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Students with dietary restrictions detail meal experiences in COVID-19 dorms

While Ohio University students with dietary restrictions have reported difficulties when attempting to find meals that accommodate their needs at campus dining halls due to COVID-19, students in the quarantine and isolation dorms are also experiencing issues finding adequate foods.

The dorms, True House and Dougan House, are designated buildings for on-campus students afflicted with COVID-19, awaiting test results for COVID-19 or who have been exposed and are not vaccinated or have not yet been boosted.

For those students who must reside in the COVID-19 housing, Angela Bohyer, university culinary dietician, said there is a food system set in place where students can select their meals. 

“We have a robust set of offerings that are rotated through every two weeks,” Bohyer said in an email. “The menu can be accessed through housing and culinary has created a menu of student favorites to meet the needs of those in quarantine.”

If any students have dietary restrictions, either by choice or due to health reasons, Bohyer said they must also inform the culinary staff of their specific requirements.

"All dietary preferences and allergies are accommodated,” Bohyer said in an email. “Students are able to request specific foods if they have food allergies or special diet needs.”

Regan Magee, a sophomore studying chemical engineering, was in the COVID-19 dorms earlier this spring semester. Magee, who is vegan, said she was dissatisfied with the options provided to her in the dorms.

“I think one of my meals was vegan chicken, and then I had a fruit cup and some vegetables,” Magee said. “And it basically just looks like a toddler meal.”

With the system set in place, Magee said meal orders must be placed by 10 a.m., which places a strain on individuals who may arrive at a later time to acquire proper meals. 

“The first day I was there, I didn't get there until after 10 a.m., so I couldn't order food,” Magee said. “And they give you a little bag when you get in there with chicken noodle soup in it which, obviously, I can't have, so the first day I didn't eat until probably 8 p.m., and I had to DoorDash.”

Joelle Wernick, a senior studying pre-med biological sciences, has been to the COVID-19 dorms on three separate occasions. Wernick said many of her issues with the meal options at the COVID-19 dorms stemmed from the fact that she does not have a meal plan, which posed an obstacle for her to obtain foods that accommodate her vegetarian and lactose-intolerant diet. 

“If I were to get food, I would either have to bring it or order it or have my friends bring it to me,” Wernick said. “So, I mostly had to order, which is pretty difficult as a vegetarian because not a lot of places around here have a whole bunch of vegetarian options. Especially when I'm lactose intolerant, there's not a whole lot of options.”

Due to Wernick not having a meal plan, she had to order food often which, she said, placed a financial burden on top of an already difficult situation. 

“I can’t order all the time because I don't have the money to spend all this stuff to order out every single time,” Wernick said. “The last time I was in there, I was only supposed to be in there for five days. And because of the delays, I was in there for seven days … but (restaurant vegetarian options are) a little bit more expensive than I can afford to buy seven times.” 

For those in similar boats to her, Wernick wishes the meal system was altered to allow students without meal plans to still access meals through the university while in the dorms.

“It's frustrating because I'm already in this dorm that I don't want to be in and, now, I can't even have good food,” Wernick said. “I feel like even if people don't have a meal plan, if they're sent to isolation, maybe they should offer food to them instead of just being like, ‘Deal with it.’”

Ultimately, Magee said she feels the circumstances individuals in the COVID-19 dorms face are not up to par. But, in particular, for individuals like herself who have a dietary restriction, she emphasized that their available nutrition is especially lacking. 

“It’s kind of funny now, but it was a nightmare,” Magee said. “I think the whole meal situation in the COVID dorms in general is a little bit rough but, especially for people with dietary restrictions, it's especially tough to get a good meal.”


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