Diet and Food Clipart

Opinion columnist Zaynab Zlitni argues that accommodating people with different eating lifestyles, whether they are for religious or medical reasons, should be a priority for KU Dining and on all college campuses.

For many, being away from home can mean losing the comfort of home-cooked meals. The gathering of family after a long day, as well as the nurturing solace of a fulfilling meal. It's something that many people miss after moving out. Not only do homemade meals foster a sense of belonging and home, but they also provide accessibility. For those in the world that have dietary restrictions, food from home is as obtainable as a meal gets.

After moving out, finding food in dining halls that meet these criteria can be difficult. I found myself in a similar situation while searching for lunch at Mrs. E’s last week. Stomach rumbling, I eagerly made my way into the dining hall, ready to eat lunch. As someone who doesn’t eat pork, I was surprised to see no meat options available to me in the dining hall. I even double-checked every station just to be sure. I was left to eat random side dishes put together to make somewhat of a meal. I was disappointed, but ultimately unsurprised. This wasn’t my first time in a situation like this. 

To many, this isn’t an unfamiliar experience. Like many other students, I grew up in school systems that didn’t cater to various dietary needs. Occurrences involving meal inaccessibility were common among public school systems. We were left packing food from home or munching on what we could during lunch hours. This isn’t to say that all public schools are inconsiderate of the variety of diets among children, but that oftentimes those with a variation of diets are left isolated from others. 

There are a wide range of reasons humans are limited in what they can eat. According to the International Food Information Council, more than half of Americans have dietary restrictions. This includes those who follow religious diets, or those who have food restrictions for medical reasons. Junior Morgan Haskins is allergic to wheat, red meat, shellfish, eggs and nuts. She has experienced firsthand how difficult accessing food fit for her diet can be. 

“They’re always good about at least having gluten-free bread at the deli, but sometimes I get sick of sandwiches,” Haskins said. “It can be tricky because they have gluten-free options, but I have other allergies that conflict with it.”

Haskins met with the university dietician, and she was given other options. The dining halls stocked up on frozen items that fit her diet requirements, but they needed to be unthawed or cooked when she entered the dining hall. 

“It became a struggle because I would feel bad asking them to help. I would have to wait 30 minutes just for it to be cooked. If I didn’t have time, I’d have to eat it walking out the door,” Haskins said. “They were crazy nice trying to help me, but logistically it was a little difficult.”

Food should be accessible to all people, at all times, no matter the cost. Overlooked mistakes may happen but aren’t acceptable when it comes to a necessity like food. Accommodating nutritional needs is as rudimentary as it gets, so why don’t many places cater to these essentials?

An excuse often used is that catering to different nutritional needs is too difficult or inaccessible. In reality, it isn’t difficult at all. Colleges have found ways to be inclusive, including Northwestern University in Illinois. The Muslim-cultural Student Association (McSA) at Northwestern hosted dinner for Muslim students to break fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Students gathered to eat after a long day of fasting to eat together. This not only provides access to food for students, but also promotes diversity within a community. 

The truth is, access to food is an elementary form of inclusivity, and isn’t difficult to achieve. Whether you’re biting into a ham and cheese sandwich, or enjoying your dinner one evening, keep in mind the privilege that may come with your meal. You may be enjoying a meal while others couldn’t even get past the menu. Many people unconsciously take advantage, and sometimes forget the accessibility that is so routine for them. 

Any member of society should have access to a safe and healthy environment for oneself, especially on a college campus. Curating an environment of inclusivity begins with basic needs like food.