Back in September, I wrote an op-ed about my experiences managing a food allergy in Peirce and my decision this year to pursue a meal plan exemption and prepare my own food (“On Leaving the Meal Plan,” September 29, 2016). Since my refund check arrived, I’ve been handling the real-world responsibilities of weekly grocery shopping and taking time out of my day to cook — and honestly, I’m pretty satisfied. I’ve stayed safe, can eat a wider variety of meals than were ever available to me in Peirce and have the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what I’m eating. With a campus as contained as Kenyon, I don’t feel I’m missing out on socia opportunities either.
Still, when I made the decision to leave the meal plan, I was assured by Kenyon administrators that swift action was coming. My exemption was intended to be a temporary fix, and the goal was to return me to the plan in the spring. Administrators at AVI, Housing and Dining and the Accessibility office told me that revamped ingredient labeling would be coming, and items that often went unlabeled would have allergens indicated. Months later, it is clear this is still not happening consistently. More chefs have left Kenyon since my decision, including Chef Michael who worked hard to establish relationships with students who have dietary restrictions — with their departures, much of that work has been lost. When I suggested that staff be trained with the college program created by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE; the most prominent allergy advocacy group in the country), I was told it conflicted with corporate policy. In notifying FARE of this response, I was informed the program was self-auditing and did not require approval from a larger corporate office to be implemented at a college. AVI staff assured me that there would be the launch of a new app after Christmas break that would provide detailed allergen information for every dish; the launch has now been pushed back.
At Senior Soirée, not a single hors d’oeuvre had a label declaring its allergens, meaning that it was safer for me to not eat at all at an event where alcohol was also being served. I have been continually frustrated that AVI will not provide more thorough ingredient labels for all dishes, only marking the most common allergens.
The disconnect between Kenyon and AVI has made me sick, made me frustrated and made me worried about how future students with allergies will fare in Gambier. Looking back on my experiences with dining here, I would hesitate to recommend Kenyon to a prospective student with allergies as severe as mine. On campus, we often discuss the need for better accessibility. That must include a consistent supply of safe and nutritionally balanced meals for those with life-threatening allergies, as much as it must include elevators, wheelchair ramps and accommodations for learning disabilities.
I wish Peirce could be safer; though I enjoy being off the meal plan, I wish it didn’t have to come to this. And I hope my exemption does not become the status quo for dealing with allergies at Kenyon. Excluding students from Peirce is not a solution. When I feel more confident I won’t get sick eating at Chipotle than at my own college’s dining hall, that’s a sign that things need to change. Either AVI must institute comprehensive allergy training for all its employees, or Kenyon must consider a different food service.
Deirdre Sheridan ’17 is an English major from Fanwood, N.J. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.