Emma Ferguson, ’21, has been a vegan since the fifth grade. In her home city of Portland, Oregon, she is used to having an abundance of options — from restaurants to high school cafeterias — that accommodate her dietary needs.
When she came to Lehigh, however, Ferguson felt limited by the menu items provided in the dining halls.
“I would always call my parents freshman year and tell them ‘I’m just so hungry and I don’t know what to eat,’” Ferguson said.
All three of Lehigh’s traditional dining halls — Rathbone, Lower Cort and Broadhead — have daily options for students with dietary restrictions and allergies, but Ferguson said they are limited and often repetitive.
Steph Rosenthal, ’20, who follows a gluten- and fructose-free diet, said she also found it difficult to eat at the dining halls but thinks Lehigh is becoming more accommodating of students with restrictions.
Carrie Gerencher, a registered dietitian and Lehigh’s campus nutritionist, said there are always options for people with dietary restrictions either at regular food counters or at Simple Servings, a station located in each dining hall that specifically serves food for students with allergies or dietary restrictions.
While gluten-free food options, labeled ‘GF,’ are scattered throughout each dining hall, Gerencher said vegan options, labeled ‘VG,’ can be found at Simple Serving stations, along with a separate meat option.
Still, some students are left wanting more, like Ferguson, who said she often got tired of eating the same vegetables or making salads at the salad bar.
“There was always a vegetable to eat and there should be that for everyone, but often times they did not make an effort to get a protein for us,” she said. “I couldn’t just eat the vegetables day-in and day-out.”
After the fall semester of her first year, Ferguson resorted to other dining options both on and off campus such as the Global Café in Williams Hall. At Williams, Ferguson said she could buy salads and noodle bowls with tofu in order to incorporate more protein in her diet.
Gerencher said there are ways students with dietary restrictions can enhance their meals or “hack the menu,” like bringing vegetables to the pasta station to have them sautéed. She encourages students to meet with her to best utilize the dining halls to meet their needs.
“Students are hesitant to talk to anybody and I am always telling them to get to know the chefs, and they can get to know who you are and what you’re looking for,” Gerencher said.
Although Lehigh is not looking to expand the special dietary-needs sections at dining halls right now, Gerencher said the UC renovation will include changes in the Lower Cort dining hall to provide a larger vegan and vegetarian section.