One of the reasons I was excited to live in an honor house was so I could be on a partial meal plan. I have 90 meals per semester, which works out to around six meals in the cafeteria a week, plus some Flex Dollars to use in the Cage. So far, this has worked out great. I eat breakfast at the house, get lunch in the cafeteria or the Cage and then I make dinner for myself at the house or, if I’m studying late in the library and don’t have anything defrosted, I can get an extra meal.
For me, eating in the cafeteria was simply repetitive and I didn’t like all of the options. I also missed a lot of my favorite foods, such as authentic Mexican and Polish food that I can now cook for myself. However, I’m very lucky that my food limitations are based on preference rather than food allergies. If I don’t like something in the cafeteria or Cage, I can just avoid it and not worry about cross contamination.
For others, food allergies and other dietary restrictions are a very real part of eating in the cafeteria. Although the employees in the cafeteria work hard, cross contamination is inevitable when cooking for nearly three thousand people. Many students with celiac disease or gluten intolerance say it’s nearly impossible to avoid gluten in the cafeteria due to cross contamination, especially in the self-serving stations like the salad bar or dessert bar. Croutons can end up in the vegetables and dressing and crumbs from one dessert can end up in another, which is also a concern for friends with peanut allergies. The Cage is significantly better when it comes to cross contamination, since it’s smaller and can cook to order. However, the risk isn’t completely gone, especially during rush hours.
Many students with food allergies or other dietary restrictions would like to have a partial meal plan so they can cook for themselves and still have a fallback just in case. However, it is extremely difficult to get a partial meal plan when you’re living on campus. Even when students do manage to get a partial meal plan while on campus, there’s also the problem that the dorm kitchens are not equipped for multiple people. For comparison, even in a house of nine people, the kitchen can get crowded. I can only imagine how quickly a dorm kitchen would become crowded. The dorm kitchens are almost always a mess, even with so few students using them. Some students don’t wipe down the counters; they leave crumbs, dishes in the sink and other messes for others to clean up, much to the frustration of those trying to use the kitchen later. This also can, once again, create possible cross contamination.
As much as I think St. Olaf should offer more students partial meal plans, I also believe the dorm kitchens simply aren’t equipped for an increased volume of people. St. Olaf was designed with a central cafeteria for almost everyone to use and the small kitchens with minimal equipment reflect that. Renovating the dorm kitchens would be expensive and time consuming. However, if St. Olaf is considering a new dorm building, then one with better kitchen space wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I don’t know what a good solution would be, but it doesn’t seem fair that I can get a partial meal plan because I live in an honor house while on-campus students who have food allergies or dietary restrictions have to worry when they go to eat.
Meghaen Mleczek ’20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Chicago, Ill.. She majors in English.