During those first few weeks of college, bright-eyed freshmen quickly realize that they’re not in high school anymore; no one is there to monitor your every move, especially when it comes to what you eat. The “freshman 15” is the notion that, during that first year, you’ll go food crazy without your parents breathing down your neck about “healthy food choices.” With unhealthy food options readily accessible and already paid for, freshmen have the ability to gorge on mass amounts of food unsupervised, leading to a weight gain that becomes apparent when Thanksgiving rolls around and your “roomy jeans” saved for these kinds of occasions aren’t so roomy anymore.
My freshman year at St. John’s, I didn’t have this issue. If anything, I probably lost fifteen pounds. It wasn’t because I consciously sought out to make healthier choices or spent all of my time working out, but for a reason that I still struggle with today: my severe food allergies. For the past few years, I have been living with severe allergies to dairy and shellfish. When it comes to college and freedom concerning food, I never had the option to even consider going all out on food because of the looming fear of an allergic reaction. For myself and many others with severe allergies, our main issue when it comes to avoiding allergic reactions is not only watching out for our allergens on menus, but also avoiding cross-contamination.
When it comes to dining at St. John’s as a food allergy sufferer and vegan, options have consistently been low. Places like Freshens and Subway are more than accommodating and relatively cross-contamination-free, but a major area of disappointment for people with any type of dietary restriction has been Montgoris Dining Hall. The way that Montgoris is given the spotlight on University tours, you would think that, upon arriving at St. John’s, the variety you were told about would be what you got, but that wasn’t and still isn’t the case. With this dining hall serving as one of the main places to eat on campus for many resident students because of its closeness to residence halls and long hours, one would think that there would be more of an effort put into creating more vegan and generally allergy-friendly options for students.
I consider Montgoris to be a cesspool of cross-contamination where I have witnessed daily occurrences like serving spoons ending up in incorrect dishes in the center section, the peanut butter spatula ending up in the jelly area and so much more. But there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. This fall, Montgoris introduced a section dedicated to those avoiding certain allergens and ingredients.
Although this section is small in comparison to the others within the dining hall, I believe that this is a step in the right direction for creating a cross contamination-free area for students like me to feel secure in their food choices. But will one counter fix the overarching cross-contamination problem not only at Montgoris, but at other dining halls across campus? Although this development is a start, I believe that Dining Services should place less of its efforts on making a “special counter” and put more into ensuring the division of widely known allergen-containing foods.