The Chronicles of a Gluten-Free and Vegetarian College Students

Memo

To: Dean Hughes, Dining Hall Services at Christopher Newport University, Kevin Hughes, Dean of Students at Christopher Newport University

From: Marissa Trujillo, Student at Christopher Newport University (marissa.trujillo.13@cnu.edu)

Subject: Support for Gluten Free and Vegetarian Students

Date: May 27, 2016

Purpose

The purpose of this narrative study was to examine the stories of students attending Christopher Newport University that have special dietary needs due to being gluten-free or vegetarian. Their stories presented certain problems with the dining services provided. This suggests that the dining services at Christopher Newport need to be improved or offer the students better options.

Summary

Christopher Newport University is becoming a more popular school with more students wanting to attend. With the increase in popularity it increases the additional requirement to provide proper food for the students. Christopher Newport has two dining halls called Commons and Regattas. They also have other options such as Chick-fil-a, Einstein’s, Discovery Pizza, Discovery Grill, and Discovery Cafe. The dining services provide great food options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but some students that are gluten-free or vegetarians might have different views on the food options. When students have these diet restrictions, when applying to CNU they can observe electronic menus with nutritional information that identify the vegan options or healthy heart they offer but, it does not offer many gluten-free options. It also typically identifies one option of vegetarian food for them at lunch and dinner.

From the students I interviewed, they spoke up about how they feel about the options offered at the dining options identified above. I learned that each dining hall has a different way of offering food to students that are gluten-free and vegetarians. They also expressed that the employees in dining services are not being educated on the subject in order to understand the various needs for this lifestyle. Based on their stories, it is clear that changes in the options and improving the system in the dining services is needed. One of the interviewers was my field hockey coach that is a vegetarian and she gave me her insight about this concern. She has a great perspective of this topic because she is a vegetarian herself, and has players on the team with these certain dietary needs. Overall, the coach promotes healthy eating and cares about her athletes getting the necessary food to fuel them for practices and games. I then connected this topic with some athletes regarding their accommodations for food options when traveling. I also gained ideas of how the athletic department can help to incorporate awareness of these needs and promoting a healthier lifestyle. To support the changes for CNU providing a more variety of options, I conducted a comparison of Tufts University and how well they accommodate for their students dietary needs.

Recommendations

Based on my research and input from the students that deal with this everyday, I recommend that the dining services increase options for gluten-free and vegetarian students. For example a separate station can be provided for their overall needs, with simple basic changes such as providing gluten-free bread or more vegetarian options. An everyday student that believes in a healthy lifestyle can even welcome these changes. I also recommend that they can make improvements to the options currently provided by displaying specific food labels, including gluten-free precooked food, and educating the staff and directors regarding a better understanding of the lifestyles of these students. As for the athletic department, they can help promote access to information regarding athletes with dietary restrictions by having an athletic nutritionist available to educate the athletes. This can help guide them with getting the proper nutrition they need to fuel themselves for games and practices. I believe that with having an overall nutritionist on campus or a wellness class available to student this will enhance the knowledge to support the students.

“The Chronicles of a Gluten-Free and Vegetarian College Students”

Abstract

During May term 2016, I conducted a study of Christopher Newport University (CNU) students with gluten-free or vegetarian diet and their experience in the dining halls. I personally have tried to have a gluten-free diet during one summer at home due to the having many concussions. Even when I was home it was still so difficult to maintain and I can’t imagine how hard it is to maintain it at school. I wanted to see how being a student at CNU had an effect on this dietary restrictions. In order to get information about this, I interviewed a couple of my friends that are gluten-free or vegetarian to see what their experience was like with the dining facilities. I also interviewed some friends that were not gluten-free or vegetarian to get a different perspective from them on the situation. As a student-athlete, I wanted to get a viewpoint from my coach about how they accommodate their athletes and how they promote a healthy lifestyle. I not only wanted to get the dining halls to make some changes but I also wanted to try to promote the athletic department to implement a healthy lifestyle as well. Based on the responses, I recommended that the dining services need to improve their system by having better labeling and educating the staff and the director on the lifestyles these students have. The idea of having an on-campus nutritionist or wellness class for students would be a great way to get a better focus on individual needs as well. Overall, I believe the best way to accommodate them would be to get a better variety of options for these students. To help prove that this is the best recommendation I also researched another small school that has implemented a strong gluten-free and vegetarian food options.

