Northeastern Dining prioritizes food options for students with allergies and dietary restrictions by Alena Kuzub November 28, 2023 Share Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Students are served plant-based food at the Mezze station of the United Table dining hall at International Village on the Boston campus. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University James Chang-Davidson has had multiple severe food allergies since childhood. Eggs, wheat, milk, beef, pork, shellfish were out of the question. Allergies not only limited the kinds of foods he could eat growing up but also affected his social circle. “In elementary school, I was always put at the ‘no nuts table,’” says Chang-Davidson, a computer science major who will graduate from Northeastern University next spring. In high school, Chang-Davidson was concerned that his strict diet and fear of food cross-contact would negatively affect his college experience because he wouldn’t be able to eat with other students at residential halls. Fast-forward to this fall. Chang-Davidson spent time on Northeastern’s Oakland campus as an orientation ambassador. His duties included helping run the programs, connecting with first-year students and answering questions about Northeastern and his personal experience at the university. The United Table dining hall on the Boston campus. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University While in Oakland, Chang-Davidson also saw firsthand the many enhancements the university has made to accommodate students with food allergies, dietary restrictions, health conditions and religious or cultural needs. “I was really pleasantly surprised to find that not only were there always foods I could eat, but they were well segregated, it didn’t feel like there was a ton of cross-contact,” he says. The accommodations are also noticeable on the Boston campus. Linda Nardella, senior director of campus dining at Northeastern, says accommodating students with food allergies and dietary restrictions are among the university’s top priorities. “It’s very important to us that any student with an allergy feels included in their dining environment,” Nardella says. Recent additions to Northeastern Dining on the Boston and Oakland campuses include a registered dietitian, an enhanced website, and improved labels and signage. There are also additional allergy-friendly options on the Boston and Oakland campuses, as well as a wider variety of options for students with culturally-related diets. Here is a guide to food safety for Northeastern students: Registered dietitian available to all students The first step for any student with concerns or seeking accommodations, Nardella says, is to contact Northeastern Dining’s registered dietitian, Gabrielle Cabacab. “We always want to ensure that our students with allergies or dietary restrictions feel comfortable, and that they are a part of our growing campus communities,” Nardella says. Cabacab works with students on a day-to-day basis to guide them through their on-campus meal options and nutrition needs. Having access to a registered dietitian provides students who have severe allergies or dietary restrictions with an additional level of confidence in navigating dining, Nardella says. Registered dietitians, Cabacab says, can help decipher fact from fiction about nutrition. They are updated on the latest research and know how to communicate the information to chefs, students, parents and faculty. “As a registered dietitian, I can help students with allergies and dietary restrictions navigate what’s safe for them to eat here on campus. In addition, I provide guidance for students who are looking to safely and sustainably attain their dietary goals, and answer any questions they may need further clarification on when it comes to dining at Northeastern,” Cabacab says. Cabacab works with Northeastern chefs, dining hall managers and self-serve retail locations to ensure that the food items are properly labeled. How can I speak with a registered dietitian? Cabacab provides one-on-one nutrition counseling during her office hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays at University Health and Counseling Services on the Boston campus. “As I come from a clinical background, topics that I can cover for one-on-one nutrition counseling include disease management, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and disordered eating,” Cabacab says. Cabacab is also available for virtual allergen consultations with students on the Boston or Oakland campus by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff serve students dinner at Founders Commons, the all-you-care-to-eat dining hall on Northeastern Oakland campus. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University Labels, mobile app, website and signage Foods prepared in house in Boston are now labeled with identifying symbols such as: No animal-based ingredients or by-products for vegans (VG). No meat, poultry, fish or seafood but may contain eggs or dairy for vegetarians (V). Made without gluten-containing ingredients (AG). Good sources of protein (PR). Climate-friendly recipes with low greenhouse gas emissions will be labeled with a globe icon or CF symbol in the spring. In Oakland, students can find alternative identifying symbols, which will be replaced with this new labeling system in the spring. To encourage students to ask questions or advocate for their needs at dining halls, Northeastern Dining also launched a campaign called “Don’t be shy, self-identify.” “We find that some students are apt to be a bit shy, meaning they don’t want to ask questions about their allergies or dietary restrictions,” Nardella says. She recommends that students advocate for themselves and always ask to speak with a manager or a chef in a white coat if they have any doubts about a certain item. Students in Boston and Oakland can also use the “Dine on Campus” mobile app and NUdining.com website to find menus and nutritional information for food served at dining locations. 