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Students debate over how OU handles dietary accommodations

Ohio University’s two main dining halls, The District on West Green and Nelson Court, often provide a sanctuary for many students as they can come together and socialize or study, all while enjoying an easy meal. Although most students can easily come and go, enjoying the luxury of an all-you-can-eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, the students who require special accommodations due to allergies or dietary restrictions may not always have the same experience. 

One option for students searching for accommodations is “Margaret’s Made for You” at Boyd Dining Hall which offers made-to-order meals for those with dietary or allergy restrictions. Ally Parker, a sophomore studying visual communications, cannot eat gluten and finds going to Margaret’s challenging due to the distance from her dorm and the lack of selection they provide.

“I live on South Green, so I'm never over in that direction, and my classes are normally in Schoonover,” she said. “I only go a couple of times, and they mainly just have the gluten-free pasta and stir fry and then one specialty item. They don't have a ton of diverse options there.”

Another student, Nathan Turner, a sophomore studying biology, is a vegetarian and also struggles when going to Margaret’s. 

“Every time I go, they have a non-gluten infused meatloaf or non-gluten infused chicken,” said Turner. “I never see really a vegetarian option unless I want to get the stir fry which isn't always appealing.”

On South Green, Nelson does not have a dietary restricted section but still often puts out a variety of vegetarian options, such as salad or pasta, that can be prepared without meat. They also offer gluten-free items, such as pizza. However, they are often not clearly labeled, which makes it difficult for students to identify what they can and cannot eat. 

“I'll go in and there'll be something on the menu that I saw (that) I can eat, and then it's not there,” Parker said. “And then there's something else but I don't know what's in it. I can't try it.”

This makes Turner nervous as well about the possibility of mistakenly consuming something.

“I'm always just like kind of worried that something's actually not going to be what's shown on the menu,” Turner said. “That happens a lot.”

According to Culinary Service’s online special diets page, there are occasions when ingredients have to be substituted day-of due to commercial manufacturers changing things without informing culinary services or other unforeseen circumstances.

OU’s Culinary Services has a dietitian, Angie Bohyer, whose goal is to help students navigate the dining halls safely regarding their dietary needs. Parker has reached out to Boyher and found her information helpful but the results were disappointing.

“She said that you can call ahead and they'll give you a gluten-free box or tell you what they have but the only thing really is bread,” Parker said. “I tried to ask one time, I went in and asked for a gluten-free bun for a cheeseburger and they said, ‘Oh, we're all out.’”

Students have also noticed dining halls seem more prepared and organized when there are special events or big weekends, such as the recently celebrated Homecoming. 

“There were little pieces of paper saying what each dish was and it had the (dietary) symbols on it,” Parker said. “They don't do that regularly. Why don't they have this all the time?” 

Turner said this fosters a feeling of exclusion and negligence.

“I feel kind of excluded every time I am there, and there's not something always available, and then I do go on the weekends and I see so much more of everything that is available,” he said. 

According to the Culinary Services’ 2020-21 Food Allergy and Special Diets brochure, Culinary Services is committed to providing inclusive service in a caring environment.

Parker and Turner said they believe the dining halls and the culinary team are capable of making these accommodations, yet see their lack of commitment and feel as if they are missing a crucial part of the college experience which is the dining hall. 

“I feel like they’re trying just so they can’t get people mad at them and stuff, but they aren’t doing a ton, and I feel like if they just did something at Nelson that would help,” Parker said.


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