The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW should provide inclusive on-campus dining options for students with dietary restrictions

5 min read
Photograph of the simple servings station

The Simple Servings station in the dining hall provides allergy-friendly and gluten-free dining options for students. Abbey Magnet / The Weekly Ringer

By Margaret Jackson

Opinion Editor

As someone who has a Jewish heritage and intermittently follows a kosher diet, I’ve learned that kosher dining on campus is next to impossible. While UMW does offer some kosher meals around Passover or during cultural celebrations, on a day-to-day basis, there are no options available to students who are practicing a kosher diet. To ensure that all students—no matter their diet—have access to food they can eat on campus and feel valued as a part of the campus community, there needs to be a wider and more inclusive variety of food available.  

According to Rose Benedict, Sodexo’s unit marketing coordinator, UMW currently does not have the means to prepare kosher foods. 

“As you may know, the only way that a dining program can offer Kosher foods is to have a separate kitchen dedicated to preparing Kosher meals,” Benedict in an email to The Weekly Ringer. “There is not space in the CRUC to establish a separate Kosher kitchen, and we don’t have any other locations on campus where we could do that.”

This means that there’s no feasible way for me to practice any kind of kosher diet at school, as there are no guaranteed kosher dining options on campus. As someone who follows the diet intermittently, I only experience issues at certain times of the year, around high holidays. If I were to practice kosher on a daily basis, though, it would be an impractical and unachievable feat. 

There are a few items labeled as kosher at the Simply To Go Market in the Eagle’s Nest. However, there’s no guarantee that there hasn’t been any cross-contamination, which would make them truly kosher. There’s not sufficient separation between kosher and non-kosher food items at Simply To Go, and separation is super important to people who follow a kosher diet. 

At my home, we have two separate fridges to store meat and dairy. In most orthodox households, you’ll find two completely separate areas to prepare meat and dairy dishes, and some people will even have separate silverware and plates to serve them on. Therefore, having kosher and non-kosher foods together at Simply To Go isn’t ideal.

Although the University’s Diversity and Inclusion page states that UMW “is committed to creating a community that is diverse, inclusive and affirming to all individuals” and “The Office of Diversity and Inclusion will work to ensure an academically and socially engaged environment where all faculty, staff, and students feel supported,” the lack of inclusive dining options starkly contrasts that mission.

The limited dining options on campus have a direct impact on student’s lives and can prevent them from having a positive experience at UMW. As Mary Washington’s student body represents a variety of lifestyles and backgrounds, and the University promotes and embraces diversity and inclusion, Mary Washington should have inclusive dining options, providing an array of hot and cold meals for those who adhere to specific diets. This pertains not only to kosher diets but also to vegetarian, vegan and halal ones as well. 

According to Benedict, UMW Dining aims to work with students to accommodate their diets, which is part of the reason why Meg Paulson, a sophomore women’s, gender and sexuality studies and English double major who also has Celiac disease, chose to attend UMW experienced after there was a change in the dining staff. 

“The reason I picked Mary Washington was that I was told they could accommodate me, [I] took a private tour of the kitchen and worked with the executive chef at the time (who is no longer the executive chef and left as soon as I arrived for my first year),” Paulson said.

Paulson can’t eat at Panera or Vocelli’s because of the bread and flour, they said, and eating at other places on campus is a risk because of cross-contamination. Paulson said that UMW tried to cater to her dietary restrictions, but they ended up getting sick anyway.

“They tried [to accommodate my dietary needs] last year, encouraging me to only eat at Simple Servings, but I constantly got sick due to cross-contamination,” Paulson said. “It’s very easy for that to happen because of the fact that there’s communal silverware—if someone touches a fork and puts it back, or it’s not cleaned properly, I’ll be sick for days if it’s minimal cross contamination but serious cases lead me to be sick for weeks.”

Paulson continued, “It made my first year at UMW miserable because I was so sick, and not to mention that because it’s an autoimmune disease, so my immune system is weakened when I am getting ‘glutened’—I was sick for months with stuffy noses, coughs, and more all year.”

This year, Paulson got a meal plan exemption, and they eat microwaveable meals in their dorm room.

“I am glad that ODR gave me a meal plan exemption because having a meal plan and not being able to use it is a waste of money,” they said.

UMW Dining tries to take into consideration the varied lifestyles and diets within the student body. 

“Concerning vegan options, the Grown station at the Earth Bar offers a hot vegan meal for lunch and dinner every day, and we are constantly expanding the variety of options available,” said Benedict. “The Simple Servings station is our allergy-friendly point of service. Complete meals free of wheat, gluten, eggs, milk, shellfish, nuts, tree nuts, sesame and soy are available there. Those food items are stored, cooked, and prepared in separate areas with dedicated equipment by specially trained staff to ensure there is no cross-contamination.” 

However, for students who practice alternative diets, the one Simple Servings station in the dining hall isn’t enough, and it’s sometimes not an option for people with severe allergies, like Paulson. 

In my experience, the dining hall does not provide a wide enough variety of food for people practicing a kosher diet in particular. The Earth Bar frequently has a make-your-own salad bar and pasta or potato salads, as well as the occasional soup, but that’s about it. There’s also one vegan option on the other side of the station, but it’s not the best. All this to say, it gets repetitive after a while when this station is your only on-campus option, and I find myself going to McDonald’s or other off-campus retailers often. The McDonald’s near campus has some kosher items on certain days, though not every McDonald’s does.

Other than the Earth Bar, the Simply to Go market in Woodard Hall is the best dining establishment to go to for students with dining restrictions, but that is not to say much. 

So, while there are a handful of diet-friendly options on campus, they aren’t as inclusive as they need to be to serve UMW’s diverse student population, and some of these options are only offered during certain times of the year, such as kosher options during UMW’s Jewish Cultural Dinner in November and during Passover. 

The matter of cross-contamination and the lack of trust in the university’s dining options create a scarcity of dining options on campus. Because of this, the University needs to provide more inclusive dining options for those who follow alternative diets on campus due to health, lifestyle or religious beliefs.