A month ago, I wrote a column titled “Addressing Allergy Concerns at Marketplace.” I described my experience eating at the popular dining establishment, where many foods were not labeled for the eight main allergens. When I inquired about allergens at the Grille, I was informed that Marketplace cooks with peanut oil.
Last night, I enjoyed chicken tenders and fries at Marketplace without the need for an EpiPen. The Grille now displays a sign stating, “we cook with vegetable oil,” and, according to campus dietician Julie Nance, the College of William and Mary has many more improvements in store for the future. After my article’s publication, I sat down with Nance to discuss these improvements. She corrected the misinformation I received regarding peanut oil at Marketplace, assuring me that they use vegetable oil, hence the new sign. She hopes to increase labeling throughout the dining space. While sandwiches are labeled and products like Simply-to-Go cups have ingredient stickers, the soup bar and dessert station lack allergen information. Nance explained that Marketplace is technically classified as “retail,” and therefore has an ingredient database separate from that of the Sadler Center and the Caf. Due to this separation, labeling at Marketplace may not be as consistent as at the other two cafeterias. She hopes to overcome this barrier so that Marketplace can reach the same standard of allergen safety.
Nance’s hopes for the College go beyond simply labeling allergens. She wishes to find alternatives for them where possible and to reduce cross-contamination. She explained that students with dietary restrictions pay the same price for meal plans as other students and should therefore have the same range and quality of food. For example, she has proposed buying a fryer for Simple Servings at the Sadler Center, since Sadler’s current fryer may be cross-contaminated with shrimp. Also, within Simple Servings, she hopes to increase the variety of starches available, so that students who eat there aren’t limited to rice. She encourages students to speak up for themselves and provide feedback (and hopefully support the movement for a Simple Servings fryer). At the College, student feedback is taken very seriously. I was impressed especially by the response to my column regarding Marketplace. The sign at the Grille clarifying the type of oil used was posted almost immediately. As well, I was assured that the Marketplace staff are allergen certified, and that increased labeling is in progress.
Though I feel very safe here, I never hesitate to speak up if I have questions. I encourage other students with dietary restrictions to also advocate for themselves. No question is “stupid” or too small, especially when it comes to health. Sometimes it can be difficult to ask; I often feel like I am inconveniencing other people. However, the inconvenience of answering my questions could save me a trip to the hospital.
Years ago, I brought my own ice cream to a restaurant, knowing that its ice cream would most likely contain eggs. When it was time for dessert, the manager of the restaurant brought out ice cream for me, but I knew something was not right. I asked her to double-check that she brought the correct one. With complete confidence, she insisted that she had my ice cream, but eventually agreed to check. I was correct and, in speaking up for myself, I prevented an allergy attack. I am by no means saying to distrust people. I’m just saying trust yourself, go with your gut, and know that your safety comes before anyone’s convenience. There are a lot of situations where a student with allergies will “probably” be okay. I would “probably” be okay eating foods labeled with “processed in the same facility as tree nuts.” I may even be okay consuming peanut oil, which is so refined that little to no allergenic protein remains. However, students with allergies should speak up for themselves, no matter how “small” the issue, so that they can be safe — not just probably, maybe or sort-of okay.
Email Julia Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org