In the last decade, interest in veganism and gluten-free diets has significantly increased. Additionally, many people have food allergies, including lactose intolerance and celiac disease, a hypersensitivity to gluten.
While USC has taken strides to improve its options on campus, there are still a few things they could do to make dietary restrictions easier for students.
It is important that I point out the things USC is doing right to improve the dining halls. Not only do we have a dietitian on campus, Tanya Miceli, who helps students with allergies and intolerances, but USC also has a dining guide for those who are vegetarian or vegan, as well as a guide for eating healthier.
While these are significantly helpful options that prove the University is on the right path, a few things could be added to improve the dining experience for everyone.
As freshmen are required to get a meal plan, they are limited to the dining hall options. Even though the University offers vegan and gluten-free alternatives, they are still quite limited in comparison to the rest of what is offered on campus. The website mentions the "all-you-care-to-eat restaurants" label the gluten-free and vegan options, but finding these options at any of the other restaurants requires contacting the Student Disability Resource Center.
Since navigating dietary restrictions can present difficulties, the university should offer a smaller meal plan that allows students to cook in their dorm buildings as an option. This would allow them to easily choose what they want to eat without having to worry about researching everything on campus, an already stressful situation since we cannot control the menu.
Additionally, while the university offers cooking classes, they are not frequent. They are also located in The Center for Well-Being Demonstration Kitchen, which can be a long walk for some students. The best alternative could be to provide cooking classes directly in residence halls so they have the convenience of the classes being offered nearby. If student interest develops, more classes could be offered.
The most important thing the university can do is to make things as easy as possible for everyone who has a meal plan. While it is hard to keep in mind every diet, the university needs to continue to help students by adapting to dietary needs and continuing to expand their inclusivity.
Not many students are aware of these options open to them — I personally only just found out that we have a dietitian on campus. These resources should be discussed with first-year students so they are aware they have the option to get help from a professional from the beginnings of their college careers.