining Hall staff was accommodating and helpful with ensuring her safety with food options, but in her sophomore year while it was closed, she lost this assistance and her only option was the Simple Servings station in Appalachian Collegiate Center.
“We would all have to watch closely to what the person was doing,” Rakus said. “Even having two extra set of eyes it was still really nerve-racking trusting someone to prepare my food.”
Many students with food restrictions found themselves purchasing food from the Marketplace, which was not the best long-term solution financially. The Marketplace has more vegetarian and vegan options, but it’s more expensive. For diabetic students who cannot skip a meal or wait to eat, Hinman Dining Hall’s closure left the Marketplace, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Jazzman’s as the only close spots to eat in between classes. Students with food restrictions are reluctantly eating at these places due to the lack of options, while knowing it is taking a toll on their meal plans.
“It weighed on my conscience,” Metzdorff said. “I’m spending all of my meal plan on a $6 snack box at Jazzman’s because that’s all I could eat.”
Although there are labels for vegan options in the dining halls, these labels are not always used correctly. Students have found food items such as macaroni and cheese being labeled vegan, and although that is an obvious mistake that vegans and those with dairy allergies can pick up on, it creates a sense of distrust and wariness.
“It makes you hesitate to take anything because you don’t know if they’re being careful or what’s correct at that point,” Metzdorff said.