By Alec Deyong, Contributing Writer
Love it or hate it, Ames dining hall is ground zero for a great deal of the complaints that students lob at McKendree University. Between the variety, the quality, the staff, and the hours, it is hard for a small campus to make everyone happy. For some, however, it goes beyond mere inconvenience.
Whether it be by choice or by way of genetic lottery, there are students among us that have varying dietary restrictions—from vegetarians to students with severe allergies. These restrictions can make everyday life for students much more complicated. Taking into account all the factors that stress out the average college student, the last thing anyone wants to add to the concoction is a lack of fuel.
One person who is anxious to face this reality is senior Madalyn Mueller. Madalyn is a vegan, meaning she eats a plant-based diet with no animal products. While she has not yet had to deal with on campus dining as a vegan, she is not particularly looking forward to it. “I went vegan [the summer after her freshman year] and, upon returning to campus in the fall, I no longer had a meal plan. This will, however, become an issue for me next fall as I will be required to have a meal plan again due to my housing choice.”
Madalyn’s worry lies in that she has eaten at Ames before and is not optimistic about eating there again as a vegan. “I don’t have great feelings about the dining options on campus when it comes to me being vegan,” Madalyn said, “Unless the food in Ames has changed drastically over the past couple years, there isn’t going to be much that I can eat there besides salad and french fries.”
Madalyn commented that she thinks more accommodations could be made for students with dietary restrictions. She also, however, said that she understood that her lifestyle choice should not be at the top of McKendree’s list of issues to deal with. “Given that my restriction is not a medical issue, my needs are definitely not a priority for the university,” she said, adding that “this is completely fair, but I also feel that it’s more than just the vegan students that want more plant-based food options.”
Blake Williams—a sophomore living on campus with a severe dairy allergy—has already faced these dining woes. His allergy makes every day a toss up as to whether or not he will have any options at Ames beyond the usual. “The dining options are very slim on campus for me,” Blake said, “At 1828 it’s hard for me to rely on the cooks to make something that will not affect my allergy.”
His only other option, Ames dining hall, does not always make his life much easier either. If Blake is unsure of whether or not a certain dish will affect his allergy, he usually has to talk to someone other than the cooks serving the food about the safety of it. Speaking about Ames, Blake said “the cooks never have a good idea on what is specifically in the food,” he continued, saying that most of the time he has to “wait for the person in charge to come out so I can talk to them about what I can eat.”
Blake currently has the 19 meal a week plan, but says that he only uses 9 or 10 of those meals a week on average. “All in all, I do a lot of eating either at home or in my dorm,” Blake said. He lives near campus and also says that he often will run home and grab food for the week if he does not think he will be able to eat at Ames.
Blake is frustrated at the inconvenience, and said “in my opinion I do believe that there are a lot of things that could be done to accommodate.” His primary issue seems to be how difficult he finds it to learn what is in each dish. “Almost every time I eat, I have to go out of my way to figure out what is in all of the food,” he said. According to Blake, other than talking to the head chef, there is little to nothing that would indicate if a dish is safe for him.
Senior Olivia Daylor deals with similar issues, but seems to be a bit more forgiving of Ames’ shortcomings. “I think they try to meet dietary restrictions if you reach out to talk with them; however, there is a limited amount of options,” she said. Olivia has Celiac disease, which means that she cannot have gluten.
One thing that all three students agree on is that there is room for improvement concerning on-campus options for students with dietary restrictions. Olivia suggested that students with dietary restraints “be clued in on what food is being ordered for them.”
There are, however, two sides to every story. I reached out to Chandler Morely who oversees the day to day operations of dining services on campus, including 1828 and Ames. Chandler was understanding of the students’ plight. He stressed that at a small school like McKendree, making these accommodations is not always easy, especially when the communication isn’t always there. “We can accommodate almost any student with dietary restrictions,” he said, “The challenge is often students don’t reach out and discuss how we can assist in their dietary challenges.”
Chandler also shared some of the improvements that they have or plan to make. He said that he hopes to introduce their new app called “Bite” that would allow students to see the menu for the day along with all nutritional information. He is also in talks with Student Government Association about creating a food advisory committee. “I think more communication through this committee or individually with a student with dietary or nutritional information can only improve the dining experience,” Chandler stated.
Chandler urges two-way communication as the best solution to the problem. “It is our desire and responsibility to work with the student to increase options,” he said, “ Once a student makes that initial contact, it gives my staff an opportunity to meet the student and assist in addressing their needs.”