Are they selective eaters or concerned customers?

By Allyson Meyer

Have you ever walked through the Student Life Pavilion at dinner and been puzzled about what to eat? Maybe you have specific dietary needs or religious beliefs that make it hard to find the right food? Being a selective eater at USD can be challenging.

We’ve heard from Gallup, in their poll assessing eating preferences, that only 5 percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarians, and only 2 percent consider themselves vegan.

We’ve also heard from Celiac Central, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, that “the gluten free diet is the fastest-growing nutritional movement in America” and that more than 3 million Americans must eat food that is gluten free.

Given these facts, are options at the SLP limited? Consider this: many religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam have restrictions regarding what type of meat, if any, can be eaten, as the publication “Go Vegetarian!” explains in an article “Vegetarian and Religion,” published by students from Drexel University.

“Vegetarianism has been a common thread among the major world religions,” according to the article “Vegetarian and Religion.”

Along with that, some people suffer from diseases that prevent them from eating certain food products. Many also choose to focus on plant-based diets. Can the SLP Dining Services provide more options at USD?

As of now, vegetarians have the choice of a few recurring dining options: veggie burgers at Sea Salt, a selection of pizzas at Heirloom, and a soup or salad at Bay Leaf and Chives. Vegans have fewer options, relying on staples such as brown rice, produce and tofu. And what about those with dietary restrictions like gluten-free? Many times they have to specially request food.

Plus, there are the health benefits of a diet focused more on grains, fruits, and vegetables and less on meat. The American Cancer Society reports in their article “Vegetarianism,” that there is a link between lower risks of “heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer” in those who eat a mainly plant-based diet. The American Heart Association seconds this in their article “Vegetarian Diets,” saying “Vegetarian diets can be healthful and nutritionally sound if they’re carefully planned to include essential nutrients.”

But are we getting those essential nutrients? USD freshman Lavanya Sridharan explains the difficulty in finding nourishing options.

“It is really hard being a vegetarian on campus and getting a balanced meal, especially making sure I get enough protein,” Sridharan said.

With the current options, vegetarians, vegans and those with special dietary restrictions have to rely on much of the same food with little variety, possibly not meeting dietary or nutritional needs. It is important that students are given the option for healthier, more sustaining food choices in their dining facilities.

This may not be the majority voice. USD freshman Steven Frigo believes that the SLP provides enough options for a majority of the student body, while fellow freshman Michelle Stencil spoke of Dining Services’ effort.

“[Dining Services] are trying to make the foods more inclusive and have more variety,” Stencil said. “So there should be more options for people who have dietary restrictions in the coming future.”
The Center for Health and Wellness Promotion on campus addresses the current dietary choices, saying “All dining facilities have healthy meal options” and that “Student Wellness and Dining Services are always willing to work with the USD community to consider improvements to services and ways to enhance the awareness of services and options.

It is important that we, the student body and the consumers, provide feedback to Dining Services. Answer questionnaires and fill out comment cards. Be changemakers. It is our responsibility to address dietary choices and health concerns of students by finding a way to include more options for everyone.

By addressing this, we are giving a voice to all students on campus. But if we ignore this issue, then we are not providing everyone with the food experience they deserve and we are limiting students’ speech.