Halle Teague, senior guest writer
I was diagnosed through an endoscopy around 2015 with Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease covered by the Americans Disability Act (ADA) that requires strict adherence to a gluten free diet, free from cross contamination in ingredients and environment as well.
Between the food options that accommodate gluten-free and other food allergy related diets in the POD, Dining Hall and Java City, I am safely able to eat approximately three items that would count as nutritious meals. I can have a salad from the salad bar that was just added on campus, two flavors of cereal cups and the fries from Chick-Fil-A. Beyond that, I am unable to eat any items other than strictly snack foods like yogurt, fruit, a few kinds of chips and candy.
Sophomore year I had to give up my Any-10 meal plan because there were no food options that were guaranteed to be free from gluten ingredients or cross contamination, other than the salad bar. The pizzas labeled gluten-free, for example, are cooked in the same oven as the regular pizzas. Grilled chicken is cooked on the same surface as foods containing gluten, and I’ve seen, firsthand, wheat noodles being cooked in the same pans my vegetables were going to be cooked in when D-Hall had a stir fry station.
Last I checked the different stations in D-Hall, there are no ingredient labels that list the full ingredients contained in all aspects of the meals. Every time I ate at D-Hall, I planned for the possibility of getting violently ill due to cross contamination from shared equipment and lack of knowledge about Celiac, dietary intolerances or allergan safe procedures. When my parents inquired about adding a fryer dedicated to making meals that avoid cross contamination, prior to my arrival on campus, my family was told there was “no space” in the dining hall, which added a full service yogurt station not long after.
Fortunately, I currently live in a suite-style house with a kitchen and have access to groceries and a car to pick up those groceries. But many students who also have food allergies that prevent them from eating a lot of the food here are not in my position. They simply do not eat because they are not provided safe options for their dietary restrictions. I live with three other students who have severe dairy allergies or intolerances, and one student with severe wheat intolerance. But this is an issue that extends beyond my dorm and is a widespread problem on campus.
To opt-out of the meal plan, students are required to provide documentation from a physician that clarifies the dietary restriction and meet with the director of Dining Services and the Academic Success Center. This clearance is not a substitute for providing adequate nutrition for students who have no access to a car, groceries or the finances required to provide their own meals. And by adequate, I am referencing meals that meet standardized nutritional guidelines well-rounded with the appropriate number of calories, vitamins, etc. Just because a student rejects a meal plan because they cannot use it effectively, they are then expected to provide for themselves because the college refuses to.
Students (like myself) with Celiac need separate cooking utensils, a separate cooking and preparation space and a space to store food and cooking supplies. These are basic considerations. These also cost money, and when need-based scholarships only cover the institutional mandated meal plans, underserved students have no options to safely provide food for themselves.
Respectfully, I believe Berry College needs to better consider the parallels between these outlined issues and the issues outlined in the opening line of the Department of Justice in a settlement from Lesley University in 2012, when the institution was served with an ADA complaint for its meal plan practices:
“In or around October 2009, the United States Department of Justice, received a complaint alleging that Lesley University, violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, by failing to make necessary reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures to permit students with celiac disease and/or food allergies, to fully and equally enjoy the privileges, advantages, and accommodations of its food service and meal plan system.”
I need to know how the college plans to address the ongoing lack of support for all students who genuinely cannot survive on the meals provided by the college alone. I am asking the college to look beyond my singular case, which is influenced by an ability to obtain my own groceries and provide for my own dietary needs and consider the long-term consequences of sending a message that equal access to the most basic of student needs — food—is not a priority.