The Daily Gamecock

Column: USC dining needs to better accommodate students with dietary restrictions

<p>FILE— Exterior of Russell House on Nov. 8, 2021.</p>
FILE— Exterior of Russell House on Nov. 8, 2021.

Students with dietary restrictions should not have to experience instances of food contamination, lack of campus resources or feeling like a burden to campus dining staff. Carolina Food Co. is failing to make campus dining enjoyable for everyone when it excludes students with dietary restrictions. 

Despite many of these issues, the USC campus dining website advertises that it "make(s) it a priority to provide an enjoyable dining experience for everyone." 

Whether students don't consume certain foods for religious, moral or medical reasons, their dietary restrictions need to be respected and taken seriously. Vomiting, hives and even death from the inability to breathe are potential effects of food contamination for certain students.

Eliza Davis, a first-year nursing student, is gluten intolerant and suffers from severe headaches and vomiting when exposed to gluten. 

"I had some bad experiences with Tavolino's," Davis said about her experience with on-campus food contamination. "I haven't been there this semester, and I don't really plan on going there this semester ... I understand that they have a lot going on, but in the same breath, when you have an allergy, it's kind of hard."

Experiences of food contamination are not limited to only one dining facility, indicating that this is a widespread issue. Students shouldn't have to be afraid of getting sick from their next meal, especially when they already have heavy workloads and busy schedules to worry about. 

Gabrielle Cook, a first-year exercise science student, is also gluten intolerant and said she has experienced food contamination from three different campus dining facilities. 

"There was a time with the (Horseshoe Deli) where they gave me not gluten-free bread ... (Congaree River Smokehouse) sometimes doesn't give me a gluten-free bun on my meal, or they put bread in my meal container," Cook reported to the Campus Executive Chef. "Tavolino's is the worst one, they have been very consistent with not given me gluten-free noodles."

The university encourages students with dietary restrictions to register with the Student Disability Resource Center and meet with the campus dietician. When The Daily Gamecock contacted the CarolinaCard Office to set up a meeting with the campus dietician, The Daily Gamecock was informed that the school doesn't currently have a dietitian. 

A representative from the Carolina Food Co. was unable to provide information to The Daily Gamecock prior to publication. 

Karlee Witherite, a first-year public health student, has struggled with determining what she can and cannot eat at campus dining facilities. She has a peanut allergy and experiences oxygen deprivation if she comes into contact with any peanut substances.

"Some places, I feel, don't necessarily identify what's in things, like you go to the dessert bar and it's so mixed up like in Honeycomb or Fresh Greens, and I don't know if it has nuts or not," Witherite said about her experience with on-campus food contamination. "I wish that things were labeled a little bit better because I feel like I avoid a lot of things." 

Students with food intolerances and allergies aren't trying to make campus dining employees’ lives more difficult; students’ dietary restrictions are not their own choice. Some students say they feel their dietary restrictions are not always met with understanding from campus dining staff.

Cook said she believes that campus dining could improve on being more mindful about what it serves. 

"I think a lot of them either don't care, or they get in a rush and don't think about it," she said.

Campus dining has taken some steps in the right direction by improving Grubhub-ordering for students with dietary restrictions, according to Davis. And Witherite said that one of the other steps that campus dining has taken in the right direction is having employees double-check with students that their meal is safely prepared. 

However, USC still has a responsibility to its students to do better and to protect student health. 

Carolina Food Co. should start by providing clearer nutritional information on Grubhub and in dining halls for all dietary restrictions. The leadership of Carolina Food Co. should train campus dining staff much more thoroughly on how to prepare food for students with dietary restrictions and address the issue of food contamination at dining facilities. 

In order to make all students feel like they truly belong at USC, Carolina Food Co. must take accountability for its shortcomings and work to provide a meal plan that is inclusive for all students.

Correction (Feb. 24 at 7:01 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a representative from the Carolina Food Co. did not respond when The Daily Gamecock reached out for comment. The representative was planning to give comment, but was unable to prior to publication. Check back for updates.


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