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Residents required to have meal plan regardless of dietary needs

Students living on campus with dietary restrictions, such as veganism and allergies to gluten, are frustrated by the Mills obligatory meal plan.

Students living on campus with specific dietary needs find paying for the meal plan a burden, as they end up cooking for themselves despite being forced to pay for Founder’s meals.
Students living on campus with specific dietary needs find paying for the meal plan a burden, as they end up cooking for themselves despite being forced to pay for Founder’s meals.

Students who live on campus are required to pay for a meal plan, regardless of their dietary restrictions, which can make it difficult for students to put together a healthy meal from the selection of food offered on campus through Bon Appetit, the company that provides dining services for Mills.

Students feel that that the issues they have with the selection of food offered at Founders Commons has gone unnoticed by Bon Appetit.

Ash Brik and Rachel Strand, two first-year students who are vegan, attempted to opt out of of their meal plans last semester, so that they could cook healthier, with more of a variety of vegan-friendly food for themselves.

“What we found out was that the kitchens [in the dorms] are not up to [health and safety] standards, and that’s why everyone in the dorms has to be on a meal plan,” Strand said.

“It’s not that they’re not up to code, it’s that they aren’t meant for 20, 30, 100, students to be cooking in. The intent for [the kitchens] was always as a place to pop popcorn or things like that,” said the Director of Auxiliary Services at Mills, Dorothy Calimeris.

While it isn’t just the “rice-potatoes-and beans” cuisine that vegans were concerned about at Founders, the lack of protein in a lot of vegan options at the dining hall may cause some real health issues.

“They’re really unsympathetic when they run out of vegetarian options and I have to eat after work,” said Rachel Patterson, a student server for Bon Appetit. “They always say I should go get something from the salad bar, but that’s not always enough.”

However, according to Calimeris, Bon Appetit always tries to be “interesting and new.” Calimeris referred to the recent “s’mores station” that Founders featured a few weeks ago as an example of Bon Appetit’s creativity, but did not mention anything about attempts to make more vegan and vegetarian options.

“Kosher and Halal we can’t really accommodate, but we certainly do work with vegan and vegetarian food allergies,” she said.

Brik is also concerned that Bon Appetit has mislabeled prepared food as vegetarian or vegan when it was not.

“One time I got some lentil soup, and then realized that there were pieces of meat in my soup. I told one of the servers at Founders [that the soup wasn’t vegan], but at that point, people had taken the soup as a vegan or vegetarian meal,” said Brik, who says she got very sick last semester because of the cross contamination of types of foods and lack of nutrients from meals not prepared with vegans in mind.

It is not just vegans who have a hard time with Founders’ food. Charley Breyer, a student who is lactose intolerant and also struggles with an eating disorder, found that lack of portion control and wrongful labeling not only fueled his eating disorder, but also would make him physically sick.

Bon Appetit and Mills offers students a choice between four different meal plans, the 19-Plus Plan, 15-Plus Plan, 12-Meal Plan, and the 10-Plus Plan. For every meal plan, except for the 12-Meal Plan, students receive a certain number of Mills Points, which they can spend at the Tea Shop on campus, which is also run by Bon Appetit.

Breyer, is able to get his meals at the Tea Shop, because of his SSD accommodations: Instead of using points like students who have “plus” meal plans, Breyer redeems his meals there. In order for his purchase at the Tea Shop to count, Breyer must get a drink, entrée and small side (like a piece of fruit).

Calimeris says they are always trying to meet students’ needs. She says part of the problem is that Bon Appetit is unaware of student concerns, and urges students to push Bon Appetit in the right direction.

“Often students will wait too long to come forward and say that they have a need or request,” Calimeris said “which is too bad, because we would like to meet with students early in the semester and talk about their needs.”