Navigating campus dining with dietary restrictions

All the validation you need and some helpful tips

Self-advocacy is important, and resources exist to meet student needs.

This article discusses disordered eating and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.

Moving away from home means navigating the world on your own, and that’s exciting, but extremely petrifying.

A big part of moving away is navigating food. It can be easy to forget, but dietary restrictions—which can be diverse—can be hard to deal with when you leave home and enter new communities.

I know this firsthand. I have a religious dietary restriction, and I’m quite proud of it. Learning to navigate dining on-campus and away from home was critical to maintaining normalcy and my identity.

Here are some tips to make life easier while navigating on-campus dining with dietary accommodations.

Explain your restrictions

Sometimes the biggest struggle is ensuring those around you are receptive to your dietary restrictions and understand what they mean to you.

I always use religious dietary accommodations as an example, since I strictly restrict myself to Halal meals. It’s important to remember specific religious practices around food differ among religions. No religious group is a monolith.

Most Muslim people, for example, will not consume any pork products. However, consumption of beef and chicken that has been blessed is the norm for some, but not all, Muslims. Similarly, for many Jewish folks, Kosher laws have different levels of adherence based on the individual.

For anyone with allergies, intolerances, or other restrictions, it’s important to recognize you know with what your body is okay with. It doesn’t matter how “strict” or “relaxed” you’re with any restrictions—you’re valid and you have every right to make those choices.

Make sure you let those around you know of your personal boundaries when it comes to food. It removes the guessing and, in my experience, openly sharing your restrictions is usually welcomed.

By sharing your dietary needs with your friends, you’ll notice solidarity when it comes to ensuring you comply with your nutritional requirements. Once, a friend recognized something I ordered as non-Halal, and I couldn’t be more grateful.    

Another unintended, yet lovely side effect of talking about my dietary needs is I’ve become prouder of my heritage and identity. I’m less insecure about being ‘different’ from the norm and am more understanding of the fact I don’t need to present a different version of myself to others.

Reach out to the sources

My first point makes me sound like your mom, but it’s important to remember. I can’t state enough the importance of reaching out to chefs, kitchen staff, and supervisors in dining halls and retail locations.

Whenever I’ve reached out to staff at Queen’s, I’ve always been met with empathy and kindness. In my experience, the staff have gone out of their way to make sure my needs were accommodated. 

Accommodations can be made for a wide variety of food-related concerns, including religious needs and allergies. You just need to ask!

Besides, your dietary restrictions make for good conversation, and are a way for you to connect with the staff—dear Lazy Scholar night staff, I love you.

Additionally, Queen’s has a dietician who can assist with anything from planning around meal accommodations to working with students who have eating disorders.

Final notes

To those who don’t have dietary accommodations: remember, no one owes you an explanation of their beliefs or why they have a specific restriction. Your only job is to respect them.

To those with dietary accommodations: find like-minded people on campus, take up space, and never be ashamed. You have every right to exist; don’t let anyone invalidate that. You need to be your own advocate, and that’s an important part of growing up. 

In the end, I know you'll turn the Queen's community into a home. After all, food transcends many man-made social barriers.

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