A focus of the college dining staff has long been providing students with allergies and dietary restrictions with appetizing food options that fit their dietary needs. The staff works to provide entrees, salads, side dishes and desserts for students with dietary restrictions ranging from vegetarian and vegan regimens to gluten allergies. Since the fall 2017 term, students in Ross Dining Hall have enjoyed new dairy-free ice cream developed by Ross Commons Chef Chris Laframboise in the hope of providing vegan and lactose-intolerant students with new, better dessert options.
While working around students’ allergies has long been a big part of the dining staff’s work, allergies and restrictions have become more common in recent years and have commanded more of the staff’s attention, according to Laframboise. “The last couple of years, more allergens are popping up in people’s lifestyles,” he said. “We take those really seriously, and we have to provide those students with sort of the same options [we provide the rest of the student body].”
According to Laframboise, the Ross staff began working on recipes for new dairy-free ice cream in the summer of 2017 after noticing that vegan students and students with dairy allergies had begun to constitute a larger percentage of the student body than in past years. “As things moved forward there were more people with dairy allergies, and we started looking at different options,” he said. “There was a group of students that were dairy-free too, and they weren’t really getting everything that they needed…. One of the things [we wanted to focus on improving] was desserts, and we decided to look into non-dairy ice cream.”
Laframboise said that the ice-cream recipe is actually quite basic. The dessert is made with a coconut-milk base and also includes sugar and vanilla extract. The ice cream comes in 17 elaborate flavors, including cinnamon, cherry chocolate chunk, caramel apple and Snickers, and additional ingredients depend on the flavor of the individual ice cream.
The dining staff brings on student help to aid in making the ice cream. Sara Santiago ’20.5 is one of these students. Santiago makes the coconut-milk base for the ice cream, combines it with the other ingredients and mixes the ice cream in a soft-serve ice-cream machine, which allows the staff to mix the ice cream with ingredients such as fruit and chocolate that would cause damage to normal ice-cream-making equipment. “I go to Ross once a week for three to four hours to make vegan ice cream,” Santiago said. “As someone with lots of dietary restrictions, it’s always exciting to have more options in the dining hall. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from a lot of vegan students as well.” Santiago added that it can be challenging to dissuade students who do not have dairy allergies, or aren’t vegan, from trying the ice cream.
Laframboise, who began working in Ross as a dishwasher in 1985, said that accommodating dietary restrictions has become more of a challenge than it’s been in years past. “Back in the ’80s, ’90s, there weren’t this many challenges,” he said. “[Developing a menu] was pretty straightforward: here’s a meat protein, here’s a vegetarian option, which wasn’t always a vegan option…. Now we’re just doing a lot more in trying to make sure that all the students are happy. In that, there’s a greater cost that’s associated. [In] this last year we’ve gotten a lot more non-dairy products—yogurts, cheesecakes, ice cream, cheeses, mayo, sour cream, cream cheese. There is a cost to that, and it’s quite a bit more expensive than other products.”
Across the board, students have been very happy with the dining staff’s efforts to accommodate their dietary needs. The dairy-free ice cream, particularly the cinnamon flavor, has been a hit. “Students are really grateful, I think, to have these options, especially the ones that need an option like that,” Laframboise said. “For most of us, we go through our lives and we eat whatever we want whenever we want, and we really don’t realize the impact that having a dietary restriction has. We try to understand how hard it is for them to actually go through the dining hall and find food that they can eat, especially if [they] have a peanut or soy or dairy allergy. Those are big, and if you take all of the dairy out of your life, see what’s left. There are many fewer options. So it’s important that we address these issues, and I think students are pleased to have it and they’re grateful to have it. That’s what we’re here for, and that’s what we like to see.”