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A Look Into BC Dining: Navigating Allergies and Other Dietary Restrictions

This is the second installment of a three-part series about BC Dining.

When Tania Hossain ordered the vegetarian quesadilla from Boston College Dining, she said she did not even notice she was handed the wrong one. After a few bites, she suddenly realized it had chicken in it—chicken that was not Halal.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Hossain, MCAS ’25, said. “I didn’t want to throw away food because wasting is also looked down upon in our religion … I already had a couple of bites of it too, so I just ate it. I felt so bad because obviously it wasn’t Halal.”

This was not the first time Hossain said she found non-Halal chicken in her food. Despite not ordering chicken, Hossain said she also found a piece in her customized Mexican bowl from Addie’s.

“I think the biggest issue that I have to deal with generally on a daily basis is the cross contamination,” Hossain said.

Dietary restrictions, whether they be religious, medical, or personal preference, make navigating BC Dining particularly difficult, according to several students.

BC Dining’s website states that it provides services to meet all students’ dietary needs, from nutritional counseling to meal accommodations. Students can also meet with the University’s nutritionist and subscribe to an allergy listserv to stay informed on BC Dining offerings around campus, according to the website.

“Each of the three dining halls offers a ‘Plain and Simple’ line at dinner which offers meals free of the top eight allergens (milk, soy, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts), gluten, and sesame,” BC Dining Director Beth Emery wrote in an email to The Heights. “Our Administrative Dietitian is available to meet with students with medical nutritional needs.”

Other universities in the Boston area provide similar services for their own students, such as nutritional counseling at Boston University and online menus that can be filtered by dietary restrictions at Harvard University. BU differs from BC, however, in employing a full-time director of safety and sanitation and providing a full gluten and nut-free pantry for students.

Though BC Dining trains its staff on the severity of food allergies and celiac disease, manufacturers can change product formulation without notifying BC, so cross-contact is possible, according to the website.

“Students need to be aware of risks and take responsibility for asking the manager on duty for assistance,” the website reads.

Kate Serpe, MCAS ’25, said she approached a manager on duty after eating gluten friendly–labeled grilling grains. When her face grew flushed and her stomach began to hurt, she suspected she had consumed gluten—something she avoids because of her celiac disease.

“I went to the manager and asked if he knew if there was gluten in it,” Serpe said. “I [wanted] to know just so I could have that peace of mind knowing if I had something that was contaminated, and he had basically said that he wasn’t sure.”

Serpe said she also struggles with knowing what options will be available to her at BC when she scans the daily online menus. Even when the BC Dining website accurately lists a dish as gluten friendly, Serpe said it might not be available when she arrives at the dining hall.

“I’ll go up and ask the manager if he knows what’s gluten free for the night, and like obviously they want to make sure that everything’s safe and they want to make sure that I’m not getting sick so a lot of the times they say ‘We can’t guarantee anything,’” Serpe said.

Camryn Hughes, MCAS ’25, also stressed that nothing from BC Dining is guaranteed to be gluten free.

“Everything just says gluten friendly on it, so eating pretty much anything just gives you like a mild panic attack like every time you walk into the dining hall,” she said.

Serpe added BC Dining does offer a set meal plan option for students with dietary restrictions where they can place orders a month in advance, listing what dining hall they would be in each day and at what time.

“I ended up obviously not doing it,” Serpe said. “It was just way too difficult to figure out what time I was going to be in the dining hall, what I wanted to eat, [and] where I was going to be every single day for the next month. It was just impossible to do.”

Hughes tried out this meal plan with BC Dining last year, but she said it was complicated and made her feel separated from other students.

“It’s really socially isolating,” Hughes said. “I think I went to the dining hall with other people like one time just because I had to go at a specific set time and I would have to go around the corner and separately pick up my food.”

BC Dining’s gluten free options repeat frequently, so it is easy to grow sick of them, Serpe said.

“I would say they have like one option per night that’s gluten free,” she said. “I would say maybe like three or four nights out of the week I just end up having the chicken and two sides because that’s what I know is gluten free and that’s what I know is safe.”

An anonymous student worker at BC Dining suggested that if BC Dining gave the chefs more freedom in choosing what they cook for students, then they could provide more creative options for students with dietary restrictions.

“The chefs, they’re good at their job,” the student said. “I think maybe if they had more liberty they could come up with more options for kids who don’t eat gluten or dairy or are vegan.”

For Anshika Agrawal, who has been a vegetarian her whole life, BC Dining’s limited options make it difficult for her to eat healthily, she said.

“I just feel that BC doesn’t have a lot of options for vegetarians,” Agrawal, CSOM ’25, said. “Like a lot of time, which is almost every day, my only option just narrows down to maybe having fries or something from the frozen section or … the pizzas from Addie’s.”

Agrawal said she wishes BC would improve the quality of its food and include healthier options, particularly for vegetarian students like her.

As for students with allergies, Hughes said she does not think BC Dining’s resources are very helpful, especially because nobody knows about them.

“Nobody tells you anything,” she said. “And so it’s entirely up to you to like be excessively advocating for yourself, which is really hard when you’re in your first year of college.”

Julia Kiersznowski contributed to reporting.

November 16, 2022