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Food Variety for Students with Dietary Restrictions Needs an Upgrade

by Tanadon Thienrattanakorn

5 mins read
brown peanut on brown container
Photo by Katie Salerno on Pexels.com

One of the most important aspects of living on campus is a quality dining experience. What someone eats can tell a lot about a their lifestyle and identity, which is why it is so important not to overlook the ways in which the Drew Commons handles food variety, especially when students may have certain dietary restrictions. 

Photo courtesy of Adam Smith.

First is the question of dealing with allergies, which Drew tries to cater to, but not well enough. At The Commons, made-to-order stations give the residents an opportunity to specifically order food which suits their needs. Additionally, gluten-free foods are also readily provided at a special station. From my perspective, this method is highly beneficial. Not only does it increase the variety of food, but it signifies that the university cares about its students and staff. However, the variety of food available for students with allergies is still relatively small compared to that of the regular food, because allergy-conscious options never seem to change. The Commons should provide more types of allergen-free food.

Agreeing with me is Patrick Walsh (‘25), who has a close family with celiac disease said he is frustrated when there are not enough options available for those with food allergies.  

“I have seen that family member struggle to find food options over and over again,” Walsh said. He added, “ It brings up feelings of frustration and makes it seem like the person who has no option is uncared for in a manner.” 

Drew University also takes religious dietary restrictions into account at The Commons, but I think that more options of religious food would make Drew’s cafeteria more welcoming to students. Some religions have established beliefs that prohibit people from consuming specific types of food. For example, the Islamic mandate prohibits Muslims from eating pork while Jewish students must adhere to eating Kosher foods. The Commons provides many alternatives to help meet religious restraints, including a variety of meats (pork, beef, fish, shrimp), milks (standard dairy options or lactose-free or plant-based alternatives). Therefore, students who adhere to their religious traditions can enjoy eating at The Commons, but I still think there is room to improve.

Ricky Sta (‘24) shared his opinions and said,“I think that the Commons makes a good effort at trying to make interesting options available but may fall short when it comes to variety in the long term. Even though I haven’t experienced these types of restrictions in my own life, I believe that more options would serve to make both those who the options are tailored to and the whole student body happier.”

When it comes to individual eating preferences, The Commons at Drew provides options but the lack of change in food options is a problem. Different people may prefer eating in certain ways for a variety of reasons, which may include fitness goals, health concerns, or just personal tastes. In order to account for this, Drew provides various types of foods suitable for other dietary habits, from health-focused options like salads and lean meats to more fast- food-like selections and international dishes. 

Although some students are satisfied, like Mukesh Thakur (’24) who said that The Commons satisfies his preferences, I firmly believe the minority who have specific preferences are still not being considered enough. It largely comes down to a lack of variety within the options presented with people who have different dietary restrictions and preferences. I think that although Drew meets the needs of most community members, it should dedicate resources to supporting more food variety for students with allergies, religious restrictions and specific preferences. 

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