From making new friends to exploring new activities and figuring out what you’re really passionate about, college is one of the most exciting times of your life — especially at Carnegie Mellon! While navigating and exploring your new home away from home, the last thing students should have to worry about is issues related to food allergies. As universities around the country become increasingly sensitive to students’ dietary concerns, Carnegie Mellon Dining Services is taking the lead on this weighty and prevailing topic with Nourish, an allergen-friendly kitchen that opened this fall.
Allergen-Friendly Food Full of Taste
Nourish features a menu that is prepared entirely without gluten and the eight ingredients most likely to cause allergic reactions: eggs, wheat, dairy, soy, tree nuts (except coconut), peanuts, shellfish, and fish. Nourish is operated by CulinArt Group and led by Executive Chef Victor Schmidt, who has been serving allergen students at Carnegie Mellon for eight years.
“Chef Vic has poured his passion for food and his allergen expertise into the Nourish menu,” says Director of Dining Services Pascal Petter. “It’s a diverse and delicious menu that our entire campus community can enjoy.”
Prepared and sealed in a dedicated kitchen to ensure safety commitments to guests with dietary restrictions, the menu features a wide variety of made-to-order and grab-and-go foods, including sandwiches, salads, bowls, pizza, burgers, and hot entrees. There are also a number of unique vegan and plant-based offerings that can be customized to please any palate.
Students, faculty, and staff can place their orders for pick up at Nourish, located on the second floor of the Cohon Center, using GET Food via the app or online from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Additionally, grab-and-go menu items are available at a number of on-campus locations: Carnegie Mellon Café, Entropy+, Rothberg’s Roasters II, Heinz Café, and Maggie Murph Café.
Campus Dining Meeting the Needs of Students
Food allergies aside, students tend to have stricter dietary preferences than the general population. According to Technomic’s 2017 College & University Consumer Trend Report, they’re more likely to follow special eating plans, including vegan, vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian (e.g., pescatarian) diets. The report also notes that 49 percent want to avoid meat and animal products in their meals.
“While accommodating dietary preferences has long been one of our dining program’s primary objectives, providing delicious, nutritious, allergen-friendly meal options to students unable to tolerate certain foods or ingredients is just as important to our program and the university,” says Petter.
Allergic reactions can present serious health risks and can even be life-threatening. A study at the University of Michigan found that while 47.7 percent of students with food allergies reported that they maintain a prescription for emergency medication including self-injectable epinephrine, only 6.6 percent of these individuals reported always carrying this device.
Foods can cause adverse reactions other than allergies, too. For example, people experience intolerances or sensitivities to food that cause a range of digestive issues, which can result in secondary conditions such as migraines, chronic fatigue, inflammation, skin problems, nutrient malabsorption, and severe nutrient deficiencies. Many of these individuals do not produce the enzymes necessary to break down certain types of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, including dietary fiber or sugars. Students with these reactions may need to eliminate many of the same types of food that the Nourish menu is designed to address.
“Even minor health issues can take away from a student’s college experience and journey,” says Jessica Tones, Carnegie Mellon Dining Services’ nutrition educator and dietitian who joined the team last fall. “Carnegie Mellon is committed to reducing this source stress for our students by offering safe, delicious, and convenient food options. That’s why opening Nourish for this academic year was a number one priority for me and for our dining program.”
Serving Safe Foods on Campus
For students with severe food allergies, even the tiniest exposure can produce an adverse reaction. That’s why designated food preparation areas and equipment are required to ensure their safety and health; for instance, cutting boards used to slice bread should never be used to chop vegetables, and separate refrigerators and food storage areas are needed to avoid unintentional cross-contact.
Equally essential is staff training: even common allergens have many aliases — like semolina for wheat and casein for dairy — so food service employees need to be aware of alternative names. Training should also emphasize accurate labeling and communication with students who have allergies.
Carnegie Mellon is excited to offer allergen-friendly dining with Nourish. These safe, delicious meals will make eating on campus easier for students with dietary restrictions, who often feel like an invisible group. Going to college is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be enjoyed to the fullest — without worrying about food allergies!