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Battling for Better Bites

Students with dietary needs find few options at campus cafeteria

By Madison Heiser and Alanah Woodard

Having dietary restrictions can be challenging when finding places that meet one’s dietary needs. At Apache Junction, the cafeteria located in Rogers Student Center, individuals who are vegetarian, vegan or have allergies to dairy, gluten or nuts have found the cafeteria hasn’t met their needs. 

Gabriella Mantecon, a sophomore Apache Belle, has found limitations for herself and her teammates who are vegetarian, dairy, gluten and nut-free. 

“Oftentimes, I hear from my teammates that the only things they could eat in the caf that day were rice and a salad,” Mantecon said. 

Photo by Victoria Deal

While the pizza station in the cafeteria has plain cheese and veggie patties are available at the hamburger station, it can be difficult for those who have dietary restrictions to find a different balanced meal with an efficient amount of protein.  

On the TJC dining hall website under “Our Menu Commitment,” it states, “We provide a vegetarian-friendly environment, with a variety of vegetarian or vegan choices.” It goes on to say they account for each student’s dietary needs carefully. 

Jim Wood, Aramark food service director at TJC, explained how the cafeteria accommodates dietary restrictions. 

“We work with students on an individual basis if they have restrictions and will provide selections to meet the students’ needs,” Wood said. “My goal is to have them feel like they’re coming into their own kitchen.” 

Wood explained students with individual dietary needs who are not already accommodated must

communicate with him so their needs can be met. 

Finding foods that accommodate students’ dietary restrictions can be expensive. According to the National Library of Medicine, gluten free products are, on average, 242% more expensive than regular products. Additionally, non-dairy milks can cost nearly double the price of regular milk, according to the New York Post.

TJC offers a variety of meal plans for students to purchase, ranging from platinum (19 meals a week) to the light eater (25 meal swipes a semester.) Each of the five meal plans comes with Apache Bux that can be used at the three on-campus restaurants — Subway, Starbucks and Chick-fil-A, which offer their own menu options accommodating certain dietary restrictions.

Photo by Victoria Deal

“Many of my friends with dietary restrictions are required to have a meal plan that they pay hundreds of dollars for only to not be able to eat fully nutritious or substantial meals,” Mantecon said. “The only issue with this is that the Apache Bux are often not enough to make it through a semester for people who only occasionally switch it up.”

In the cafeteria, there are options for a vegetarian or vegan in the salad bar, along with soups, pasta, pizza and a black bean burger. The TJC menu states a tofu option for tacos, which was the only vegan protein substitute found. Several other options are meatless or replaced with vegetables. But for those who are gluten-free, options are more limited, mostly consisting of salads, soups and cooked vegetables. 

“I think a long look at the menu and figuring out what common allergens are in each dish and whether they could be eliminated would be helpful,” Mantecon said. “Posting that information on the window along with the nutritional information would be helpful, as well.”

Many believe the cafeteria should include meals and snacks that are more inclusive of the dietary restrictions of students, allowing individuals to receive a balanced, healthy meal in a comfortable environment by making diet and allergy-friendly options more available.

“Of course, the caf has improved their choices since I’ve been here, but I think they’d benefit from asking those with restrictions what would help them the most,” Mantecon said. “We should accommodate and improve options because these folks are a part of our TJC community.”

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