Students raise concerns about need for more detailed food labels

In this photo, the Up & Atom cafe is pictured in the Biology & Physics building in Storrs, Connecticut on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

It’s no secret that the University of Connecticut has received great praise for its food accommodations to students: UConn was ranked the No. 1 university in the nation for gluten-free options two years in a row, and also received an ‘A’ mark for vegan experience from PETA. Thus, to maintain this integrity, proper ingredient labeling is pertinent.

Sixth-semester biological sciences major Himakshi Bhatt, who said she is a vegetarian for her religious beliefs, noticed something concerning when she stopped for lunch at the Chem Café last week.

“They always have some vegetarian or vegan options which is nice. I picked up (a Vegan Avocado Lettuce and Tomato sandwich); the sandwich was definitely labeled ‘vegan,’” Bhatt said. “I was surprised that there was mayo in it when I took a bite.”

Bhatt said the label plainly listed “mayo” as an ingredient, not “vegan mayo.” She said this wasn’t too bothersome to her because she is vegetarian and not vegan, but she was concerned for those who are vegan.

Back in September, Dining Services made the switch to Hampton Creek mayonnaise, which is a vegan, GMO-free, eggless, plant-based mayonnaise. Since making the switch, the mayo pumps can be seen in all on-campus dining halls and is used in Dining Services’ recipes. The Daily Campus published an article in September upon the mayo’s debut.

But it’s difficult to say that the article reached every student who dines on campus and at university cafes.

Café sandwiches like the Vegan Rueben and the Vegan Avocado Lettuce and Tomato (ALT) contain vegan mayo and Siracha mayo, respectively, said dining services executive director Dennis Pierce.

Bhatt, who had gotten the ALT at the Chem Café last week, said she “didn’t realize UConn used vegan mayo” after she was informed of it.

“If the product is marked vegan, then we are responsible that all of the ingredients meet the label’s criteria,” Pierce said.

After the Daily Campus spoke with Dining Services, Pierce said they would make a change.

“(Culinary manager Robert Landolphi) is having our staff add to the vegan labeling that the mayo is vegan,” Pierce said.

For vegans, Dining Services labels recipes and products are with “VGN,” meaning it contains no meat, fish, marshmallows, gelatin, eggs, dairy or honey, Pierce said.

For vegetarians, recipes and products are labeled with “VEG,” meaning it contains no meat, fish, marshmallows or gelation. Eggs and honey are not listed when present, Pierce said.

But students with viewpoints like Bhatt’s still see this as insufficient, as the vegetarian lifestyle isn’t always constant across individuals.

“I feel that sometimes they label things with eggs in them as vegetarian,” Bhatt said. “This doesn’t bother me since I eat eggs but I know that there are some vegetarians who don’t…it could be a problem for some people, so it might be nice if it was labeled.”

In addition to providing vegetarian/vegan labels, the eight FDA allergens are also labeled: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, according to mayoclinic.org, plus gluten and sesame, Pierce said.

With the exception of soy, the other seven allergens are labeled following the criteria provided by the FDA that dictates whether or not an ingredient can be considered an allergen. Soy is labeled whenever the word appears anywhere in the ingredient list, Pierce said.

“We (also) label our fryer oil as containing gluten so that anything fried shows a gluten allergen due to the possibility of cross contamination,” Pierce said.

The cafes offer sandwiches with vegan options, but no wraps, culinary operations manager Robert Landolphi said. Dining Services keeps a binder of all the current sandwiches on rotation in each café that contains nutrition, allergens and ingredient information. The cafes label their sandwich ingredients and allergens manually, Pierce said.

“The dining halls are pretty good about labeling,” Bhatt said. “I think it’s important that people are well informed of the food they are eating.”

Students with concerns regarding food allergies or preferences shouldn’t hesitate to contact Robert.landolphi@uconn.edu or Michael.white@uconn.edu.


Molly Stadnicki is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at molly.stadnicki@uconn.edu. She tweets @molly_stadnicki.