The University’s Eating Allergy-Safe and Yummy (EASY) club hosted a meet-and-greet on Friday, Oct. 2 in the Usdan Marketplace. This informal meeting was meant to introduce students with dietary restrictions to faculty, who could help students find easy solutions to their food consumption needs.
“The meet-and-greet involves meeting a key personnel, the people you would need to talk with if you need assistance with allergies,” said EASY co-president Ilana Newman ’18. “I felt that meeting these people in a more casual setting might help people feel more empowered and see the people as less of an authority figure.”
The staff at the meet-and-greet included Michelle Meyers-Brown, Director of Usdan University Center; Michael Strumpf, Bon Appétit Resident District Manager; and Danielle Rossner, Bon Appétit dietitian.
“They seem like we are drawing them from different areas of campus,” Newman said. “But they all come together to help people.”
University staff members say Wesleyan does everything in its power to ensure that students with dietary needs are eating safely.
“There are different lines that we have been going through depending on the special need,” Daniele Rossner, a Bon Appetit Dietician, said. “For the most part, we are really good about minimizing cross-contamination in the back of the house, and in the front of the house to the best of our abilities. But if you have been eating with us and it is not working and you are still having an effect, then they can make you a clean plate that has not been out in the server.”
Most students with severe allergies maintain close communication with Usdan staff members. Because there are not set recipes for the food that is cooked in the kitchen, it is not always feasible to provide full ingredient lists in front of the food.
“We really take a one-on-one approach to make sure that students can eat,” Rossner said. “For the most part, I cannot remember any student that has not worked with us.”
At the moment, the University is serving as a test site for a food allergy research association. There is a working guidebook with recommendations for colleges working with students affected by allergies.
“It is not just dining,” Rossner said. “It is an all-campus setting. It is training of RA’s and representatives as well as an all community approach.”
EASY first started as a group called Students at Wes Avoiding Gluten (SWAG), which later turned into gfreeWes. Rachel Sobelsohn ’17 created the club last year to facilitate her meeting other students with Celiac disease. Before SWAG, there was no official community for people with dietary restrictions.
“I realized that there was a bunch of students with Celiac and also varying degrees of gluten intolerance, sensitivities, or allergies,” Sobelsohn said. “But none of us knew each other.”
As a first-year student, Sobelsohn found a Wesleying article offering advice about eating gluten-free on and off campus, but she was still getting sick in Usdan and WesWings due to cross-contamination. After a meeting with her class dean, the head of Bon Appetit, the head of Usdan, and a doctor from Davison Health Center, Sobelsohn created the club now known as EASY.
“Gradually, the club expanded to catering all our members’ dietary restrictions,” Sobelsohn said. “For many, the off-limits food list was more than one per person.”
One of EASY’s main activities is cooking together. Not only do club members get to enjoy a communal meal—one that they can all eat—but many have actually improved their culinary skills.
“To my delight, even when we are avoiding more foods, the meals and desserts stayed consistently good,” Sobelsohn said.
Although the club mainly targets students with allergies, anyone is welcome to join.
“Thus far, we are really small,” Newman said. “But we have had a lot of interest judging from the club fair, and I think we are going to have a nice number of people. It is open to everyone; it has universal appeal.”
Going forward, EASY hopes to provide students with food restrictions on campus with readily accessible resources.
“I hope that we can be a resource for students with dietary restrictions,” Sobelsohn said. “Especially ones who do not know who to contact or want to know what our experiences were like regarding the dining staff and dean accommodations.”