One day at WU, I walked downstairs to order my go-to meal from Panera: the Fuji apple salad with chicken. However, when I opened it up, I realized that the pecans, a staple of the dish, were missing. After a brief moment of confusion, I remembered that this was due to Duke’s transition to a nut-free campus. A few days later, I noticed that Duke had also gotten rid of almond milk and replaced it with soy milk. It sounds trivial, but I wasn’t just disappointed with my salad or the fact that I now have to go off campus to find almond milk. I was disappointed that Duke, like many others, has begun to follow the pattern of prioritizing people with nut allergies over those who have allergic reactions to other foods.
The five most common allergies are milk, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, and soy. I, myself, am allergic to wheat/gluten and have to maintain a fairly strict gluten-free diet on campus. It requires a bit of extra work on my end, but it’s not impossible. When my pizza and pasta at Il Forno take twice as long to prepare, or I ignore Ginger and Soy because I can barely eat anything there, or I realize that french fries, ice cream and smoothies are the only things I can get from McDonald’s, I don’t complain. I just understand that navigating campus with food allergies takes work. When I watch the service staff carry biscuits and naan over other foods and see the cross-contamination occur firsthand, I realize that this is just part of the territory. The only way to ensure that my food is truly gluten-free is to prepare it myself. This makes me wonder why Duke puts in so much effort to replace almond milk with soy milk or remove pecans from salads when I’m pretty sure that no one allergic to nuts would order these things.
In my mind, we are now young adults capable of discerning what we should and should not be putting into our bodies. Even the guests coming to campus must take some accountability. Aside from the cross-contamination, which is out of our control, whenever you are in a new place and have food allergies, you must ask questions. If someone is allergic to shrimp, you should not order the seafood paella from JB’s. If someone is allergic to dairy, maybe you shouldn’t order gelato from Café. And if someone is allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, you simply should not be ordering salads with nuts on them or drinking almond milk in the morning with breakfast.
I come from a family of people with food allergies and dietary restrictions, so I’m not arguing that peanut/tree nut allergies shouldn’t be taken seriously. Anaphylaxis is real and administering an EpiPen is something that I’m not sure I would ever be able to do. I just wonder why there’s such a sense of urgency for this allergen in particular. One could get into the specifics about symptoms and reactions to peanuts versus other allergens, but that isn’t really necessary, especially when the more gastrointestinal issues don’t need to be disclosed in detail. All I will say is that if Duke truly wants to be allergen-friendly, we should at least recognize more allergens than just peanuts and tree nuts.
For example, at Marketplace on East Campus, dishes are often given contradictory labels. On Monday, a dish might be labeled gluten-free, and on Thursday, the dish might now contain gluten. Other times, the menu says one thing, but once you get in line to order that dish, the sign now says something different. This forces students with allergies to take unnecessary risks that can easily be avoided. Ginger & Soy at WU only has one gluten-free protein: tofu. While it tastes good, I’m not vegan and would like to experience the authentic Ginger & Soy experience of choosing a dish I want instead of picking the only thing on the menu that I can eat. This can easily be fixed by replacing the soy sauce used during cooking with Tamari, a gluten-free alternative. For mobile orders, campus eateries should keep gluten-free options available. Ordering a quesadilla from Pitchforks or a sandwich from anywhere on campus is difficult when the corn tortillas or gluten-free bread are not available on the app and must be requested in person.
As a student with a food allergy, I can say that some of the responsibility falls on us to make sure we know what we can and cannot eat. We need to ask questions and clarify when things are unclear. Duke is a great place to be because, compared to other colleges, not only is the food on campus allergen-friendly, but there are also dedicated staff members in WU who can answer more specific questions. Accidents happen, and, occasionally, food will be mislabeled, but overall, it’s manageable. This isn’t meant to be an argument against people allergic to peanuts or a competition between people with other allergies. But this is an important issue that needs to be raised. It’s a question of why the Duke community has chosen to become a nut-free campus when they could have easily focused on shrimp or wheat or dairy-free. It certainly makes me wonder: what’s so special about peanuts?
Sonia Green is a Trinity second-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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