Illustration by Clara Juong

Dining On-Campus: Let’s Talk About Immunity Disorders

Immunity disorders are a much-needed conversation for us to have, as dining services on-campus continue to fail to accommodate the dietary needs of students with immunity disorders.

Feb 6, 2023

On a typical weekday on campus, I consume an average of 700 calories. I wake up exhausted no matter how long I’ve slept, and later at night lie awake as my stomach aches with emptiness. Sometimes I get dizzy if I stand up too quickly or stare at a screen for too long. Most of the time my fatigue makes it nearly impossible for me to leave campus.
No, I don’t have an eating disorder. My problem is more external, namely the catering services on campus that have failed to accommodate my dietary needs.
In August 2022, I was diagnosed with an immunity disorder that demanded I reform my diet if I ever wanted to regain proper cognitive functions. My doctor placed me on an autoimmune protocol diet, an elimination diet designed to help reduce inflammation caused by autoimmune disorders. On this diet, at least in the initial stage, one cannot have certain vegetables, all fruits, grains, legumes, eggs, dairy, gluten, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, corn, refined sugar, honey, food additives, and artificial sweeteners.
In later stages of this diet, when I was allowed to consume berries, eggs, and certain nuts, I found that none of them were offered in the dining facilities on campus and that every single food item had one or more inflammatory ingredients. When it comes to raw items such as nuts and fruits, the items offered are the most inflammatory of the two categories. Whenever I asked servers whether a non-grill protein dish contained sugar the answer always, always came back as “yes.”
For the past five months, I have had to eat scraps of a whole meal that would usually contain way too many allergens to count. When I order avocado toast from D2, I forgo the eggs and then throw the bread away. When I order a salad from D1, I skip most of the ingredients. Essentially, I pay 31.5 AED for half a raw avocado or for 6 walnuts and 7 pieces of shrimp. Those are the only two prepared “meals” that I can order from all dining facilities around campus.
My campus dirhams rarely survive the first four days after they are refilled. For the rest of the two weeks, I find myself desperately rationing whatever food I have, and if I ever miraculously find myself having an excess, the products that fit my dietary requirements are often out of stock. Erythritol, one of the only sweeteners known not to spike blood sugar, has been missing for over a month now. And products in the convenience store are often misleading, with coconut milk powder containing milk allergens and stevia, another natural sweetener suitable for diabetics, containing artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium. The store also lacks product variety.
In an interview with Miriam Delgado, the current chair of the Dining committee, she stated, “People were asking for [the provision of] dairy-free yogurts, cheese, and spreads. A person told me, ‘there are only milk alternatives and milk products. [The store] is often out of stock when it comes to [dairy-free] products such as hummus.’”
It is likely that only a small percentage of the student body follows the AIP diet, so it makes sense that campus catering is not taking them into consideration on a large-scale level. But what about those with gluten-intolerance, which [0.5-6 percent of the world suffers from](,have%20this%20condition%20(%206%20)? What about people with lactose intolerance, which a staggering 68 percent of the world suffers from? What about people with diabetes? What about those who follow a keto or paleo diet for medical or even personal reasons? What are they supposed to eat? Why are their needs so often overlooked?
In the one-month that Delgado was the Dining committee chair, students shared similar concerns.
“Throughout this week [alone], people complained that they don’t see enough protein offered in vegan dishes. They are selling vegetables as proteins. They don’t even come with some tofu or something like that. Yesterday, a student was telling me, ‘they are selling us these dishes of protein, but it only has four cubes of tofu. This isn’t right.’ They are suggesting that we should ask Royal Catering that, if they are selling something as vegan protein, they should be sure that the protein in the vegan dishes has the same amount of protein as steak or chicken drumsticks,” shared Delgado.
The food available at the dining facilities on campus is, in many ways, harmful to students’ health, negatively affecting both their personal and academic lives. Vegetable oils, which are used in almost all food in D2, are linked with chronic inflammation, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Refined sugar has long been linked with anxiety, obesity, and decreased concentration, yet it is included in most protein portions and even in so-called “healthy” products such as acai bowls and gluten-free bread. Anxiety and brain fog are also linked to gluten, which is prevalent in almost all dining facilities.
With the busy schedules that students have on campus, social gatherings more often than not tend to happen during meal times, causing further isolation for individuals with specific dietary needs who would not be able to join such gatherings. After my diagnosis, my social life dwindled more and more until it became non-existent. That might sound like an exaggeration, but think about all the social events taking place on campus, about the bubble tea, banana pudding, pizza, and donuts offered at each and every one of them. Why would I continue to subject myself to these luxurious products that I can no longer enjoy and people’s increasingly exhausting questions about why I’m not eating the “amazing free food” offered to us? Why would I join events where I am constantly reminded of not just my struggles, but also the fact that they are seemingly not recognized by most offices, SIGs, and other entities on campus?
The dining facilities introduced allergen cards and foods such as gluten-free bread and plant-based milk. But how do these allergen cards help me when they are not all-encompassing of the many possible inflammatory ingredients I cannot eat, such as vegetable oils and sugar? Additionally, how does the addition of one type of product in one area of the cafeteria make up for the significant lack of options that some individuals have? The gluten-free bread, for example, is only offered at the sandwich station and nowhere else in D2. No gluten-free bread is offered alongside other breads at the salad bar. No gluten-free pancakes or waffles or desserts are offered, either. Of course, I do recognize that such products are expensive to produce, but I, myself, would be willing to pay extra to invest in my health.
The Campus Life committee claims that “dining options on campus are designed to meet various dietary considerations,” but I do not see how this is the case. Does adding one gluten-free item to the menu allow them to consider the dining facilities suitable for gluten-intolerant individuals? They also claim that food containing “major allergies and intolerances are clearly identified with their individual icon.” Sugar intolerance is not addressed, despite the fact that fructose intolerance affects nearly 40 percent of the Western Hemisphere.
There is no reason for most non-grill protein dishes to contain gluten. There is no reason for sugar not to be included as an allergen on meal cards. There is no reason for not displaying the nutritional facts about each dish, as D2 used to do in the past, to aid students being informed about what they are eating. There is no reason not to include actually healthy and raw options in the dining halls instead of the most inflammatory “healthy” items possible. The Royal Catering services are the most convenient and, for students on financial aid, cheap sources of food on campus, and I believe the university administration must either act to include healthier options or be more transparent about the content of meals, seeing as how it can be detrimental to students’ mental and physical health.
Layla Mohammed is not the author's real name, which has been changed for personal reasons and safety concerns. Email them at
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