Home Opinion I’ve Lost My Appetite

I’ve Lost My Appetite

by Ben Caplan

As a junior who dorms and can only eat at one station in Sam’s Place and nowhere else on the entire Montclair State University campus, it is absolutely absurd that I am forced to purchase the same meal plan as students who can eat food from anywhere on campus.

There should be either a flexible meal plan that works with students’ specific nutritional needs or the option to opt-out entirely for students who have allergies and diseases that prevent us from eating the same food as everyone else that lives at Montclair State.

When I was diagnosed with an incurable genetic autoimmune disorder, just two weeks before leaving home for freshman year, I was obviously stressed.

Celiac disease does not have a cure and the only thing that I can do to protect myself from serious illness is to keep a strict gluten-free (GF) diet for the rest of my life.

Just after my diagnosis, I contacted Montclair State dining services and set up a meeting with Bill Hesling, the senior director of residential dining, and Mike Petti, the senior retail zone director, to discuss my meal options once the semester started.

They assured me that I would have plenty of GF options in the dining halls. Knowing that I would be able to live on campus without starving to death, I was once again excited to begin my college career.


On the very first day of college, I went to the dining hall in Freeman and I got pulled pork, after letting the manager know about my condition. Within an hour of eating, I was sick to my stomach and projectile vomiting in my dorm’s bathroom.

Every celiac reacts differently to consuming gluten. Unfortunately, the vomiting is the least of my worries. After the contents of my stomach are completely emptied, I sleep heavily for three to four days and it takes about a week before I feel completely normal again.

Fortunately, I did not have any issues with making friends after missing the first four days of my college career in bed because I was practically poisoned by the people who vowed to keep me safe.

Needless to say, I have never returned to Freeman’s dining hall. Instead, I started eating at Sam’s Place, the only other place on campus that is allegedly safe for celiacs. It is not.

The staff were clearly untrained and few knew how to safely prepare food. I was forced to watch them like a hawk to ensure they did not cross-contaminate my meals.

Unfortunately, I did not always catch their mistakes and spent a good deal of my freshman year ill because of it.

Rather than gaining the “Freshman 15,” I experienced the “Freshman negative 15.”

During the summer after my freshman year, Sam’s Place was renovated, the staff was trained properly and a station was dedicated for people who needed to “avoid gluten.”

The station typically provides four vegetables and starches, usually steamed broccoli, steamed carrots, steamed potatoes and/or undercooked steamed rice (hard enough to crack a tooth) and one or two proteins, usually chicken that is drier than sawdust and/or pork that is more rubbery than the bottom of my Timberland work boots.

Everything tastes like it has been soaked in water from the Dead Sea or tossed around in a vat of black pepper and dirt in the parking lot behind Sam’s Place.

While I can safely say that I have never gotten sick from cross-contamination since the renovation at Sam’s Place, I have gotten sick many times due to the horrendous quality of the food.

Who in their right mind thinks it is fair that I am forced to throw away thousands of dollars on food that I cannot eat?

Montclair State dining services, that’s who.


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