SUNY New Paltz is set to establish its allergen-free zone in Hasbrouck Dining Hall for the Fall 2018 semester, according to school officials.
“More students have talked with me about their allergies and dietary restrictions,” said SUNY New Paltz Sodexo General Manager Steven Deutsch. “We felt there should be a space where they won’t have to worry about cross-contamination.”
The space will be called “My Zone,” and will include microwaves, refrigerators and pre-cooked meals for students with the eight major food allergies: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, nuts and tree nuts. The school intends to offer more of a variety in meals and ensure the health and well-being of the students.
Second-year financial accounting major Taylor Tripp has dealt with multiple food allergies throughout her life and recognizes the importance of such a space.
“There are a lot of risks for cross-contamination in Hasbrouck,” Tripp said. “Most people are unaware of allergies and how sensitive some people can be.”
The door will be locked to “My Zone” so only students with card-access will be allowed to enter. Hasbrouck supervisors will constantly patrol the dining area and ensure that the room is safe and stocked.
To gain access, students would have to meet with the school’s dietician, Marianne Liakos and Sodexo’s head chef Matthew Hill in order to prepare the proper accommodations. Liakos, is “Allertrain” certified, which emphasizes on the education of food allergies and how to best serve students’ dietary needs. While Goodwin hopes “My Zone” will be the first of many initiatives the school will take to accommodate dietary restriction, some students feel the school could be making even more changes.
“There aren’t many options for students with gluten allergies,” Tripp said. “Also a lot of vegan food is nut-based. If I wanted to be vegan, it would be very difficult with my allergy.”
Fousseni Baba, a fourth-year international business and economics major, recently wrote to the school about alleged food preparation inequality. While vegans and vegetarians are regularly catered to, he feels religious dietary restrictions are often neglected.
“We are paying to have a service that caters to our basic needs,” Baba said. “After a long day, it would be nice if finding a proper meal wasn’t a problem for a student.”
Baba claimed to have witnessed pork in the oil used to cook French fries. Baba is Muslim and similar to the kosher principles of Judaism, is forbidden to eat pork. Halal and kosher prepared meals are often difficult to find and lack in variety according to Goodwin. Another one of his biggest obstacle is having the student reach out for guidance.
Director of Operations Steven Deutsch spoke about balancing the needs of the majority without excluding those of the minority. An effort that requires student advocacy as well.
“The reason why vegan students saw so much change is because of their constant and repeated requests for change in food,” Deutsch said. “It’s easy to miss something when we are inclusive of everything. However, if you have any religious dietary restrictions, we will make accommodations.”