Vegetarians face few options, cross-contamination when eating at Dining Services

Burgers are prepared on the grill at Boss Burgers in Center Court. Boss Burgers does not currently offer a vegetarian option. 

As Dining Services prepares for renovations in the coming years, some students are curious about the lack of vegetarian options, and want to push for more. 

Freshman environmental sciences major Raina Schlueter, of Alton, Illinois, is a vegetarian and feels as though Dining Services does a good job with meat-free foods, but there is still room for improvement. 

“I would say there’s more than enough breakfast options, but as far as dinner options, there’s not as many,” Schlueter said.

Schlueter also mentioned that most of the food labeled “vegetarian” is just food that has no meat, or food that she can tell was prepared with meat. 

Freshman undeclared major Emmylou Pruitt, of Alton, Illinois, is vegetarian as well, although she admitted she doesn’t stick to it as strictly as some do, so she has an easier job of finding food that works for her.

“I’m mainly vegetarian, but I make exceptions occasionally, like eating fish, probably about once a month, so I’m technically pescatarian,” Pruitt said. “And because of that, I can usually find something that’s good.” 

Pruitt and Schlueter also raised concerns about cross-contamination, which is when vegetarian foods are prepared with the same kitchenware as non-vegetarian foods, leading to the food no longer being completely vegetarian. For example, a food worker might use a knife to cut meat, and then use the same knife to chop vegetables. 

“If there was a vegetarian burger alternative at Boss Burgers, that might be tricky because of the grill, because they’re already grilling meat on there,” Schleuter said.

Although Pruitt is not as strict about her vegetarian diet, she could see how the problem might be worrying for some.

“It’s not a big deal for me personally, but I know other people who would be very upset if there was meat accidentally in their food, like people who are vegetarian for dietary reasons,” Pruitt said.

Director of Dining Services Dennis Wobbe said cross-contamination is one of the reasons there may not be as many vegetarian options as some students want.

“Actually, contamination is the main reason that we don’t have a veggie burger at Boss Burgers now,” Wobbe said. “The french fries there are safe as a vegan option, though they did not used to be.”

Wobbe said that Dining Services also takes precaution when dealing with certain food allergies.

“Although some of our foods are made without gluten, we don’t label them as gluten-free because someone with a severe sensitivity might react to it due to cross-contamination,” Wobbe said.

Wobbe also said there are many changes coming to Dining Services in the future, and they will involve some new vegetarian options, such as a section meant specifically for vegetarian and gluten-free foods to control cross-contamination better.

“People love the idea of a salad bar section, but we’d rather get away from some of the buffets and instead have an attendant making and prepping salads because we can stop contamination from other customers,” Wobbe said.

Although she was excited for these changes, Schlueter had some ideas for how to address the issues vegetarians currently face at SIUE. One of Schlueter’s solutions is for dining workers to receive training on how to handle vegetarian foods.

“They could probably do more, like maybe a night where all the employees are told how to handle vegetarian options safely and prevent contaminating it,” Schlueter said.

For more information or any questions about dining options at SIUE, contact the Director of Dining Services Dennis Wobbe at dwobbe@siue.edu.

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