Students with dietary restrictions based on health and religion face a lack of restaurants on campus | News

For several years, some UO students have described finding on-campus food options that accommodate their diets, such as kosher, halal, or nut allergies, as “literally impossible,” which is a feeling that has seen little change in recent years.

Houses OR more than 20 restaurants on campus, ranging from chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A, burritos and bowls at Baja Fresh and barbecue-style burgers and hot dogs at Sooner Smokehouse. Yet students like Hannah Morris-Voth cannot use the majority of on-campus options due to her kosher diet.

Kosher food is food that meets Jewish dietary standards, according to Health Line. The laws include restrictions on food preparation, processing and inspection. Kosher meat must be slaughtered by a shochet or someone trained and certified to slaughter animals in accordance with Jewish law, and soaked to remove traces of blood before cooking.

OR Hillel estimates that OU has 200–300 Jewish students out of its 28,052 students. In 2019, the Berman’s Jewish Data Bank reported that Oklahoma had 4,425 Jewish residents, with Cleveland and Oklahoma counties hosting the largest Jewish population in Oklahoma at 2,300.

OU Housing and Food Services Director of Marketing and Communications Amy Buchanan wrote in an email that OU Food Services does not offer kosher meals. She wrote that the “rigorous standards” for food to be kosher certified are not being implemented in on-campus restaurants.

Even OU’s Jewish cultural organization, Hillel, can’t always offer kosher options in its dining room. In a statement on OU Hillel websitethe Hillel wrote that it cannot regularly provide fully kosher options due to limited access to kosher food items.

Due to the lack of kosher options at OU, Morris-Voth, an English sophomore and on-campus resident, said that although fully kosher before attending OU, she had to sacrifice her kosher diet in some measure.

Morris-Voth said she could only eat prepackaged and certified kosher food on campus. She can’t eat vegan options like fresh fruit served by UO mess halls because she might not be inspected for insects or larvae before sale or consumption, per kosher laws.

According to OU housing and food website, all students living in OU residence halls, residential colleges, and Headington Hall are required to purchase a meal plan. When asked if students who keep kosher are required to purchase a meal plan, Buchanan wrote if it was determined that no accommodation was available based on the student’s dietary needs, OR Food Services would document this, and the student would not be required to purchase a meal plan.

“Because each student’s dietary needs are unique, accommodations are made to meet the specific needs of the individual,” Buchanan wrote. “Accommodations could include OR Food Services purchasing products without ingredients that a student is allergic to or meeting special nutritional requirements. There are few needs that cannot be satisfied.

Before coming to OU, Morris-Voth said she emailed OU Food Services regarding kosher options. Morris-Voth was not given alternative food options or a reduced meal plan after learning that the OU did not offer kosher menu items.

the regular meal plan price at OU costs $2,466 per semester or $5,532 per year. In addition to buying a full-price meal plan, Morris-Voth spends about $400 a month on certified kosher food.

“I stay kosher because I believe that’s what God wants me to do,” Morris-Voth said. “I don’t stay fully kosher because of the limitations, (and) because I hate wasting money on the meal plan and not using it, I use it in a very limited capacity. It’s just hard, and that means I can’t observe my religion the way I want to.

Like Jewish students looking for kosher options, Muslim students at OU struggle to find halal options on campus. The Islamic Council of Victoria defines halal food as food permitted under Islamic law. Halal food must be “processed, manufactured, produced, manufactured and stored using utensils, equipment and machinery that have been cleaned in accordance with Islamic law”. For example, Muslims cannot consume pork, alcohol, or carnivorous animals.

In 2015, Adam Soltani, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, estimated the Muslim population of Oklahoma to be around 30,000.

OU offers halal dining options at the Athens Café, Sooner Smokehouse and Residential Colleges Grill Station, Buchanan wrote. Vegan and vegetarian options are also available in both dining rooms. Halal meat options are not available at Oklahoma Memorial Union restaurants.

Halal sandwich options are also offered by OU’s takeout brand Cow on the Fly, found at Union Market, Acre Provisions, Xcetera, Crossroads, Flying Cow Café, The Hive, Amicus, The Bookmark and Café 201.

The lack of halal meat options available in the Oklahoma Memorial Union poses a disadvantage to commuters like Sarah Altamimi, president of the OU Shia Student Association and psychology student.

Altamimi often settles for a tuna sandwich from the Union Market or finds halal food off campus. She said this could pose problems for Muslim students who do not have a vehicle.

“There are international students who come from Arab (or) Middle Eastern countries and they cannot find access to halal meat on campus,” Altamimi said. “They have basically deprived themselves of eating meat, or they have to move to another place to get this source of halal meat.”

In response, Altamimi and former SSA president and OU graduate Zille Huma began conversations with OU Student Life and OU Food Services last semester to increase the availability of halal meat on campus.

Although these initiatives have not progressed, Altamimi said she plans to continue pushing for more halal options because increasing the availability of halal food options should be a priority.

Difficulties finding on-campus food options to meet dietary needs extended beyond religious obligations when second biomedical engineering student Katelyn Maier had to avoid the dessert section.

Maier’s nut allergy means risking a restricted throat and going into anaphylactic shock if exposed to nuts. The risk means Maier must avoid certain restaurants and menu items on campus to avoid a potential allergic reaction and even death.

OU Food Services does not have a peanut-free dining facility, Buchanan wrote. However, they offer peanut and nut free dishes. Buchanan wrote that when an individual identifies with an allergy, dining room staff follow all food allergy procedures for food preparation.

According to OU Housing Food Services website, UO Food staff are trained to take “every precaution to prevent food cross-contact” by using separate utensils and serving equipment among various food items. There are still instances where cross-contact occurs, the website reads, so it is “ultimately the customer’s responsibility to judge whether to question ingredients or eat selected foods. “.

A paper from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York defines peanut and tree nut allergies as a “significant health problem”, affecting approximately 1.1% of the general population, or approximately 3 million Americans.

When Maier was deciding where to go to college, Maier met with an OU dietitian who provided her with spreadsheets showing what items would be served at the Couch Cafe and residential dining halls each day. The spreadsheet details each menu item and the ingredients they contain.

However, Maier still faces the risk of cross-contamination. Maier described an instance in which the Couch Cafeteria served pecan-crusted salmon alongside a nut-free dish. Because of the risk of the tongs touching the two items, Maier asked the employee serving the dishes if the tongs were going through the food. Maier said the employee had “absolutely no idea” and picked up his manager to address Maier’s concerns.

“It was good that they went to find someone who knew,” Maier said. “It was just upsetting to have to go up the chain.”

Like Morris-Voth, Maier was not exempt from purchasing a meal plan despite Maier’s limited options on campus.

For Maier, the risk of cross-contamination means life or death, a risk that lingers in Maier’s mind.

” It’s terrifying. I mean, I don’t want to die,” Maier said. “I really don’t want to die for something as stupid as someone accidentally contaminating my food. … It just sucks.”

As students on campus struggle to find food options that meet their diets, Buchanan wrote that OU Food Services “continually evaluates food and service offerings for all customers, including those with specialized dietary needs”. She wrote that the department is doing “everything possible to accommodate all customers who visit one of our restaurants.”

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