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Hundreds sign petition calling for dining reform at Hofstra

Hundreds sign petition calling for dining reform at Hofstra

After penning a petition on Change.org calling for expanded options for those with dietary restrictions at Hofstra, junior marketing major Sarah Peres’ plight was met with a wave of support from more than 500 concerned students, parents and community members alike.

The response to her petition shared on Saturday, Oct. 27, titled “More gluten-free, allergy-free, and dietary restriction food options at Hofstra University” suggested a major shortcoming in the dining halls. 

Peres, recently diagnosed with celiac disease, said she hopes to make a change on campus as she is tired of feeling hungry and frustrated whenever in the dining halls at Hofstra. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by the intake of gluten.

“It is almost as if Hofstra would rather us starve than be able to eat a safely prepared gluten-free meal,” Peres said in her petition. 

After an experience she had on Saturday, Oct, 20 at Hofstra USA (HofUSA) when she was served a salad with croutons, her anger forced her to make a scene.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. They need to have a second kitchen or at least they need to be more educated. They need to educate their staff more. If they don’t have a separate kitchen, then they need to clean their utensils and have separate utensils for everything,” Peres said.

Lisa Ospitale, the District Marketing Director of Campus Dining by Compass Group, said that available options are based on sales, sales history and requests from the overall community population. 

“There is no set proportion/percentage for each location and items offered. Menus are determined with student input, industry trends, requests and suggestions and overall sales data,” she said.

“We offer G8 in the Student Center because it is an area that is separate from other areas creating a safe location for those with allergies to eat.”

Ospitale said that significant initiatives go into garnering community input. “Throughout the year we conduct preference surveys asking the Hofstra community what they are looking for in terms of dining. We work with religious groups like Hillel and Muslim Student Association in order to determine specific dietary needs ... We also work with SGA in order to poll students and what they are looking for ... For example they assisted with determining the new menu at HofUSA.”

President of Student Government Association (SGA) Abby Normandin said, “SGA has worked closely with Compass Dining on campus to improve student dining experiences and to amplify student opinions in changes that go into dining on campus. This relationship includes regular meetings between SGA’s Senate and Compass’ leadership team,” Normandin said. 

This week, one of SGA’s polling questions for Student Appreciation Week asks students which dining topic they have the most concerns over: affordability, cleanliness, dietary restrictions, quality or variety.

“This feedback will help us gauge where to aim initiative efforts moving forward,” Normandin said. 

Hofstra also has a staff nutritionist who meets daily with students who have dietary restrictions. She helps create menus and offers additional options to those who need it, according to Ospitale.

She noted, “There are other items throughout the servery that fit into these categories but due to FDA regulations we cannot 100 percent guarantee that there is no cross contamination.” 

This was of serious concern to Peres and many others who aired their dismay in the comments section of the petition. 

Senior film and TV production major Brittany McGowan also has celiac disease. “The gluten-free petition not only benefits students with celiac disease and gluten allergies, but also students with other varying allergies, intolerances, autoimmune disorders and any other medical dietary restriction,” McGowan said. “What the school doesn’t understand, I don’t think, is that there currently is no cure for celiac.”

What Hofstra needs, McGowan outlined, is, “A larger gluten-free section ... Separate utensils and equipment at each station ... Ingredients posted on everything ... Education ... That’s just the start.” 

Professor Donna Lutz, a psychology professor, also has celiac disease, as do her two kids. She said she has never been able to eat at a faculty meeting or event. 

“I can no longer eat a meal at Hofstra, and sometimes I’m here for more than 10 hours. If I don’t anticipate ahead of time what food I need throughout the day and pack it myself, I sometimes wind up not being able to eat anything other than some snack food,” Lutz said. “Other universities are doing more to meet student demands. An individual with food restrictions could not dorm at Hofstra, like they could at other universities.”

Parents of prospective students left comments on Peres’ petition saying, “As a former Hofstra alumna and a celiac, I am extremely disappointed that I need to even sign this petition. My daughter has celiac and I was hoping to maybe send her there, but forget it. She’ll starve.” 

Another parent said, “My daughter has severe food allergies. It is terrifying that something as simple as a nut could essentially kill her. All of our children deserve to be able to eat safely at their schools. There is already enough pressure for them at college, having a safe meal to eat should not be one of them. Hofstra please hear our appeal so our children (your students) could have a safe, stress-free meal.”

Peres, McGowan and dozens of other students are calling on Hofstra to reconsider available options in the dining halls so as to accommodate all conditions and diets.

“I have an official diagnosis. This isn’t a game or a cry for attention,” McGowan said. “This is a movement to get healthy food on campus with proper care to cross-contamination for those with medical dietary needs. This needs to be taken seriously. I’m tired of getting sick on a weekly basis because I don’t know what’s in my food.”

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