Keywords: Dining services, CNU, gluten-free, vegetarian, lifestyle, changes

Introduction

At Christopher Newport University (CNU) they have a variety of dining facilities to choose from when searching to find something to eat. They have two dining halls called Commons and Regattas where students can use their specific meal plan (19, 14, 10, and 5 meal plans) with a specific number of meals per day and an amount of dining dollars to uses as well. The dining dollars can be used at the other facilities such as Chick-fil-a, Einstein’s, Discovery Pizza, Grill, and Cafe. With all of these places to choose from, you would think they would have a sufficient variety of choices. Unfortunately, the options available are not in favor of students that are gluten-free or vegetarian. To demonstrate how this topic specifically affects some of the students I wanted to hear their side of the story.

Rachel Parrent was a student at Christopher Newport University for 2 years before transferring to James Madison University. She has been on a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease that prevents her from ingesting food with gluten in it that can lead to damage in the small intestine (Celiac Disease Foundation). At CNU she received information about the dining services and what they had to offer, so she believed the 14 meal plan fit her best. One day at Commons, she went to the pasta bar to get the gluten-free pasta. When she asked the employee about the gluten-free pasta, they looked a bit confused and proceeded to get her the pasta. After eating the pasta, Ms. Parrent realized that it was not gluten-free and she got sick later in her room. From this event, Ms. Parrent wanted to suggest some changes to the dining services provided, so she got in touch with the Dean of Students and later had a conference with him and the Dining Hall Services. She had explained her concerns and idea for having a separate station for gluten-free food but it was turned down due to cost related concerns. After the meeting she explained to me that the dining services was completely rude and the meeting was not helpful at all. Ms. Parrent’s experiences shows that the overall dining system can use some improvements and can be more considerate to individuals that can’t help that they have these dietary needs.

Sam Hotchkiss is currently a rising senior at Christopher Newport University that has a gluten intolerance. This is different than having celiac disease because it’s deals with symptoms that people with celiac disease have but this improves by removing gluten from their diet (Celiac Disease Foundation). They do not experience the small intestine damage that is found in celiac disease (Celiac Disease Foundation). Ms. Hotchkiss has chosen the 10 meal plan at CNU and she mostly goes to Regattas particularly for the enjoyment of the option called Mongolian Grill. This is a station in Regattas is where you get a bowl and have choices of vegetables, rice, noodles, and meat which is then made individually on the grill for the students. However, Ms. Parrent would not be able to use this option because of the issue of cross contamination of the food being prepared with food that has gluten. This doesn’t affect Ms. Hotchkiss as much as it does Ms. Parrent since she only has an intolerance to gluten so her symptoms don’t get bad if she has a little bit of it. With these stories, it raises the fact again on improving the overall education of the Dining Services Directors and employees about gluten-free students needs.

Jackie Kenny is currently a rising junior at Christopher Newport University that has been a vegetarian for one year. Her joy for helping the environment and animals is the reason why she decided to become a vegetarian. Her first year at CNU, being a vegetarian changed a lot because now she has to be able to get the nutrition she needs by finding certain options at the dining hall. The dining hall that has the best options for her, she said, is Regattas. They roughly have one entree option and sometimes use the mixed vegetables that she is able to put in with the options at the salad bar. Since there is only one good option of an entree for Ms. Kenny, she has to resort to eating a salad or grilled cheese everyday for her meals she gets twice a day. This reveals that not only students with a gluten-free diet have problems finding food to eat but vegetarians also face a challenge..

Carrie Moira is the head coach of the varsity field hockey team at Christopher Newport University. She has been a vegetarian since she was 15 years old after she visited a farm and seeing the animals she decided it was time for a change. At college, she admits that she didn’t know about the nutrition she needed from being a vegetarian. However, as experienced as a member of the team, she stresses about educating the team about a living a healthy lifestyle. Our coach invites a nutritionist to speak to the team about the certain foods that can really help us be fueled for being an athlete. Ms. Kenny is also a member of the field hockey team and when we travel coach make sure there are options for vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Ms. Hotchkiss was a member of the women’s lacrosse team and explained that they provided options but not to the extent she thought they would. This issue brings up how the Athletic Department can improve their knowledge for the athletes that are gluten-free and vegetarians. This can also help improve educating all the teams about overall wellness. These improvements do not only have to be for the Athletic Department but can also be implemented to the overall student body.

