Editorial: Plant-based menus met with mixed emotions

Whitney Dining Hall caters to students with alternative diets (Josh Stanavage/The Daily Campus)

Long-time UConn students have seen a change in dining hall offerings over their time on campus. Dining Services reevaluates its food offerings on a semester basis to determine which dishes were hits and which were misses. On a mission for sustainability and to offer more options to vegan and vegetarian students, Dining Services have opted for more plant-based recipes as of late. While UConn recently received recognition from sustainability and animal-welfare groups, the decision to eliminate many meat-based dishes has been met with varying reception on campus.

It is incredibly difficult for Dining Services to make a menu at all locations, all the time, that makes all students happy with varying dining preferences and restrictions. Meat-eating students have become increasingly unhappy with the recent changes while vegan/vegetarian students have found more options.

Religious and personal-choice restrictions make dining a chore for many students and Dining Services has been in the right to make this easier. One group that is struggling in light of these changes, however, are the students who are allergic to certain food groups. For those who are used to encountering dietary restrictions whenever going out to eat, the changing menus has left an impact. While Dining Services does a great job of labeling potential allergens, students with severe complications have seen their options dramatically decrease.

Meat allergies are relatively rare, with most of red-meat allergies sourcing from the bite of a lone star tick which is not natively found in Connecticut. Because of this, many students with severe allergies turn to meat as the food group they can eat. One of the severe allergies, and most infamous, are peanuts. Causing anaphylactic shock, students with this allergy must completely avoid peanuts.

Peanuts are not a nut though, they belong to the legume family to which includes beans, chick peas and soy, staples in most vegan/vegetarian dishes. Because legumes contain similar antigens, students allergic to peanuts often must avoid beans and soy products because of the cross reactivity. Further allergies such as fish/shellfish are more unknown but equally life-threatening. Additionally, a response to uncooked fruits and vegetables, coined oral allergy syndrome, makes dining for students with severe allergies to multiple food groups very difficult.

While it is unreasonable to say that students with multiple severe allergies are in the majority, with the increasing rate of allergies among younger populations, the needs of this group must not be forgotten in the effort to change menu options.