Cal Poly students with dietary restrictions have expressed dissatisfaction with the limited dining hall options, resulting in students compromising healthy meals to attend class and others facing food insecurity. 

Biochemistry junior Maile Gardner follows a vegan diet and has found that the lack of options has made it difficult to find consistent meals. 

“I feel like I’ve been suffering from food insecurity for like a year because of living on campus and having a meal plan, just because I’m not eating enough and I don’t have a variety of different options,” Gardner said.

Architecture engineering freshman Cassadie Golding is gluten-free and finds it difficult to eat among the choices of on-campus meals.   

“I’ve definitely found myself very hungry most days and struggling to get a good meal,” Golding said. “Some days there aren’t very good options for lunch at Balance, so I tend to just eat a granola bar or some fruit snacks.” 

Out of 27 food venues, Balance is one Cal Poly offers which specifically accommodates meals for students who follow an allergen diet or have dietary restrictions. In addition to Balance, Cal Poly offers one to two vegan or vegetarian dishes at each of the other five venues at Vista Grande.

According to the Campus Dining website, Balance Cafe is allergen-free certified and “is the perfect place to fuel your healthy-living lifestyle.” 

Despite accommodating these diets, the portion sizes and variety are not enough for those with a different diet, especially one that is less calorie-dense, to satisfy their hunger. 

“If you’re using this as your primary source of food, and you only have one option you can eat every day –– you need variety,” Gardner said.

Golding often turns to Balance for her meals and shares the similar sentiment that the lack of variety makes it “quite difficult” to follow her gluten-free diet.

“Being gluten-free is already pretty restrictive, but then you only offer us one place that is dedicated, and on top of that it is all dairy, egg and nut-free — the options become even more limited,” Golding said.  “Balance is 100% gluten-free which helps me to know that I won’t get sick eating there. It’s a lot of the same options and I have only found two to three dishes that I actually want to order.”

With Vista Grande closer to the edge of campus, the location of diet-friendly foods sometimes requires students to choose between getting a good meal or attending class. 

For students that live farther away from the dining halls such as Poly Canyon Village, it can take up to 15 minutes to walk across campus to get a satisfying meal compared to the two to three-minute walk for those that live in Sierra Madre or yakʔitʸutʸu. 

“I don’t tend to want to journey over towards [Vista Grande] because I know the meal I get isn’t really worth it,” Golding, who lives in the Cerro Vista Apartments, said.

Gardner said she has contacted Campus Dining multiple times to voice her struggles with the lack of vegan options. She received replies from dietician Kelsey McCourt with a list of the vegan options already being provided. 

“Some of the options on that list were like hummus, avocado, almond milk — like, that’s not a meal,” Gardner said.

According to McCourt, Campus Dining plans to open new venues and will be trying out new recipes during winter quarter. Then, to promote the vegan and vegetarian options at the other food venues, on Grubhub these items will be more apparent for users, easier to identify and see the options, McCourt said.

“Early on, you know, in the year we received feedback about vegetarian vegan options,” McCourt said. “I think we had a lot of those items, but they were being missed.”

However, Gardner emphasizes that the issue with the vegan and vegetarian options is not being identifiable, rather, there is a lack of nutrients and variety of meals fit for a person who follows a restrictive diet. 

“I have tried to give her [McCourt] some suggestions of what I think they should serve and I said some stuff about the portion sizes and like the amount of protein in the meals,” Gardner said. “And she said that she would try and pass it to Campus Dining, but I haven’t seen a change.” 

McCourt said that to accommodate students, Campus Dining encourages students to reach out to express their opinions.  

“When we’re able to meet with the student, see where, you know, what their feedback is, what they’re looking for, what’s worked, what hasn’t, that’s how we can kind of work with them to improve their experience,” McCourt said.

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