Theory Approach

The theoretical approach that I chose for this study is narrative. I chose to use this study because I believed that this was the best way to get in depth responses to the students that are faced with the challenge of finding a variety of options in the dining halls. This method can also can be considered a phenomenon of study as well. A phenomenon study can describe how a particular experience affects a group of individuals as a whole (Hoag). In this case, how the student’s experiences at the dining halls affects the group of individuals of students that are gluten-free and vegetarians. The way I was able to get the information about the experiences of these students was having one-on-one interviews with them. When asking them questions, I made sure that I didn’t influence their answer by having questions that suggested how they felt about the situation. One of the hard things about conducting a narrative study is that it can take awhile to gather in depth information from the interviewers. However, I did not see this as a factor when I was gathering the information because I have close relationships with the students that I have interviewed. I have personally been with them as they have gotten meals from both Commons and Regattas. What gave me a better understanding of how they felt and the ability to incorporate a personal narrative into the research was because I have experienced trying to remove gluten from my diet. With the athletic perspective of this study, I had personal experience on how my coach incorporates her knowledge and the many options given and how well they are accommodated. Overall, I have known they have been struggling with this experience for a while and hearing their stories from the specific questions I asked really gave me a new perspective of this subject.

Methodology

To collect the student’s opinions and experience for this study, I conducted in person interviews and phone interviews. I interviewed two students that are gluten-free, one student that is vegetarian, one coach that is vegetarian, and two people that are not gluten-free or vegetarian. While I was interviewing, I recorded the interviews so I wouldn’t miss any details of their answers to improve the quality of the data. The questions were focused on the reasons for their dietary needs, the affects they have when eating in the dining halls, and what they believed would make the experience better. There were also some specific questions related to their status as a student athlete or a coach. I asked students that did not have any of these dietary needs to consider if the school did make changes; would other students be interested in the options as well. I also wanted to get their opinion on whether the labeling of either gluten-free or vegetarian food options would be helpful. I also conducted research of comparing Tufts University and how they accommodated their students that are gluten-free and vegetarian. This was to demonstrate that if it can be done at another small Division III school, then it can be done here at CNU as well.

Analysis

After all my interviews were conducted, I then analyze the data for any connecting factors between the students that were gluten-free or vegetarian. With this analysis, I was able to identify what the major problems were. It was helpful to have interviewed students that are gluten-free one with celiac disease and the other with a gluten intolerance. This provided me with the different viewpoints that certain food that one could have and the other couldn’t because it would make them sick. When analyzing the issues about what vegetarians were having, it was great to have an outside source from the athletic department who is great at advocating for a healthy lifestyle. This really helped me to understand the benefits Ms. Kenny is experiencing and allowed me to understand that it’s really about overall wellness.

Findings

Interviews: In this section I will address the students and the staff experiences, thoughts, and suggested options about the established dining options.

For the gluten-free students, the dining services need to improve the system they have now to provide more versatile options. Both students commented on how they aren’t aware of the options that are available or they have to request the food to be made. Ms. Hotchkiss explained that, “They have a lot good options but they need to make the options more accessible for the students. It’s annoying because we are have special dietary needs, so why can’t the food be available. They have options but they are not as considerate to the people with the allergy.” By this comment, Ms. Hotchkiss is showing that they have a system, but it needs to be better communicated for people with this problem. For example, the problem of requesting food can be explained as, “One of the biggest issues is that the food isn’t made and I have to go and request it. So everyone else eats their pasta and I’m waiting 20 or 10 minutes.” However, the system has been raised that the dining halls have different food options available. Ms. Hotchkiss said that because she mostly goes to Regatta, she has to mostly request the food to be made. Ms. Parrent said that, “Commons was easier and more convenient since they have the food already made. This is better than having to request it and having to wait 15 minutes and getting back and all my friends are done eating which was quite annoying.” One of the concerns that Ms. Parrent was uncomfortable with was the issue of cross contamination of food that had gluten in it. I found out that Ms. Hotchkiss could eat at the Mongolian grill but Ms. Parrent could not since, “that was the kitchen for everyone and I wasn’t comfortable to use it.” There was also the issue of Ms. Parrent getting sick from the uninformed employee that gave her pasta with gluten in it. With that event and the issue of cross contamination, it shows that CNU needs to educate the Dining Services employees and the Director as well. They need to be educated because if they are going to be working with food everyday they need to think about the all of the students, not just the students that don’t have these dietary restrictions.

Based on this study, I also believe CNU needs to get more education on certain foods vegetarians can eat. When picking different food options for them, it can also be offered to students who aren’t vegetarians as well. When I interviewed two students that weren’t vegetarians, they both agreed that they would be willing to try these new options. This demonstrates that yes, they can add options and it can be offered to everyday students that prefer a healthier lifestyle. If the dining services conducted more research, they can see that there are other options that vegetarians can eat beside just a salad every day. Vegetarians need a more variety of options because with these type of dietary needs, it requires these students to intake foods with more iron, protein, and vitamin B and D. Ms. Kenny’s experience here at CNU takes place in Regattas more than Commons because they only have one option there for her. She did express, “that’s where the vegetarian option is and they give you one option but if you don’t like the option you’re kind of screwed.” There have also been days where she ended up having to get a grilled cheese every day because there is nothing else to eat. However, with Ms. Kenny having a kitchen in her room next year she is planning to use it more because, “I’ll know what’s in my food and it will be easier then going and guessing what’s available.” For the gluten-free students they both did have kitchens, but really only used it more as a convenient back up and for snacks than making overall meals.

