As someone who struggles with dietary restrictions, my navigation through living in dorms for two years and eating Sodexo’s food at the caf has not been an easy feat. I have learned that Sodexo is good at selling their many “great options” for people with food allergies. They are not, however following through with these claims. At the beginning of this year, I could eat all of the food that the caf had to offer. A few months into the fall semester, I developed a lot of food allergies that made eating at Sodexo ridiculously hard. I talked with Sodexo about some of the food options that I could eat, and was astounded at the lack of choice I had each time I sat down for a meal. They claimed to provide a “great salad bar,” but my choices included lettuce and some vegetables. All dressings and other toppings at the salad bar included gluten and dairy, so I proceeded to eat bare salads for the duration of the fall semester.
Other food options throughout the caf included more than five different types of rice and vegan curries (which I grew tired of after a week) and something that resembled tofu. Additionally, the plain vinegar offered as a dressing to the sad salad on my plate, just isn't good enough for my $2,000 meal plan. I don't think someone paying the price we do to eat at Sodexo should be limited to bare salads and various rices. I have attempted to work with the Sodexo staff to try to implement some changes in the caf for others who have allergies, but so far, I see no significant changes that the caf can offer.
On numerous occasions, I have asked staff if something they were serving was free from gluten or dairy, and on some occasions they have said yes. One time in particular, I asked if a vegetable dish was dairy free, and the Sodexo worker responded with an enthusiastic “yes,” but then proceeded to tell me the vegetables were only coated in butter. Things like this simply can't happen for those of us with food allergies. I understand that an easy fix to this problem would be to live in apartments or off campus, but for some, this is not an option.
As hard as it may be, Sodexo and staff must learn how to deal with these issues, because they aren't going away. Ingredient labeling of all the dishes in the caf is something that needs to be implemented, as this is a necessary rule for all operating restaurants in this day and age.
I know it's difficult for larger organizations to adapt to change. However, food allergies are becoming a normality nationwide and cannot be ignored. If we are paying this kind of money to eat at the caf this many times each week, we should be able to choose options that we are actually able to eat, and, have just as many options as everyone else. We are students too, and we are paying the same amount as everyone else for less than half the options of food.
My one final plea in this entire case is to educate the involved staff on the issues at hand, so they can continue to become more aware of the importance of food allergies. I am very appreciative of the work they have done thus far in the cafeteria with the designated stations, however, I am not seeing any changes in the actual food offered as well as in the realization of the severity of cross-contamination for people with specific food allergies.
Management at Sodexo has met my expectations in regards to meeting with us in order to make our needs heard, however, execution is still something I am waiting for. Sodexo and management, thank you for the effort you have made so far. I understand that the job to provide for our many dietary needs may seem difficult or impossible, and I completely understand if you are unwilling to provide for these needs. However, if this is the case, please allow us to the option of not having a meal plan and instead allow us to use that $2,000 to buy our own food that we know we can eat.