March 3, 2023 | NEWS | By Marynn Krull, Managing Editor

“The rest of the day is pretty much ruined,” said Audrey Zeichick ‘23. “It feels like a really bad hangover.”

Zeichick has Celiac, an autoimmune disease that attacks the small intestine when exposed to gluten. “Getting gluten-ed,” gives her brain fog, severe nausea, and fatigue.

“On the Block Plan, that’s really tough,” she said. “You can’t really lose days.”

Eliza Blanning ‘26 says they’re contaminated frequently at Rastall’s Dining Hall.

“Sometimes I’m just in pain, and I’m like ‘Why?’ trying to retrace my steps,” said Blanning, who is gluten and dairy intolerant, said they get bad stomach pain and cramps.

For Beth Thompson ‘26, another student with Celiac, finding food on campus is a “mental stress every day.”

“It’s just so out of my control,” said Thompson.

All of the above students experience food allergies on campus. Although experiences vary widely across students with different allergies, common grievances include difficulty accessing allergen-free foods outside Rastall’s, CC’s main dining hall, and frequently eating insufficient meals at Rastall’s to avoid accidental contamination. 

After an accidental allergen exposure, Sofia Joucovsky ‘26 says she once went to urgent care because she was so dehydrated from being unable to keep anything down. She said she still attended class because she was worried about missing content but was vomiting and couldn’t eat anything. Severe contamination has impacted her performance in multiple classes. Multiple doctors have told her to be careful because of her intolerances to soy, gluten, dairy, nuts, sesame, cottonseed oil, and canola oil.

Joucovsky says she worked with Accessibility Resources and left the meal plan in block three because Bon Appetit could not accommodate her needs. But for some underclassmen, leaving the meal plan isn’t the best solution and requires extensive doctor’s notes, which are hard to acquire away from home.

“I feel like, for underclassmen, it doesn’t really help to get your money back,” said Zeichick, a student with Celiac disease. “The issue is the food.”

Working with Bon Appetit

Assistant Director of Accessibility Resources Sara Rotunno says Accessibility Resources first tries to help students work with Bon Appetit to resolve access issues. But many students report feeling dissatisfied with Bon Appetit’s solutions or decide against going through the process at all.

“Most commonly, we’re able to work with Bon Appetit to provide support and information so students can successfully eat on campus, [such as] talking to chefs, understanding ingredients and labeling, and requesting food from off the line,” said Rotunno.

Some underclassmen with less severe allergies, like Aden Katz ‘26, Madeline Herman ‘25, and Claire Moe ‘26, make it work and accept accidental exposures as a part of life on campus. These three students said they haven’t spoken with Bon Appetit about accommodations because they don’t feel it’s necessary or that it will be helpful.

Moe said she doesn’t have an anaphylactic reaction when exposed to gluten, but she feels nauseous and bloated. She says feeling sick and trying to read a lot doesn’t work. Moe is gluten intolerant but does not know whether she has Celiac yet.

With Celiac Disease, repeated exposure to gluten can lead to malnutrition, bone weakening, infertility, lactose intolerance, nervous system problems, and several types of cancer. “Gluten is treated like poison in my system,” said Thompson, adding, “my grandpa died, we think, from undiagnosed Celiac. He died from cancer of the gut. I have to be really cautious knowing that.”

The current self-serve model creates multiple opportunities for students to accidentally cross-contaminate allergen and allergen-free dishes; any student can contaminate a dish by touching allergen-free tongs to a plate containing the allergen, by putting tongs back into the wrong dish, or by mixing components within dishes. The risk of accidental contamination deters some students with allergies from eating dishes that are in close proximity to allergen-containing dishes — or from eating at Rastall’s at all. Zeichick says buffet-style restaurants like Rastall’s just aren’t an option.

For Thompson, the lack of safe options is disappointing and unfilling. One night, Thompson’s dinner comprised Lucky Charms, plain rice, chickpeas, and corn. She often eats granola bars after meals to supplement protein and says she still feels hungry just a few hours later.

Other students said sometimes they’re only able to eat plain rice, french fries, or, in one case, “a lot of cucumber.” Of the eight students The Catalystspoke to, all noted a lack of protein in their diet.

Some of them are hopeful about a recent change in management at Bon Appetit, despite frustration over their experiences with Bon Appetit last semester. Thompson’s continued advocacy at Food Advisory Council meetings has led to solutions that may increase access and mitigate contamination.