11/14/23 – Boston,MA – Various stations of the United Table dining hall at International Village on the Boston campus on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University 11/14/23 – Boston,MA – Various stations of the United Table dining hall at International Village on the Boston campus on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University Signage at the United Table dining hall on the Boston campus informs and alerts students, who have food allergies. Photos by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University ‘Delicious Without’ station at International Village The “Delicious Without” station at United Table at International Village on the Boston campus serves menu options prepared without the nine major allergens (milk, soy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, sesame) and gluten. The “Delicious Without” station at United Table at International Village on the Boston campus serves menu options prepared without the nine major allergens and gluten. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University Hundreds of dietitian- and allergen-certified, single-source ingredient recipes are specifically designed to be served at this station, according to Frank Hurley, Northeastern’s senior executive chef who has almost 30 years of experience in higher education. The station has its own production area, Hurley says, to eliminate all aspects of cross-contact. All the employees who work at “Delicious Without” station complete a FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education Group) certified food allergy and celiac disease training program, as do all of the student-facing Northeastern Dining team members on both the Boston and Oakland campuses. For any students who do not consume animal products, United Table has a fully plant-based station called Mezze Table. What if a student is allergic to a specific ingredient? If a student is allergic or intolerant to a specific ingredient outside of top nine allergens, Hurley says, he and Cabacab can put together other options for them. “We’re always happy to meet with students directly to provide the students with the information that they need to dine safely,” Hurley says. “We don’t want to exclude them from the dining experience.” New allergy-friendly station in Oakland On the Oakland campus, a new allergy-friendly station was added to the Founders Commons dining hall this year. The station avoids the top nine allergens, and select menu items are marked with vegan and vegetarian identifiers, says Kelly Dawson, director of business operations on the Oakland campus. All dining staff members in Oakland complete the FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education Group) certified food allergy and celiac disease training program. Students also have access to “food safety champions,” members of the staff who have received advanced training. They can help students understand the culinary practices, so they can feel safe, and even provide tours of the kitchen and dining facilities. Options for students with specific cultural diets Northeastern Dining also accommodates students with specific cultural diets, Nardella says. For example, all proteins served at the Spice Bowl station at United Table are halal. Last year, when Muslim students requested accommodations during the month of Ramadan, Northeastern Dining worked with the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service to find the best solution. Students were able to take out extra containers of food to eat after dark or before dawn, since their religion requires them to fast during daylight hours. This year, Northeastern Dining is working with South Asian students and faculty to provide additional cultural food items. There is also a full Kosher Kitchen station available at United Table. And there’s also allergen-free granola Northeastern Business Services and Northeastern Dining, Nardella says, are invested in and actively seek out vendor relationships that are both beneficial to students and to the whole community. Such vendors as CommonWealth Kitchen (a Boston-based nonprofit incubator empowering small food entrepreneurs), Equator Coffees (a sustainability and social impact-conscious specialty coffee roasting company co-founded in Northern California by Northeastern alumna Helen Russell) and Rooted Living (eco-friendly manufacturer of allergen-friendly granola) are very purposefully brought to campus. Rooted Living, for example, was founded by Northeastern student Rachel Domb out of her desire for healthy food. Her allergy-friendly granola is made with sunflower seed butter, also known as sun butter, which is considered allergen-friendly with none of the top nine allergens. It is also gluten-free, according to Domb, a 2023 Women Who Empower Innovator Award recipient. Alëna Kuzub is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on X/Twitter @AlenaKuzub.