As summer construction begins to clear out, it’s finally time to see what all the fuss was about. Coming to Owen Hall July 8 of this year, MSU will be opening their first allergen-free dining hall. This means no products served here will be made with eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish or milk.
That list might seem long, but If you live with a food allergy, you already know how serious it can be and finding food on campus that meets your needs without killing you? Forget about it. Thankfully, this new dining hall should help to alleviate that burden, as well as go a long way toward normalizing and removing the stigma against food sensitivity and allergens.
According to Gina Keilen, MSU Culinary Services’ resident dietician, roughly 1 in 8 at MSU has a food related allergy. And for those people, finding food on campus can be like walking through a minefield. If your allergy is severe enough, it can be hard to even walk into a regular dining hall without putting yourself at risk. Sure, you can usually find allergen-safe food items in the carefully sequestered food stations in each major dining hall, offering options like gluten-free muffins and soy milk, but you can’t get your daily dose of nutrients from here alone. And if you think Sparty’s carries an abundance of healthy, nutritious snacks and meal replacements for your busy school day, don’t get your hopes up. Some of the bigger locations may carry egg-free baked goods or treats, but let’s be real, it’s a convenience store, and guaranteeing that each item is not only safely prepared but also kept separate during transport is not very convenient. That’s not to say it’s impossible, or that Sparty’s shouldn’t bother, but as it stands, the situation isn’t great. This new dining hall is certainly a step in the right direction, though.
Thrive is set to offer three food stations; one for comfort foods like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, another for basics like fries and chicken tenders, and a third for more experimental street foods like nachos and grain bowls, with a rotating menu like every other dining hall.
Besides offering a safe culinary environment for those with allergies, this dining hall will also be open to the public, so anyone can eat there regardless of their food sensitivity. While I can’t speak for the taste just yet, I will say it’s heartwarming to know that this space for those with dietary restrictions, isn’t simultaneously restricted from society. We all remember the peanut-free table in the lunchroom in elementary school. I can’t imagine it felt good to have to eat separate from the other children, even if there were others like you there, it wasn’t the same as sitting with your friends and classmates. By making this space available for everyone (with outside food and drink rules, I’m sure), they’ve removed the shame of being separated and different from everyone else and moved toward a more equal footing.
Above all this, the biggest plus to having an allergen-safe dining hall is teaching students with food sensitivities about different culinary options for them, helping to normalize their valid health issues, and hopefully easing some of the burdens of caring for themselves while at MSU so they can instead focus on their studies. I can’t imagine there are many things more frustrating than stumbling out of your finals week study sesh only to find that its late night at the nearest dining halls and none of them are serving something you can safely eat. You’ll spend more money out of pocket on groceries and a means to keep and prepare them, as well as spend precious time prepping and meal planning, and that’s stressful even without the burden of college classes. Plus, seeing recipes and items in these dining halls can give you great ideas for feeding yourself independently in the future. After all, we’re all still learning to be adults here, and there’s no shame in taking some culinary pointers from a university full of food-science researchers.
Creating a space that is both safe and accessible is a huge step forward. We’re building a better culture right here at MSU, one that includes and supports everyone’s needs and situations, and while it’s still far from perfect, it’s off to a great start.
Sarah Nowack is a senior professional writing major who is minoring in graphic design. Her days are spent haunting the local library, consuming copious amounts of coffee, playing unpopular video games, and making terrible puns. She can be found at @battlerouge on Twitter and @shiverbound on Instagram.