“I don’t know how things were fixed in the past, but I do know how I fix things based on my previous experiences,” said Eric Foster, the Regional Support Manager on-site while longtime manager Shannon Wilson is on leave of absence. “I can say, I’m sorry, that was not me. I do not know who those people were, but our goal is to change that because that’s not how Bon Appetit operates.” Bon Appetit is looking for a new Sous Chef and Executive Chef.

Thompson says she’s been taught to advocate for herself, and she doesn’t mind doing so, but at times, she’s been made to feel like a burden by Bon Appetit staff. She appreciates kind employees who are accommodating but says certain employees are rude and unhelpful when she asks for clarification about food.

“If we claim to be an inclusive school, how can we not provide the most basic necessity for students with eating limitations?” Thompson wrote in an email last semester to the former General Manager ahead of attending the FAC meeting.

“Celiac can be considered a disability under the American Disability Alliance if it substantially limits one or more major life activities,” said Rotunno from Accessibility Resources, who was also CC’d on the email, “Not all food allergies are disabilities, though. It depends on how the allergy impacts the person.”

Thompson recalls emailing the General Manager for personal accommodations but says delayed responses prevented solutions. Despite this, Thompson remains optimistic and says she feels new management may be more helpful going forward: “They seemed pretty receptive.”

“I like these committees; I want to hear the problems. Because [if] I don’t know about them, I can’t fix them,” Bon Appetit’s Foster said.

Bon Appetit is looking into all-new color-coded service ware that would distinguish between meats, vegetables, and gluten-containing dishes to limit cross-contamination, Foster said. Thomspon and Joucovsky’s roommate, Veronica Gonzales ‘26, raised the idea at the last Food Advisory Council meeting. Bon Appetit is also looking at adjusting the layout of the dining hall to limit contamination while maintaining the flow of the cafe, another suggestion of Thompson’s.

Foster also says they’re looking into doing daily meetings before each meal service, where staff would go through the menu item by item to discuss potential allergens. This should start by the end of the spring semester and carry into next year. Students are still encouraged to seek out a manager with questions, as associates are not qualified to answer allergen-related questions. Managers undergo Food Allergy Research and Education training annually and must have ServSafe certification.

Foster wants students to know that no solution is absolute, but that “the goal is to be as informed as possible about our students’ dietary needs because we don’t want to harm anyone.” Bon Appetit has one request as students work with them to resolve allergen issues: “Please give us the ability to respond.” Students can use the online comment form or can leave a physical comment card outside Rastall’s, which will go directly to Foster and Assistant General Manager Curtis Werner.

“I don’t blame Bon Appetit at all. It’s a tough situation to be a student’s only source of food,” said Zeichick, who is on the Apartment Meal Plan and only uses her Tiger Bucks at the C-Store, “There just needs to be some kind of system where you can get food from the back to the students [with allergies].” In the past, some students felt accommodations made through Bon Appetit were inconsistent and unrealistic in the long term.

Zeichick recalls being given the former Head Chef’s personal number so that a plate could be made for her behind the counter before arriving at Rastall’s to limit the potential of contamination. Zeichick said that when she arrived, employees were unaware of the arrangement and that she had to wait 20 minutes for food when her friends were already done eating.

“It wasn’t really a system — it was a one-time solution because I was complaining,” Zeichick explained.

A Potential System

In July 2021, Bon Appetit launched an app that could be a consistent system to get well-rounded, appetizing meals to students with allergies. Curated, an app-based ordering system developed by Bon Appétit chefs and registered dietitians, would allow students to order meals in advance so that they can feel confident their food won’t be cross-contaminated.

“Allergen-sensitive meals are increasingly important with one in 10 adults suffering from food allergies,” said Bon Appétit Director of Nutrition and Wellness Terri Brownlee in a press release. “Curated fills an essential niche for a growing number of guests who are seeking personalized options without the stress of sifting through menus to meet their needs.”

Bon Appetit locations at Colorado College do not currently use Curated. A written response from Bon Appetit said that “either [Curated or Simply Oasis] are viable options for Colorado College. There is some lead time involved in identifying and preparing dedicated space and menu planning so it’s possible we could start this in the Fall semester of the academic year 23/24.”

All eight students interviewed by The Catalyst said they believed Curated could be helpful for students with allergies.

“The only thing that matters is the fact that the food in the back is not being contaminated, and then that students can have access to that food without contaminating it,” Ziechick said. “The app, I think, is really the only thing I think would work.”

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