OPINION: Tulane Dining: Minefield for Food Allergies

Hailie Goldthorpe, Staff Writer

Mylie Bluhm

On the surface, Tulane presents a variety of options for students dining on campus: the Dining Room at the Commons, Provisions on the Thirtieth Parallel, the LBC Food Court, Green Wave Grille, Rimon, PJ’s Coffee and two food trucks grace our campus. While these options are widely-considered “sub-optimal,” complaints related to quality, hours of operation and variety often pale in comparison to the safety risks posed to students with dietary restrictions.

Research suggests food allergies affect approximately 10% of the college-age population. Even mild exposure to allergens can cause students to miss class, experience acute symptoms or require emergency medical attention. Tulane practices repeated negligence regarding ADA accessibility concerns, and food allergies are no different. Food allergies, IBS and autoimmune conditions are considered disabilities under the congressional Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. To comply with this legislation, universities nationwide have taken steps to allow students safer and more equitable dining experiences. Unfortunately, Tulane offers a very selective, ill-informed and dangerous approach. 

As a freshman, I arrived on campus with complete confidence that I would find a “safe” place for food. Alas, obtaining accurate dining accommodations is a Sisyphean task. After submitting tests with allergists, bloodwork and a doctor’s letterhead, I was confident that the price of revamping paperwork would help avoid food complications. A campus dietician provided MyZone access after discussing my access concerns. Unfortunately, when I tapped in and opened the door, I was crestfallen when every item contained my Achilles’ Heel: eggs. MyZone offers a paltry selection of gluten-free bread, eggs, and some refrigerated pastries. While this installation is helpful for students with conditions like Celiac disease, it fails to provide consistent, safe options for those with other allergies or conditions. Early in my Tulane career, I decided to stick to “safer” foods and produce in the general dining area, which landed me in the TEMS ambulance twice.

The intersection of disability and food insecurity is undeniable, but there are ways to avoid potential harm while in college. Here’s my advice for any “spoonies” needing to nosh at Tulane: ask culinary workers to provide ingredients, change their gloves or heat your food on a fresh or clean surface. Practice asking about which foods share common surfaces. Even if it’s “awkward” or if — when — you’ll get an eye-roll, being “needy” is better than becoming ill. This won’t work each and every time, but it’s important to start these conversations. In understaffed culinary environments with limited accessibility training, allergy information provided isn’t always accurate. Disabled students at Tulane face a dogged uphill battle against discrimination, but voicing concerns and practicing steadfast self-advocacy can save a life.

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