Another issue I had found was that the dining services can improve on getting the information about the foods they are serving for meals. Now they have a card system, but when I asked the students about this, they all wished they had better label the foods. For the gluten free students, they expressed that, “They may have had food that was gluten-free but didn’t know so I guess it wasn’t because they wouldn’t label it.” In the case of Ms. Kenny, she also agreed by saying, “I wish in general they put the ingredients used just to give me a little comfort eating in the dining hall and it would give the people that are gluten free a little more comfort too.” In order to have a better system the students had suggested that including more information about the food on the navigator application would be nice as well. This application gives the options they are having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Therefore, what they are suggesting is to either identify the food options as vegetarian or gluten-free. Including that information would make it easier to know the ingredients available as well. This subject was brought up to the students that were not vegetarian or gluten-free about if they noticed some of the signs but they never based their food selections based on this. They both also suggested that this information would make a big difference and a more convenient way to check to see what’s available.

When I asked both the gluten-free and vegetarian students about what they would suggest as a solution of providing better options, they said that having a station with certain gluten-free options and vegetarian options. For the gluten-free students, Ms. Parrent suggested, “about having a separate area solely just for gluten-free students. To have a place to prepare it ourselves so we wouldn’t have to worry about cross contamination. We need more variety in food choices like bread, cereals, mashed potatoes, and vegetables.” By having just the basic options such as bread could help a lot with simply making a sandwich. Ms. Hotchkiss also explained that she believed this was a, “Great idea to have a gluten-free booth with everything gluten-free and it wouldn’t be wasting food because we would have stuff constantly and they wouldn’t have to make a lot.” This change is simple but very effective by showing that they care about them enough to give them more options. For the vegetarian side of this, Ms. Kenny suggested as well to, “Have a whole station of vegetarian food options. They have other stations so why can’t they make another one that other people can use. Being vegetarian is a lifestyle and it’s hard to keep it up.” Ms. Kenny makes a great point that the dining halls now they have various stations already but what is the problem of making one more station to provide food to people with these needs.

However, there was a time when Ms. Parrent had brought up her problems and issues with the system they currently have. She has already brought up these problems in a meeting she had with the head of Dining Services and the Dean of Students. The experience of this meeting was not as successful as she thought it would have been. She described that in the meeting, “The Dean of Students was very helpful but the Director of Dining Services was completely rude. I would tell all the ideas and issues I had and he just told me stuff I already knew and that we couldn’t do anything like this because it would cost too much money.” For a student that cannot help that she has this disease, you can only imagine how she felt since there is apparently nothing the school do about. After the meeting she said that she felt, “angry because all my tuition money is going to feed other people and I can’t even get bread and it was aggravating.” With Ms. Parrent not being able to eat many of the options and even though she was spending $1,975 for her meal plan, is inconsiderate of the school to not provide a variety of options for her and other students with this problem.

The suggestion for the school to improve the food options might be far-fetched for the school to consider. It would require more money to be invested into the dining services and they want to save as much money as possible. What CNU could do is research other smaller schools to compare they offer food options for gluten-free and vegetarian students. I did research on Tufts University and how they have been able to support students with these serious concerns. This university was really educated on what both types of students deal with and what better options they need to provide. They even had, “educational pamphlets on the issue that students can read through to learn what their dining options are on campus and how gluten-free meals are prepared.” I thought this was a great idea to both educate and provide all the options they offer at the school. On CNU’s website they have nutritional information facts on the food and they said they marked a “GF” for the food available for students. When I looked at the menus I could not find any of the options of foods and they also didn’t really give any more information regarding gluten-free options. I think that Tuft’s model is a good idea for CNU to follow. They can better inform people looking into applying here, and can definitely put more effort into making this information more available. One of the other things that Tufts University does is they assist students in working with the school’s dietician to help them be more aware knowledgeable of their choices. They also have information on all of the menus with their “food fact cards.” I was really impressed that a school really cared about everyone when it came to dietary needs. I think if CNU makes these changes it can provide a greater experience for the students!

