How to deal with diet restrictions

Students with special diets may face challenges when looking for food on campus and in town

Students with food restrictions may face extra challenges when grocery shopping and eating in the cafeterias.
Students with food restrictions may face extra challenges when grocery shopping and eating in the cafeterias.
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For many students at Queen’s, deciding where and when to eat can be as simple as dropping by the Lazy Scholar for the daily special or visiting Metro to pick up a roasted chicken.

It’s not this easy for everyone, though.

Naiha Shahzad, ArtSci ’13, is Muslim and follows Islamic law, eating only Halal foods.

“It’s a certain way you kill the animal,” she said. “It’s according to what the Dua’a said. It’s a verse out of the Qur’an.”

Shahzad said when she first came to Canada, she found there were many foods she couldn’t eat, such as snacks that are made using rennet.

Rennet is an extract from the stomachs of pigs, cows or goats used in the making of certain cheeses. Shahzad said avoiding these foods was initially a challenge.

“But then you learn to live with it,” she said. “You get used to it.”

Shahzad is one of many students who face dietary restrictions due to religious, personal or food allergy-related reasons. Shahzad said adapting her eating habits to a student lifestyle was much simpler than she originally predicted, and was helped by the choices at Ban Righ dining hall where she ate most of her meals.

“The good thing about here is that they have such a variety,” she said. “[If] I didn’t want to get something from the grill, I could always get pasta.”

Off campus, Shahzad said one of her favourite places to eat is Masala Foods on Princess St.

“They have a section where you can get foods like samosas and veggies,” she said. “At the back there’s a butcher shop, if you cook.”

If you don’t feel like cooking, Shahzad said she recommends Rahim’s on Princess St. or Mr. Donair on Division St. The latter serves poutine made with halal gravy and cheese.

Living out of residence this year, Shahzad is the only Halal-observer in her house. She said her housemates often consider her when preparing meals by adding seafood instead of meat.

“I didn’t think [they’d] include me in their dinner preparation … because my [ingredients] are so hard to find,” she said, adding that she was pleasantly surprised by how accomodating they’ve been.

Vanessa Mecan, ArtSci ’13, also finds herself the only person in her house with a dietary restriction. She has Celiac disease, which prohibits her from eating any foods that contain gluten, a protein substance found in grain and wheat.

Mecan said her eating habits have changed now that she’s in second year and doesn’t have to rely on the cafeteria for food.

“I can cook for myself now and it just makes things so much easier,” she said, adding that the grocery stores in Kingston also carry useful options for people who have Celiac disease.

“In the organic section of grocery stores, they have a whole gluten-free area,” she said. “[It’s] the same with Bulk Barn. Instead of having wheat flour, it’s made with a substitute.” Mecan said she thinks the Hospitality Services website (housing.queensu.ca/hospitality_services) is a good resource for people with Celiac disease and other food restrictions.

“Before you eat, you [can] go on there and look up what ... doesn’t have wheat and what your options are. And if nothing seems good, you can call [ahead] and they can make a meal for you,” she said. “If you don’t want to do that, [you can] just buy your own food.”

Hospitality Services offers appointments for students to discuss dietary needs and their website provides information about Kosher and Halal meals. Kosher food can be found in various downtown grocery shops such as Tara Natural Foods, Metro, Food Basics and Loblaws, though it isn’t always designated in a special section. Queen’s Hillel also offers occasional dinners.

Moonsun Jang, ArtSci ’13, has been vegetarian for about two years. In first year, her favourite place to eat was at Leonard Cafeteria because of all the options they offered.

“A lot of the vegetarian courses were really good,” Jang said, adding that she thought the salad section had a lot of choices.

Now living off-campus, she said she enjoys stir-frying frozen vegetables because they are quick and easy to prepare. “It’s difficult because I don’t know many good vegetarian dishes,” she said.

The adjustment to student life in first year can be difficult at first, Jang said, but she advises vegetarian students to familiarize themselves with what they need to stay healthy.

“Being vegetarian, you need certain nutrients more than non-vegetarians,” she said, adding that vegetarians can expect more variety than a simple salad. “There are lots of choices out there.”

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