UCSD dining halls do not adequately accommodate for dietary restrictions

Photo courtesy of Unsplash
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

At UC San Diego, all first-year students living on campus are required to purchase a $4,154 blue package dining plan or a $6,207 gold package dining plan. Given this requirement, one would expect Housing Dining Hospitality to provide a wide variety of options for students with different dietary needs. However, this is not the case. Despite offering an extensive menu spread out among 10 dining halls, the dining experience at UC San Diego lacks foods suitable for many dietary restrictions, such as keto-friendly, vegan-friendly, or gluten-free meals. To remedy this situation, UCSD should consider providing additional dishes that cater to a broader array of dietary restrictions. With these changes, all students would receive adequate nutrition and be able to fully utilize their expensive dining plans.

Food is the fuel that supports students in maintaining good mental health and stellar academic performance. Countless studies and scientific publications have highlighted the importance of food for students. In particular, recent studies from the CDC found that when students lack nutritional intake, their overall cognitive performance decreases, leading to lower grades and a greater risk of academic failure. Furthermore, their mood and personal well-being can be heavily impacted by greater irritability and susceptibility to higher levels of stress

Despite this, UCSD — an institution that prides itself on providing resources to promote student health — is leaving many students with dietary restrictions struggling to find ready-made meals. According to a “Vegan Report Card” review of UCSD, generated through student feedback on the university’s “grade” of vegan accommodations, one student reported, “There are not nearly enough options at every individual dining hall, so unless you want to make the walk out of your residential area three times a day to eat at Roots, you’re going to struggle to eat.” 

Furthermore, the limited options at UCSD dining halls do not account for common allergens from vegan dishes. Statistically, many vegans are at a greater risk of developing gluten sensitivities, as their diet demands a heavy reliance on gluten for nourishment. High intake and overconsumption of gluten have been linked to a variety of short-term health concerns such as rashes, headaches, diarrhea, and bloating. At Roots, 21 dishes contain this common allergen; even with a rotating menu, the food tends to include gluten. However, Roots has recently taken steps in the right direction by slowly building a more inclusive menu, serving students with a vegan and gluten-free diet — the Kendra Lama Noodles, a filling rice noodle entree with no major food allergen present, was recently incorporated into the Roots menu and now students with these dietary restrictions have a ready-made meal they can consume. Now, it is just a matter of getting the nine other dining halls to follow in Roots’ footsteps and build a more inclusive menu.

Club Med, a dining hall near Sally T. WongAvery Library, offers a mere three dishes that are suitable for a vegan diet. These include the roasted vegetable sandwich, tofu poke, and organic lentil chickpea soup. Out of the three, both the roasted vegetable sandwich and the tofu poke contain gluten while the one dish that can accommodate this dietary intersection, the organic lentil chickpea soup, varies in availability. If a student with a vegan and gluten-free diet were to be studying at WongAvery Library and wanted to quickly “refuel,” they would most likely find themselves struggling to find a full meal nearby. All other dining halls are located within a half-mile radius of the library, making the simple act of eating a healthy, balanced meal an inconvenience for these students despite how much money they are forced to spend on a dining plan. 

Even if students were willing to make the trip, the other dining halls, as I have previously mentioned, offer dire accommodations for such a diet. This may nudge some students to spend money off campus for food, using personal funds to make up for the lack of options UCSD offers. The La Jolla area makes up for UCSD’s lackluster options somewhat. Shopping centers on Villa La Jolla Drive have a wide array of restaurants that offer a diverse, allergen-exclusive, vegan menu. However, these dishes are often expensive and the restaurants have to be reached by bus or car. For example, Urban Plates, a “wellness” restaurant, offers quick, convenient, and healthy food with a good amount of allergen-free, vegan options. But, the dishes are not price-friendly for the average college student to consistently purchase. The Chili Glazed Grilled Tofu Bowl, the cheapest nutrient-packed entree at the restaurant, costs a whopping $12. Ultimately, students should not have to resort to spending money outside of their Dining Dollars. 

UCSD needs to broaden its dining options to become more inclusive of those with dietary restrictions. From being unable to grab a quick bite to eat to spending ‘out-of-pocket’ money to obtain adequate nourishment, UCSD students who adhere to a strict vegan and gluten-free diet are not able to utilize their dining plans to their full extent.

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About the Contributor
Jordan Nakagawa
Jordan Nakagawa, Staff Writer
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