‘Injustice’: Students with dietary restrictions criticize lack of options at Pitt dining halls


Amaya Lobato | Staff Photographer

A plate of breakfast foods at The Eatery.

By James Paul, Staff Writer

When Reilly Schaefer felt her neck getting itchy, she knew she was having an allergic reaction. Schaefer is allergic to coconuts, mushrooms and avocados, and she thinks unclear labeling on coconut yogurt in The Eatery caused the reaction last month.

“I was in my room, thank God, but then my stomach hurt really really badly and I threw up for about two hours,” Schaefer, a first-year political science major, said. 

Schaefer is one of multiple students with allergies who believe Pitt doesn’t properly accommodate dietary restrictions in its largest dining halls, The Eatery and The Perch. First-year students living in residence halls are required to purchase a meal plan which, on the most basic plan, gives them unlimited week-day access to the dining halls. 

The “Flourish” station is an “allergen-friendly” section in The Eatery that Pitt’s website said avoids major allergies and gluten. Schaefer said it was easy to miss that “coconut yogurt” was included on an unordered list on a glass panel at the section. 

“If you weren’t looking, and you weren’t on high alert, then you wouldn’t be able to see it,” Schaefer said. “I asked [an Eatery staff member]  ‘What kind of yogurt is this?’ And they just said dairy free. I didn’t really think much of it because there’s almond milk and cashew milk and all those other ones, but it was coconut.”

Moving forward, Schaefer said she’s hesitant to eat at The Eatery, although she sometimes is forced to take the risk.  

“My allergies limit me a lot and a lot of stuff [at the Eatery] has mushrooms in it,” Schaefer said. “I try not to come here [The Eatery] a lot, but sometimes you have to.”

Quintin Eason, the vice president of operations for Compass Group, said Schaefer’s claim is under review. Compass Group, a multinational food service company, is Pitt’s dining contractor.  

A Pitt Eats spokesperson also said all Pitt Eats employees are certified each year through FARECheck, an audit program that reviews and certifies food allergy training materials. Pitt declined to give the name of the employee speaking on behalf of the University and said responses were a “team effort” by the staff.

Schaefer isn’t the only student who’s had difficulty finding food to eat in Pitt’s dining halls. Adrian Wood, a junior English writing major, with severe allergies to gluten and corn, said he has struggled to find food that accommodates his allergies.

“I want to say I went to the Eatery three times the entire time I lived in Towers, and that was only because there was a station at the Eatery that was allergy-friendly,” Wood said. “And some days they would have, like corn syrup and things there because corn isn’t a very common allergy. I didn’t want to take that risk every time.”

Wood said all it takes is one Goldfish cracker and he’s in “agony” for several hours. His severe gluten allergy made him hesitant in trusting Pitt’s cross-contamination procedures. Eason said Pitt has a full-time campus dietitian for students with dietary restrictions. 

Wood said he has used the dining dollars included in his meal plan to purchase food with clearly listed ingredients. Dining dollars are essentially currency for on-campus and select off-campus locations. A quarter of a student’s total dining dollars are allocated to use at off-campus restaurants near Pitt’s campus, such as CHiKN, Stack’d and Pamela’s.

“I like shopping for my own food a lot more because I can read the ingredients on things,” Wood said. 

Dev Trivedi, a first-year molecular biology major, said he’s lost weight since move-in day, due to a lack of nutritional options that adhere to his faith’s dietary restrictions. Trivedi, who is a Swaminarayan Hindu, follows a vegetarian diet. 

“At home, I would have a lot more vegetarian options,” Trivedi said. “I need to get that protein intake. It’s harder because all [they have] are meat options, and then I think sometimes the dining halls try to open up for vegan and vegetarian customers with vegan chicken, but it doesn’t really hit.”

Trivedi said it’s an “injustice” that vegetarians have to pay for what they can’t eat. The lowest-cost meal plan for first-years is $2,200 per semester.

The Pitt spokesperson said the University regularly confers with members of religious student associations and they staff a full-time Mashgiach — a kosher supervisor who ensures adherence to orthodox ritual cleanliness. 

“Pitt Eats meets regularly with the Muslim Student Association and Pakistani Student Association to discuss our halal offerings, how we can be respectful and culturally accurate, and ways we can best celebrate Muslim holidays such as Ramadan,” the spokesperson said. 

Maggie Study, a first-year political science and public policy major, has been a vegetarian for the past three years. Study also said while she can sometimes find vegetarian options at the Eatery, it is inconsistent.

“I definitely have options [at the Eatery]. The first time I tried tofu was actually in the dining hall,” Study said. “My only somewhat complaint is that sometimes it’s not consistent. Sometimes there’ll be a lot of vegetarian options for lunch, but then for dinner, I can’t find much.”