By Ellen Garnett
I have a tree nut allergy. I have been at Simmons College for one year now and have had many unsatisfied desires for the tomato and pesto Panini in the Fens, which a Fens cafeteria employee said had pine nuts in it. I was relieved to be told by Jeanne Williams, the Fens Café manager, that the Fens is actually nut-free.
As a person who has had many allergies, I believe that both Bartol and the Fens need to have better communication among cafeteria employees and patrons, employers, and their employees regarding allergy-sensitive food and procedures.
At first glance, both cafeterias seem relatively sensitive to faculty and students who may have dietary restrictions. For instance, there are signs in Bartol and the Fens that inform patrons of the possibility of their food coming in contact with common food allergens such as peanuts, eggs, and so on. There are also calorie counts for certain meals at the Grill and Little Italy.
While these two examples are a start, campus cafeterias need to have explicit labels explaining what the ingredients are in all of the meals. This may seem tedious, but it could really help students learn about what they are consuming, especially if they have dietary restrictions.
“We would rather disappoint someone and tell them the truth, that we don’t know the ingredients in a dish instead of having them get sick,” said Williams. She also noted that because she sometimes has to remind her employees to change their gloves for allergy-sensitive food, such as gluten-free bread, there may be a training in the near future regarding these procedures.
The only reason I learned that the Fens is nut-free and for the most part gluten-friendly is that I did some digging. Students and staff should have that information readily available so that they can make knowledgeable decisions.
Some may argue that instead of the cafeterias providing so much information about their food, a student should take the initiative to do research on the food she consumes. While I agree that there are circumstances in which people need to do some research to educate themselves, I think it is also the responsibility of the dining halls to educate their customers on their products.
Recently, Bartol hosted its annual Lobster Night, which is a treat for some but not so much for people with shellfish allergies. Sophomore Jennifer Ives, a psychology major who recently discovered her shellfish allergy during Lobster Night, felt that there was a lack in providing a safe place for people who have shellfish allergies.
“I totally get Lobster Night. It’s New England. But there should be a lobster-free section for people allergic to shellfish,” said Ives.
She shared the sentiment that there also needs to be more communication between Bartol and the community when they host special-themed nights so that students with food allergies can plan ahead.
Bartol already seems to be strengthening its communication with patrons by adding a notice, “Facts about Bartol Cooking,” on top of the fruit and bread section. It lists how they prepare their food, how their gluten-friendly station includes desserts that are lactose-free, vegetarian, and vegan. They also carry both Halal beef and chicken, which patrons can request.
I have interacted with staff from both dining halls and I could not be happier with their level of friendliness and helpfulness. I know that they are more than willing to go out of their way to help out the community. I think that with more communication, Bartol and the Fens can be even more supportive of the Simmons community.