Columns, Opinions

Caira ’22: Dining Services must improve its selection for students with dietary restrictions

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, November 14, 2019

This year for the first time, all sophomores, myself included, were forced onto meal plan as part of the University’s attempt to address food insecurity among students. This decision was well-intentioned, but it has ended up making matters worse for many students who were fully ready to take their diet into their own hands. While not every student may want the responsibility of buying groceries, managing a budget and cooking, some do. And for those students in particular, it is outrageous that they are forced into a dining system that may not meet their desire for control over what they eat.

This forced meal plan is especially problematic for students with dietary restrictions, such as vegetarians like myself. When I first came to Brown, I was thrilled at the thought of being able to become a better vegetarian. As a prospective student, I had been told about the school’s vegetarian dining hall — the Ivy Room — and I soon learned about the vegetarian section, “Roots and Shoots,” of the Sharpe Refectory. But in reality, I have found the options for vegetarian students on meal plan to be underwhelming at best.

There are vegetarian options at dining halls such as Andrews, the Verney-Woolley and the Ratty. But we must consider the importance of convenience in the day-to-day lives of students. As a student myself, I often feel like there is not enough time to run to a dining hall across campus just for a better food option; Brown cannot expect us to shop around each of the dining halls every time we need a meal. Additionally, odd dining hall hours and payment options prevent students from enjoying the full scope of University food offerings. For example, the Blue Room does not accept meal credits before 4 p.m. on weekdays, and the Ivy Room does not accept them for lunch. Dining on campus is often too inconvenient to encourage students to eat wherever is most suited for them, so many of us, myself included, are often forced to go to the Ratty.

I have often walked away from the Ratty still hungry, unable to find much that I genuinely want to eat. Besides “Roots and Shoots,” the other frequently offered vegetarian options — french fries, pizza, cereal and pasta, to name a few — do not exactly constitute a balanced meal. While there is a salad bar in the Ratty, that option does not quite cut it either; many times my vegetarian friends and I settle for salads, but we walk away feeling unsatisfied by the substance of the food we have consumed.

“Roots and Shoots” used to solve that problem. Last year, “Roots and Shoots” varied its selections fairly regularly. I vividly remember having a new array of vegetables, grain bowls and other vegan options to choose among practically every day. Yet this year, the University seems to have changed “Roots and Shoots.” It often serves the same meal for a week at a time, and occasionally for multiple weeks. These bowls change quite slowly and unexpectedly, without a clear system to account for their rotation. Some of these options are decent — I personally like the Mediterranean Tofu Quinoa Bowl —  but others I dislike, such as the Curried Tempeh Bowl. Yet I am often forced to eat the food I dislike, because it is the only full and balanced meal offered at the Ratty that satisfies my dietary requirements. I can speak only as a vegetarian, but from what I can gather, students with other types of dietary restrictions — such as those who are gluten-free or who are following religious diets — are similarly limited in options.

While there is technically enough for a vegetarian to eat at the Ratty, we should have the same array of options as meat eaters. For example, the “Comforts” and “Entrees” sections, which almost always serve meat, change their selections every day. Brown might not be starving its students who have dietary restrictions, but it is leaving its vegetarians disappointed and, often, still hungry.

It is reasonable to hope that Dining Services, when selecting food, takes into account more factors than just whether the food is edible. I urge Dining Services to consider the variety of options it offers and the preferences of students (perhaps even accepting credits across all dining halls). Otherwise, it is only fair to demand the University to allow first- and second-year students to opt out of meal plan.

Alisa Caira ’22 can be reached at alisa_caira@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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