Dealing with a food allergy while living away from home can be a stressful experience, regardless of the allergy’s severity. Self-serve dining brings the fear of cross-contamination, while not knowing the exact ingredients in prepared dishes results in a lack of dietary control that could have serious long-term health consequences if unaddressed.
At Wesleyan, Bon Appétit takes allergies very seriously, and the service aims to make accommodations for anyone who might have trouble navigating the dining options on campus.
“Anyone with a food allergy should meet with our management team so we are aware of their dining needs and can make sure they are safely dining in our cafés,” Bon Appétit Regional Manager of Nutrition Daniele Rossner wrote in an email to The Argus. “Any food that contains a protein can cause a severe allergic reaction, even by means of cross-contact, which is of high risk in any self-serve dining facility.”
Even if a student is dealing with an allergy that is not categorized as a “Big 8” food allergy, Bon Appétit has a system in place for those who need to avoid specific ingredients.
“Once we meet with a student and identify their dining needs, we create a plan,” Rossner wrote. “We have done plans where management will communicate the menu via email with a student, they tell us what they want that day, and we will be sure to have it ready for them. We have cooks that will cook their meal in a separate sauté pan to be sure their food is safely prepared (such as at the Mongo station). We have even brought in some new products that students recommend to us such as breads, wraps, pastas and sauces.”
Communication with Bon Appétit is key when addressing a food allergy, but it is also important for students to be familiar with the symbols listed alongside menu items in the dining facilities so that they can identify the foods they should stay away from. The goal is to create a safe dining experience for all those with food allergies, as well as those with other forms of dietary restriction.
“I’m allergic to all seafood—shellfish and anything and everything from under the sea,” said Bridget Adarkwa ’17. “It actually is pretty difficult to deal with the allergy because not only is seafood something I have to be conscious of at home being that it’s a staple in African cuisine, but I often have to be extremely cautious when dining outside.”
Though Adarkwa finds Bon Appétit to be very tractable to the needs of its diners, she says there are still ways that the system could be improved to better address issues regarding food allergies.
“If anything, it would be nice to know what’s being offered at Usdan every day,” Adarkwa said. “I know there’s a menu available online but with our busy schedules, sometimes it’s hard to check before getting there. If there were an email blast every day or so on what’s being offered, it would be easy to plan around it.”
Bon Appétit welcomes feedback from its diners, encouraging those with allergies on campus to easily convey their dietary questions and concerns to the service. As Bon Appétit’s policies make clear, food allergies are serious medical conditions that should not be taken lightly, and a continuous dialogue between both students and the campus food service is an important way to ensure the safety of all those who must be vigilant about what they’re eating.