Students with allergies cope with food plan

For most students meal times are social and relaxing – a break from a stressful day of classes. But for students with food allergies meal times are anything but enjoyable.

Some GW students who suffer from food allergies have found themselves in a bind this semester because a significant amount of money from GWorld cards must be spent at J Street, where their food options are scarce. GW officials say J Street has options for those with food allergies.

Freshman Nicole Marquand is allergic to wheat and gluten and is registered with disability support services. When she asked if the University would open up her GWorld account so she could spend her J Street specific funds elsewhere, they refused. Officials told her it was too late into the semester to make any changes. She asked the second week of school.

“I probably eat five days a week at WOW and get a burger with no bun,” Marquand said. “It’s the same thing everyday.”

While Marquand has difficulty finding things to eat on campus, especially at J Street, GW staff members say there is a plethora of options at the venue for students with food allergies.

Starting this academic year, the GWorld plan has been difficult for freshman and sophomores. Although it is technically their own money, students are not at liberty to spend it how they like. Freshmen, who receive an automatic $1,700 from tuition money per semester on their GWorld, must spend $700 at J Street, Duques Hall or Mount Vernon venues. Sophomores must spend $250 at these locations. This portion of money is labeled “mandatory dining.”

Mohsen Emami, the resident district manager for Sodexho dining services, said when it comes to students having special needs, communication is key.

“If anybody is shy, believe me, we don’t bite. Students have to be proactive,” he said. “We’re not here for us; we’re here to serve the students.”

Many students have already asked the staff at Sodexho to assist them with food allergy problems, Emami said. One option for students with allergies is to ask J Street staff to keep food in specific freezers, he said.

A few times per quarter the staff at Sodexho will go down to J Street and speak to the students themselves, asking them questions about the food being served. They take the students’ suggestions seriously and try to make changes in order to benefit everyone, he said. The staff has even taken students back into the kitchen to answer inquiries about specific ingredients and assure the students their food is allergy-free.

“We are here to listen and do whatever it takes,” Mohsen said. “Just because a food isn’t visible in the cafeteria doesn’t mean we don’t have it.”

Nancy Haaga, managing director of campus support services, said in an e-mail that when choosing the food stations to include in J Street, she kept students with food allergies in mind. After meeting with students and receiving feedback about the categories and diversity of food offered at J Street, she and her staff were able to carefully pick and choose certain foods in order to accommodate the students, she said.

“We made a conscious and deliberate decision to reduce the number of national fast food brands available at J Street in order to have more flexibility to meet student’s preferences, requests and special dietary needs,” she said.

Student Health Service has not had any students come in to complain about their meal plans yet this year, and it has received little to no food allergy treatments, said Susan Haney, the outreach coordinator for Student Health Service.

However, she said, some students may not be quick to reach out to J Street staff members because students may be afraid to miss out socially.

“If they’re freshman and all their friends are going to J Street they might still want to go there and try to make something work because it keeps them doing what their friends are doing,” Haney said. “Sometimes people find it difficult, but they still prefer to work around it.”

Despite all the careful planning and picking and choosing by University officials, Marquand said she would still prefer if she didn’t have a mandatory spending budget at J Street.

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