I come from the land of avocados, gluten-free religiosity, and juice cleanses: the state of California. During my first year at Hillsdale, I became accustomed to the options offered in the Knorr Family Dining Hall. When I returned to the land flowing with pH water and coconut oil the following summer, my body and mind became shocked by the overwhelming number of dietary-restriction-friendly meals I had forgotten since coming to college.
After a summer cleanse, conducting some research on my blood-type, and discovering the foods that are detrimental to my system, I started a fresh lifestyle of healthy eating and my body and mind felt stronger and clearer than ever before.
Once I returned to school and the food offered in the campus dining hall, I found myself limited to only a few items that met my gluten-free and dairy-free restrictions. I began making small compromises to find food to sustain my system throughout the day, but fell into the pattern of making this a regular habit.
My mind became foggy again. Internally, I felt weak. And after having gained such a positive physical experience from last summer, I began to have lower self-esteem.
Within the first few weeks of school I spoke to a freshman with a gluten-free and vegetarian diet, who is similarly frustrated with Hillsdale’s lack of options. She expressed how abused her body felt after not having the options to follow her strict dietary needs. Her mind can’t work to its optimal level because she must eat the food in the dining hall, she said.
With that said, Bon Appetit has made efforts to try to make available more options that suit dietary restrictions. The food service’s general manager, David Apthorpe, said, “We have been working on mirroring our ‘Comforts’ line to provide a similar meal that is free of the top eight allergens — dairy, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.”
But, despite their desire to “keep up with trends” and serve “well-balanced meals,” it seems that there’s more they can do.
Bon Appetit’s main dining hall is slowly making these changes, but other locations on campus like AJ’s Cafe, Jitters, or even the new coffee shop Penny’s, do not provide the proper attentiveness nor ‘healthy’ alternatives to those who cannot consume dairy — baristas typically resort to soy (which is heavy with hormones) because their “provider does not offer almond milk,” according to A.J.’s supervisor Lisa York.
Economic restraints make sense, but when students are paying approximately $14-plus per meal, they deserve to be provided with food that fits within their preferences and health restrictions.
Food affects our bodies, not just in shape and size, but its efficiency and stamina as well. Food influences our mental state — its ability to retain information and stay alert.
It is important for the sake of education and learning to have the sustenance necessary to carry on, especially for those who have restricted diets. Hillsdale must realize that there is an ever-increasing number of such people. No dining hall or food service should neglect its guests with serious dietary needs. Bon Appetit should do more to adapt to their requests. To not provide students with more options for the sake of their providers’ convenience is short-sighted and a sign of misunderstanding.
As our food today becomes more genetically-modified and further from its natural state, it is the school’s responsibility to provide ample options to students who have dietary restrictions, so that students with these restrictions do not feel marginalized.
Although some options are available now, the campus dining hall should make purposeful efforts to provide diverse and versatile options for meals that allow those with dietary restrictions, whether allergy-related or other, to feel confident about the food they are feeding both their body and mind.
Isabella Redjai is a George Washington Fellow and a sophomore studying Politics and Journalism.