Members of the Plattsburgh State student body conversed around a table in the SunDowner over gluten-free cauliflower-crust pizza about what changes the students with dietary restrictions would like to see in menus across campus.
The Food Allergy and Nutrition Group holds biweekly meetings where they advocate for student requests for gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan food options to PSUC nutritionist of more than 10 years, Jeff Vallee.
Vallee comes to the FAANG meeting with a pen and paper in hand to note the requests of more inclusive foods for those with restrictive diets, and the feedback of the foods that have already been implemented in the dining halls and eateries across campus.
“Say I have a student come up to me and make a request, anyone who signed up to be on the notification sheet receives a mass email that we’re implementing the request at that location,” Valle said.
Students with a meal plan only need to email Vallee or speak with one of the managers at dining and retail eateries on campus to submit their requests for alternative meal choices.
Requests can range from anything to vegan butter, gluten-free soups and poutine.
There is even a special cooler in Clinton Dining Hall that holds special requests from students ranging from gluten-free soy sauce to lactose-free cream cheese.
“This station is always evolving based on student requests,” Vallee said.
FAANG is a small group of PSUC students with allergies and food preferences of their own. The committee has a direct say and influence regarding allergy friendly foods that they and their peers are craving, or which foods aren’t working.
Member of FAANG and the Dining Advisory Committee and former College Auxiliary Services senator Lily Crosman requested foods at the meeting such as vegan pastas made without egg yolk and plain vegan butter, instead of the cinnamon butter the dining halls carry.
“I’ve talked with a bunch of students with allergies and preferences, and we communicated the changes they wanted to see,” Crosman said.
Another member of FAANG is freshman nutrition major Alyssa Martin. The feedback she provided was positive regarding the gluten-free cinnamon raisin oatmeal served at Clinton Dining Hall.
“I’m not sure what my allergy is. My second day of college, I had really bad anaphylaxis and they had to call an ambulance and everything” Martin said. “[Jeff] took me around the dining hall and told me which sections have what.”
There is currently a system in place which puts a smiley face next to items on the menu that are allergy-friendly. Vallee takes this seriously as ingestion of the wrong foods could be potentially dangerous.
“Anyone who comes to me with an allergy, I update the menu of anything they can and cannot have,” Vallee said.
If there are no appropriate foods for those with allergies at a retail location such as Subway or Griddles, Vallee tries to change the system to get an alternative food that accommodates the student’s special dietary needs. Individuals can call ahead or request special food made to order at these locations.
“When it comes to allergies we’re looking at it more along the lines of a disability.” Vallee said. “It’s not a preference.”
At its latest meeting, FAANG reviewed the menu of the CAS sponsored Winterfest, held at Clinton Dining Hall later that day. The event had a large turnout of more than 1,035; 313 of which were surveyed, and the satisfaction rate came back as 84 percent. The inclusive menu included items such as gluten-free roasted NY strip, vegan minestrone, fried perch filet from Champlain fishery and poutine with vegetarian gravy. Students roasted their own marshmallows over an open fire pit to make s’mores. Winterfest was one of the many Legacy-Themed Events that will take place at Clinton in the near future.
The next FAANG meeting will be held March 6 at Little Al’s.
“We don’t want to offer the same foods every day and cause menu fatigue, but we also want to make sure we incorporate a little of everything,” Vallee said. “It’s balancing that mix, because we have a really diverse campus population-wise.”