The stagnant pool of accessible food on campus

Heather Reynolds looks at the lack of food options available on campus, and what that means for students.

When students first come to UCD they are faced with a veritable smorgasbord of worries; whether it be if they can find their way around the Newman building, or if they will be late to their lectures, or if they can find friends in such a new environment. However, people with dietary restrictions face an issue most others do not; the issue of whether or not they will be able to eat on campus. It seems like a very trivial thing, but it can have a large impact. When you have had to skip breakfast to get to a lecture on time, and you forgot to make lunch the night before, it can mean having to go hungry, even if you have the €5 for the meal deal.

Students with any kind of dietary requirement, for religious, vocational, or health reasons, feel this impact regularly. Even just stepping into the Global Lounge restaurant while your friend grabs some lunch, is a reminder that while the university acknowledges your existence, it does nothing to accommodate it. While there are no up-to-date figures on those who follow alternative diets in UCD, it can be inferred from national statistics that there are at least 2,330 vegetarians on campus, along with 583 vegans. However, with the cultural context of UCD, it is not difficult to believe that there are far more among our numbers, as vegetarianism and veganism are both more popular among young people and among college students.

When it comes to dietary requirements that are seen as more permanent, such as those who eat halal or kosher, or those with illnesses or allergies that impact their diet, it becomes a more complex issue. Dietary choices can be sidestepped occasionally, as they are a choice, but when it is a religious or health issue, it is more than that. Particularly when it comes to health based dietary requirements, people can be hospitalised over a few crumbs of something that they are not supposed to eat. When your choice is going hungry or going to the hospital, it is not a hard choice to make.

“It’s rough.” Orli Shlachter, a post-graduate student, said of trying to eat kosher while living on campus, “I did live on campus, and I cooked for myself.” She spoke of the difficulty cooking with roommates who would use her utensils to cook bacon, and other difficulties that came with on campus living. “In terms of pre-prepared food, you have to go for the vegetarian options, and those are quite restrictive.” Particularly as most vegetarian options on campus are cheese based, and as an Ashkenazi Jew Ms Shlachter is predisposed towards severe forms of lactose intolerance. “If you can’t eat dairy, you can’t eat the vegetarian options.” However, when asked whether she would support the expansion of kosher options on campus, she was unsure,“I don’t know how many of us there are.”

This is a sentiment UCDSU President Barry Murphy shares. While he did not acknowledge questions on the availability of kosher options on campus, he did mention that halal options had been trialed twice over the past five years, and that the trials were viewed to be unsuccessful. However, he did concede that this may not have been due to lack of interest, saying that “there probably should have been more awareness raising done.” He also spoke about the variety of vegetarian and gluten free options available in the Clubhouse and the Student Union shops, where there is a higher than average percentage of, despite incorrectly stating that the Clubhouse and Student Union shop deli-provided options which are accessible to those with Coeliac disease. This is incorrect due to the high risk of cross contamination present in the preparation areas, which is a risk for anyone with allergies. When he was made aware of this, he responded “it’s unfortunate, in terms of the Clubhouse, it offers some of the best value.”

As for facilities not controlled by the Students’ Union, i.e. Centra and Subway, the university has no control over what they do outside of the lease agreement, as they function independently. Their leases function for a fixed certain period of time and therefore unlikely to bend to public pressure so long as they continue to reach their targets. This has been seen more recently with the Aramark protests and boycott on campus, which did nothing to impact the queue at Subway in the long run. Chopped, in the Global Lounge, is the only one that is viewed as accessible to almost all on campus, with anti-cross contamination processes in place, and options for almost all dietary needs. However, with its cheapest item starting at €6.00 for vegetarians, and €7.00 for non-vegetarians, it is not exactly accessible to the student wallet.

When it comes to accessible food however, there is something not widely spoken about, and it is the key to these issues. People who do not have dietary requirements are still able to eat them. Non-vegetarians can eat vegetarian food, people who do not eat halal or kosher can still eat halal or kosher meat, people who can eat wheat can still eat a salad without croutons. All joking aside, these things are all true, and so these foods would likely be eaten, even if it is not by the community it was intended for. There is no reason, when looking at the long term, to not provide these options, or at the very least trial them for longer than a few weeks, until word has had time to spread.