May 5, 2023 | NEWS | By Marynn Krull, Managing Editor

Since March, Bon Appetit has begun work to address student concerns about food accessibility and safety for students with allergies and dietary restrictions. After two Food Advisory Council Forums, Bon Appetit has implemented some student suggestions and plans to implement new solutions to better meet the needs of students.

Bon Appetit has accommodated several requests raised by student food access advocate Beth Thompson ‘26. The made-without-gluten-containing-ingredients (MWGCI) section in Rastall’s Dining Hall is no longer self-serve and has a designated associate to serve food and mitigate potential cross-contamination.

“Some people have been a little confused or maybe frustrated by it because it’s not as fast or convenient, per se, but I think especially for people with celiac, I could imagine how that would be helpful not only in reducing contamination, but also just peace of mind,” said Eliza Blanning ’26, who is gluten and dairy intolerant.

The MWGCI section now also includes animal proteins, which was requested by gluten-free students who were not also vegan or vegetarian and felt access to safe protein was lacking.

“I think things have gone really well, with the new kind of [avoiding gluten] station style,” said Assistant Manager Curtis Werner. He says the kitchen hasn’t been getting as many personal requests because the MWGCI section has been better able to meet the needs of students before they have to go to Accessibility Resources for accommodations.

“I think the fact that they’re trying to be involved with students and I have seen them implement changes, [is] very hopeful for me,” said Ruby Mae Heathman ‘26, a vegetarian who is also allergic to the proteins in dairy and gluten.

Still, Heathman feels she isn’t getting full, well-rounded meals with her meal dollars. “I love roasted vegetables, but you can’t really make a nutrition-dense meal out of just vegetables all the time.”

Dinner at Rastall’s Dining Hall is $12.25; Heathman says she could make herself tofu and vegetables for much cheaper on her own, without having to worry about the risk of cross-contamination.

Bon Appetit hopes a new dining option may make students with dietary restrictions feel more comfortable eating on campus. Regional Nutrition and Wellness Manager Leslie Mathiasmeier is helping CC transition the MWGCI, vegan, and vegetarian section to SimplyOASIS.

SimplyOASIS would replace component-based dishes such as roasted vegetables, rice, and plant-based proteins, with entree-based meals comprised of single ingredient foods. SimplyOASIS would accommodate the top nine allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, and sesame).

“I can say, having had this at other schools, [SimplyOASIS] tends to be one of the most popular stations for anyone,” said Mathiasmeier, “I mean, obviously, for students with food allergies, yes, that’s their go-to, but for a lot of our students, that’s where they go. They really liked those meals because they are just as well-crafted.”

Mathiasmeier raised two example dishes for the station, but also says many more could be possible. For example, a SimplyOASIS meal could be baked enchiladas, comprised of “braised black beans with fire-roasted corn, caramelized jalapenos, and sweet onion wrapped in corn tortillas with house-made red enchilada sauce.” Another possible dish includes beef or chickpea burgers, “in a crisp lettuce wrap, oven-fried potato wedges, marinated tomato cucumber salad, fresh cut melon with basil.”

“That actually makes me quite excited for next year,” says Blanning. “I was sort of dreading being on the full meal plan again because I think that’s what will happen with my living situation. [But SimplyOASIS] sounds great.”

SimplyOASIS is scheduled to be fully implemented by next fall, but in the meantime, Werner says Bon Appetit is “moving towards Oasis-lite. We’re working on getting those practices in place [and] experimenting. So, it’s going to keep on evolving. And I can’t tell you what the finished product is going to be, but the goal is to meet the needs of all of our students.”

Bon Appetit is also working with Campus Activities to possibly make touring Rastall’s Cafe a part of New Student Orientation. There, a Bon Appetit manager could go over hacks, tips, and food safety.

“It is about getting that notice out as early as you can in the first year, because…eventually, you get a culture of understanding,” said Mathiasmeier. “Especially when SimplyOASIS is implemented, how we market and get the word out about that will increase awareness about the main function of that space.”

Some problems, however, are beyond Bon Appetit. Beginning in January, a new federal law made sesame one of the top nine allergens, thereby requiring food manufacturers to label sesame as an allergen on packaged products. Instead of complying with stricter cleaning and labeling regulations, many manufacturing companies are adding trace amounts of sesame to products. Now, many foods that didn’t previously contain sesame are a contamination risk for students with sesame allergies.

“It’s something that we’re trying to make sure that we’re staying on top of,” said Mathiasmeier. “We found out that all these bread manufacturers decided to start adding sesame to their production. So that’s why you see our disclaimers in the cafe that say, ‘We’re aware of this happening and for our bread products, ask to speak to the manager’ to look at the label in hopes that the manufacturer has updated that.”

Mathiasmeier says that’s where communication is key: “We want those students to be able to ask questions. We’re going to give as much information as we can and we’re always happy to show you the box in which something came from if it’s available.” Students are advised to seek out a chef or manager regarding allergen questions.

“We’re all humans,” Werner said, “We’re all trying our best to do everything we can to make sure everyone that dines with us has a safe and enjoyable experience…When mistakes happen, we try to jump on those as fast as we can and solve it.”

Still, there are mixed reactions about the sincerity and efficacy of Bon Appetit’s efforts.

Blanning says that although they are still “[Mod] podgeing” to make full meals at Rastall’s, the little changes have meant the most to them, noting the consistent availability of vegan butter and vegan cream cheese.

“It’s a question of whether they’re actually trying to change their systems, or if they’re trying to change their image – which you know, the latter would be detrimental ultimately in the long run – but it’s promising that they’re looking into true accommodations and solutions.” Heathman said.

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