To the editors:
When I arrived to Wellesley as a first-year, one of the first things I did was speak to AVI Fresh regarding my various dietary restrictions. In addition to observing the Jewish laws of Kashrut (in other words, I keep kosher), I also have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which makes my body unable to process gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and some oats, among other foods. The short-term consequences if I eat gluten are various digestive problems and debilitating pain, often bad enough to prevent me from attending class. However, the long-term effects can be even more serious. Continued consumption of gluten can lead to infertility, various forms of cancer, anemia, osteoporosis, neurological problems, and more. This is just the beginning of a long list of potential long-term side effects. Some people with celiac disease experience weeks of sickness upon exposure to gluten, and the reaction can be triggered by a single gluten-containing crumb.
In my initial conversation with AVI, they assured me that they would do everything possible to give me a positive and nutritious dining experience here at Wellesley. While they were somewhat accommodating in the beginning, in the two years since then they have not followed through on this promise (to put it nicely). My dining experience here has been one of the few negative aspects of my Wellesley experience, but the consequences have been incredibly far reaching. It has had a negative influence on everything from my nutrition to my social life, as I am unable to eat meals with my friends in the dining halls. While there are numerous ways in which AVI could do a significantly better job at accommodating students with celiac disease and other dietary restrictions, I would like to focus on the issue of mislabeling dishes.
On Monday night, I walked into the Stone-Davis dining hall to see if there was anything I could eat for dinner. When I looked at the main course and side dishes, I noticed that there was a tomato dish that was covered with breadcrumbs. The sign indicating allergens in the dish not only neglected to mention breadcrumbs as one of the ingredients, but also listed the dish as GLUTEN SENSITIVE. I asked the chef who made the dish what ingredients he used, and the first two ingredients he listed were breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese (the dish was also incorrectly labeled as being vegan). This incident is the third time I have personally seen AVI make the exact same error in labeling this dish as gluten sensitive. And this is only one in a series of mistakes they have made in labeling their food—not only in terms of gluten, but other allergens and religious dietary restrictions as well. I have seen barley soup and seitan (which is essentially gluten in its purest form) both labeled as gluten free and heard from friends about chicken dishes and sandwiches containing bacon being labeled as vegan.
Part of the problem here has to do with a breakdown in communication. The staff who labels the food (dining hall managers) are not the same people who cook the food. I have found the majority of the dining hall staff in Stone-D to be incredibly supportive and understanding of my restrictions—they will not hesitate to check the ingredients of a product for me or look for gluten-free bread if it is not readily available. However, the managers in Stone-D (and again, I am speaking only from my personal experience) have been far from accommodating. As I mentioned, they repeatedly make the same mistakes in labeling, even after I clearly explained it to them on previous occasions. They have not responded to any of the three comment cards I have written this year, and from what I understand, they do not accept feedback from the staff members who have prepared the food when they are told that certain dishes are mislabeled.
AVI has repeatedly assured me that all of their staff is trained to understand the effects and limitations of celiac disease. If this is the case, then the people who are continuously making these mistakes in labeling must either not care about students’ dietary restrictions, or not fully understand the severity of these restrictions. I sincerely hope that the problem is the latter.
It is time that AVI Fresh be held accountable for these mistakes and starts making some serious changes. If you have had any personal dining experiences at Wellesley that you would like to share (either positive or negative), please do not hesitate to contact me, as I am trying to understand the full extent of this issue as I consider my next steps.
Tali Marcus ’15