By Matthew Pramas
If you eat at Alliot and you have dietary restrictions, sourcing a well-balanced meal can be arduous. If you have food allergies like me, eating away from home can also be risky. The concern for food allergies and other dietary restrictions have become more important and prevalent within the past five to ten years, said Brian Roper, director of dining services at St. Michael’s College.
Roper, who has been on the job now for three years, sees the accommodation of individuals with dietary restrictions as a necessary facet to his job. But in order for Roper to do his job, he says, students must come forward with their needs and desires. “We can and will accommodate almost anything. It’s a matter if the student is willing to self-identity.” Most notably for gluten-free students, a specific room is dedicated to keep gluten and nut-free food isolated. Located to the left side of the dining hall as you walk in, the room entitled “My Zone” provides food from certified allergy-free suppliers purchased from distributers like United Natural Foods (UNFI).
When Roper began working with St. Michael’s, the current allergy-free space was a storage room and “the gluten-free section was just a little cabinet behind the deli,” a place that he described as, covered in gluten cross-contamination. The room was later created under his suggestion. The space has growing use with increasing numbers of individuals identifying as having nut or gluten intolerances and allergies. “We go through $800 – $1000 of product a week in there,” Roper said. One young gluten-free woman using the space said “this room is a life-saver” remarking on the limited options a gluten-free student has when eating at Alliot and places like it. Another student who isn’t even gluten-free remarked that she enjoys the freedom to eat different food, including gluten-free cereal and other wheat related products.
Several Sodexo employees have been trained by AllerTrain, a resource that teaches people about food allergies, Roper said, noting that he and the staff take food allergies seriously. He also monitors the allergy-free room to decrease chances of cross-contamination. “Our goal is to not have anyone have a [serious] allergic reaction,” he mentioned, noting that zero severe reactions were reported last year.
With vegetarians, pescatarians, and vegans on campus, Alliot must also accommodate their needs.. “Vegetarian food goes well, vegan does not,” according to Roper. Pescatarians, who are vegetarians which eat seafood, have slightly easier time eating, although Roper commented that fish is not always a popular option either.
Roper admits that living with dietary restrictions is not easy, having chosen to be gluten-free for a time himself. In light of how common dietary restrictions are, he and the Sodexo staff provide greater choice, something students on campus seem to appreciate. “It’s nice to have options,” she said. “For things that can’t be found out there [in the dining hall], it’s nice to have these options available.”
“It’s pretty limited,” said Matt Foster ‘21 said about gluten-free options in general at Alliot, “ I feel that this place should have more gluten free options