Change NC State dining hall food to be more nutritious AND inclusive
Change NC State dining hall food to be more nutritious AND inclusive
Why this petition matters
My name is Sanju and I am an incoming freshman majoring in mechanical engineering. I recently attended Summer Exploration Experience, a one-week camp hosted by NC State’s Women and Minority Engineering Program. I am writing to you in hopes of bringing to light and helping solve a key challenge that students faced with regard to food and nutrition while on campus.
To provide some context: We lived at the Bragaw Residence hall for one week and dined at both Clark and Fountain dining halls for most of our meals. While we (students) ate on campus, we experienced two key issues: the quality of as well as options in food. Several of our meals had uncooked food such as rice and pasta. One of my suitemates consumed skim milk twice and got sick (threw up) both times. We were not only disappointed but shocked by the level of quality of food that was being provided.
In a university with an undergraduate population of over 26,000 students and one of the best agricultural programs in the nation, we had hoped that the dining halls would have options for vegetarians, those with dietary restrictions (such as being able to eat only halal meat), and above all, those with allergies. I understand that not all allergies can be accommodated – such as life-threatening ones – but what we found most startling was that there were barely any options for those with dietary restrictions and the top 8 allergens.
Eight years ago my family found out that my sister, then age 2, was allergic to gluten and dairy. Her reactions were severe and we eliminated gluten and dairy from our diet. Growing up was incredibly difficult for her. At any birthday party she attended, she couldn’t eat the cake and was always left out. We were forced to eat mostly at home but gradually, we overcame the challenge as we learned of the numerous allergy-friendly alternatives. I began baking cakes for my sister’s birthdays from scratch.
Because of my sister, I became aware of the hardships that millions of people have to go through every single day. But I realize that not everyone has the awareness that I was lucky enough to gain through experience.
When I was on campus recently, I had an allergic reaction after eating gluten and dairy – products I’ve almost never eaten in the past 8 years. When I tried looking for options, nearly every item had either gluten or dairy. The only thing I could eat was fruit, fried potatoes, and salad.
Over 50 million people in the US experience numerous allergies, and allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness – this doesn’t even include populations outside of the US. 90% of allergies in America alone are caused by the following top 8 allergens: milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. I know that many students with dietary restrictions and/or allergies must suffer with simply finding basic food to eat and to find nutritious food to eat in such circumstances is nearly impossible. We must strive hard to be more inclusive within our university by making our menus abundantly diverse, and fit for at least the majority of students.
Right now, there are hardly any options for students to eat at dining halls if they have one or multiple food allergies, OR dietary restrictions. Furthermore, the process that is in place for students that have allergies or restrictions expects students to provide their own food, as pictured in the image above (visit the google form here to see the whole process: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeIuNPIX54XuswHCW0yUd4GkLw_7l2oSBukoYCVI88D1B052A/viewform
How is it fair to expect a student to cook and/or individually buy every single one of their meals? How can a student cook every meal and also have time to study and excel academically? Does this system not naturally favor students with no special needs while penalizing students who do?
This process is in no way inclusive. It actually creates a divide between students, excluding the students that require accommodations as they cannot eat in dining halls like the rest of their peers. These actions and the ripple effect this flawed system causes do not build our community. Instead, it deprives students with allergies or restrictions of social interaction, thereby impacting not only their physical health but also their mental well-being. Students that need accommodations MUST be treated as equals and I believe that in order for that to happen, the university must put well-balanced, nutritious food on the counters of each dining hall that accommodate the top 8 allergens, in any combination.
I find this unharmonious that this is happening at NC State because of some of our biggest core values: community, inclusion, and excellence. The emphasis on these three core values is one of the reasons I came to this university.
I strongly believe that we must carry out even the smallest of tasks with the utmost integrity and strive to be inclusive in all that we do – in this case, the food we provide to all our staff and students. Every student should feel welcome, valued, and at home – or in other words, safe – on campus. In order for that to happen, it is critical for us to invest in students’ physical and mental health – not only academics. Eating healthy is key to leading a happy life and being academically successful. Students cannot academically excel without proper nutrition. It is our job to provide our students with proper, nutritious food that is inclusive of as many cultures, restrictions, and allergies as possible.
I believe that this is a critical problem that we must think and do together to overcome – after all, that is our ultimate motto.
Lastly, I would like to help create a solution to address this problem – because of my experience with having allergies and cooking, I’m aware of and would like to suggest alternatives and items that the dining hall menus could add to be more inclusive. The following is a list of basic options that I believe can be executed with reasonable ease in each of the dining halls:
Please keep in mind this list is simply a starting place, not exhaustive:
- Mexican cuisine: tacos, gluten-free burritos, rice, beans, guacamole, grilled vegetables
- Mediterranean cuisine: falafels, hummus, quinoa salads, kale, etc
- Vietnamese cuisine: Pho, rice spring rolls
- Japanese cuisine: Sushi, rice ramen
- Italian cuisine: GF pasta, GF spaghetti, GF bread, (also GF bagels)
- Dairy-free vegan (plant-based) cheese, plant-based cream cheese, nut yogurt
- Almond, coconut, soy, oat, and rice milk
- Dairy-free ice cream
- Halal meat
My goal is to work together to create an increasingly welcoming, inclusive, and enriching environment for people of all cultures and backgrounds, and I truly hope you will join me.
If you wish to support any of these changes and this message resonates with you, please sign this petition. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Thank you so much for your time.
Sanjusri Niranjan Kumar Akila, representing students of NC State University