BY TAYLOR MABELITINI
While the average college student often finds themselves surviving off of Ramen and coffee, this doesn’t hold so true with students who face food allergies and dietary restrictions. Multiple meal options are available on the campus of Washtenaw Community College, including Subway, Garrett’s and the Spot, but when one cuts out dairy, gluten, meat, soy or other ingredients, lunchtime can suddenly seem like a never-ending miscellany of forbidden foods.
Amber Thibodeau aims to make eating on campus a little less intimidating for all students, especially those who require accommodations when it comes to their daily grub. Thibodeau has been the Food Services Director at WCC for five months, and since then has made strides to modify on-campus eats to better suit students, including the addition of the LA building’s Snack Spot and more gluten and dairy-free grab-and-go options at the Java Spot. Thibodeau has also worked closely with this year’s guest restaurants to ensure meal options are available to everyone at WCC.
“We have more of a variety of guest restaurants this year. We have a different guest restaurant every day and each guest restaurant has a gluten-free option. The guest restaurant has a vegetarian offering each and every day, and that’s why I added more guest restaurants – because it seemed like Panda Express, they have a vegetarian option but there isn’t a gluten-free option,” Thibodeau said.
She also stresses the fact that lunchtime spots already around campus do have options for students with dietary restrictions, even if they don’t appear to.
“Subway alone, a lot of people stay away from there when they’re gluten-free because they’re like, ‘Bread is everywhere.’ But you can get a salad from Subway that has all the proteins and that’s gluten-free. A lot of people don’t realize that,” Thibodeau said. “All the meats from all the guest restaurants are gluten-free, we have a variety of salads that are grab and go that are gluten-free, we also have the KIND bars as a gluten-free grab and go. It goes on and on.”
Thibodeau also mentions that for vegetarians at Subway, new utensils are always on hand on the line to make sure that sandwiches are made correctly for students and that there is no cross-contamination. She’s worked closely with Earthen Jar, an Ann Arbor-based restaurant, in order to accommodate vegan students as well. Willing to adhere to anything a student may need food-wise, she emphasizes that if students have a need, they email her.
“Hopefully they (students) know that anything they want, I’m willing to try and accommodate. If somebody has dietary restrictions that they need, and they want me to do something, I’ll do it,” Thibodeau said.
Those who are behind the dishes at Garrett’s, the student-run restaurant at WCC, also make sure to pay mind to the restrictions that some on campus may have. All of their menu items are listed on their website, culinary.wccnet.edu, so students can see what is offered throughout the semester and decide in advance what food items will work for them. Garrett’s, unlike the other food services on campus, is required to ensure their culinary program is up to national education standards, by meeting over 200 competencies outlined by the American Culinary Federation. Chris Troiano, a full-time classified lab assistant with WCC’s culinary program, insists that this doesn’t mean that dietary restrictions students have to play “second fiddle.”
“They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, we just have to make sure that we try to do our best so that every menu we produce offers a wide variety,” Troiano said.
This is especially proven through the food restrictions of WCC’s own President Rose Bellanca. Bellanca has a poultry allergy, which Garrett’s has been accommodated during her time at WCC. They also acknowledge what’s known as the “Big Eight” allergens – eggs, dairy, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts – and are continuously aware of them.
“We take allergies very seriously in the program to ensure that people that are coming to Garrett’s can be assured that they’re eating foods that will be safe for them,” said Derek Anders Jr., professional faculty for the Culinary Arts Department. “We also try to make menus to a point where we can involve a level of inclusion for those that have certain dietary restrictions.”
When it comes to many of the dishes at Garrett’s, those creating the menus and cooking the meals ask themselves frequently if a dish that contains gluten, dairy, or another potential food restriction can be made without it – and Anders Jr. says, “Our goal is to say ‘Yes.’”
That, overall, seems to be the mission of the food services at WCC: to allow students to say “Yes” to the food that is made available to them, and to be continuously improving meals that students have access to. One doesn’t have to be simply gluten-free, dairy-free, and meat-free on campus; they can also just be free to eat.