I have made it clear that these students have dietary needs, but we have to remember that what they are going through is making their lifestyles harder for them then it needs to be. My coach, Ms. Moira particularly reminds me that having an overall healthy lifestyle is important. It makes me feel great that we can have players on the team and that are able to fuel their bodies with healthy food choices. When I asked her about how she accommodates for players with these needs she explained, “the lifestyle is important to me and I don’t even want to use it as accommodating, it’s just a thing we don’t want to force it.” By her believing so much in overall wellness of her players she is able to help us live this lifestyle. Ms. Kenny is one of the players on the team that is vegetarian and she agreed that coach advocates for us and gives us a good foundation for our future healthy lifestyle. My coach really advocated that this lifestyle isn’t just for people that are gluten-free or vegetarian but that it’s important for everyone. With her life motto in mind, I think this would be a great opportunity to educate student athletes and the student body by having an athletic nutritionist and another general nutritionist on campus. With this as a resource it could really help improve the students knowledge on what certain foods can be paired together or just give them better advice on what to eat.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 10.46.34 PM

Data Visualizations

Using the responses that I received from all of the people I interviewed, I created this data visualization. I did not use every single question I asked them but I chose the answers that really helped tell their story. When I got the results of this visual, I loved how all of words represent the student’s experiences. It shows that students with gluten-free and vegetarian dietary needs have a very difficult to maintain at the dining halls. It shows that this is not just a diet but a lifestyle they live by. I noticed that the little words in the picture even show how much it affects them. For example, the words like “couldn’t”, “need”, “change”, “hard”, “didn’t”, and “wasn’t” really showed a negative view of how the dining services are not providing them viable options. It also showed how they actually feel about not having options from the words like, “angry”, “annoying”, “frustrating”, “screwed”, and “contamination”. These words reflect how they feel every time they go into the dining halls without the ability to get the food options they need. CNU really needs to consider these students as “people” too and that they deserve to have a good meal for the dining fees they are paying for every year.

Work Cited

Bowers, Kelly. Personal Interview. 2016, 05, 19.

“Dining with Celiac Disease.” A Guide for Gluten-Free Dining at Tufts (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 25 May 2016.

Food Allergies, Vegetarianism, and Gluten-Free.”http://www.tufts.edu.”.N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.

“Gluten Sensitivity – Celiac Disease Foundation.” Celiac Disease Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.

Hoag, Trevor. “Qualitative Research.” Phenomenology. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2016. <http://1engl353summer2016.pbworks.com/w/page/107898758/Phenomenology&gt;.

Hotchkiss, Sam. Personal Interview. 2016, 05, 15.

Kenny, Jackie. Personal Interview. 2016, 05, 17.

Moira, Carrie. Personal Interview. 2016, 05, 17.

Nelson, Brett. Personal Interview. 2016, 05, 15.

Parrent, Rachel. Personal Interview. 2016, 05, 16.

“Vegetarian and Vegan Options.” A Guide to Dining At Tufts (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 25 May 2016.

“What Is Celiac Disease? – Celiac Disease Foundation.” Celiac Disease Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.

Writers, Staff. “14 Colleges That Cater to Gluten-Free Students.” BestCollegesOnlinecom. N.p., 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 25 May 2016.

Appendix

Interview questions asked:

Questions asked to everyone:

Why did you become gluten/vegetarian?

Was this a factor when applying to schools?

How many meals a day do you eat?

What meal plan do you have?

Do you use for dining dollars more than meal plan?

Which food place on campus do you go the most to?

What would you suggest for there to be better options?

Will you have a kitchen in your dorm?

If so how often do you plan to use it?

Describe was you usually get for your meals?

Theme meals do they have options for you?

How could the school label better that certain foods are gluten free/vegetarian?

Are you a picky eater?

How does it make you feel about not having options for you?

How many times a week do you not eat in the dining halls because there are no options for you?

Rachel Parrent:

Would you suggest anything to the dining services?

How was your experience of your meeting?

How are JMU food choices different than CNU’s?

Carrie Moria:

Why do you encourage the team to choose healthier options?

How do you accommodate for certain people on the team that are gluten/vegetarian?

What is your option about the food they serve at the dining halls?

What do you suggest they could change?

Do you think the athletic department could be incorporated anything in Raticiff?

Jackie Kenny:

Do you think coach gives good options for food when traveling?

Does she give any specific items for you?

What do you think about coach advocating to healthy options?

How do you think the athletic department incorporates more options?

Sam Hotchkiss:

How did the lacrosse team accommodate for you?

Questions for students that aren’t gluten free/vegetarian:

Would you be willing to eat the new options if available?

Have you eaten any of the options they have available now?

How many people do you know at CNU that are gluten free/vegetarian?

Can you describe how their meals were when they get them?

How often do you notice food you get is gluten free/vegetarian?

What do you suggest they could do to help?

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