By Melita Kuburas
Jenna-Lee Leger fears a deadly allergic reaction every time she walks into an on-campus cafeteria.
She would feel better if she knew what was in the food. Ryerson does not provide a list of ingredients for cafeteria fooda problem for Leger, a first-year theatre production student who goes into anaphylactic shock if she eats food containing Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
“I want to be able to go in and say, ‘I’d like to read the ingredients on this,’ and know if I could eat it or not,” she says. MSG, a flavour-enhancing preservative, is present in most meals on campus.
While food staff at the ILLC and Pitman Hall are aware of Leger’s allergy and try to help her identify dangerous foods, Leger says they’re not always right. A lot of them don’t realize the preservative is already in food before it’s prepared.
“I’m tired of second-guessing my food choices,” she says. “I don’t want to try a little bit, get sick, and then have to take meds for it.” Leger says her medical condition prevents her from regularly buying meals on campus, but Director of Ancillary Services John Corallo says she will not get a refund for her $1,750 meal plan.
“The policy is that it’s mandatory to be on a meal plan,” he says, adding that the food staff is aware of Leger’s needs, and suggests they need to sit down and work out a meal plan with her.
Leger may be out hundreds of dollars as leftover meal plan money is non-refundable and does not carry over from year to year. But buying a coffee, a drink and the occasional side order of rice doesn’t add up for Leger, who has been spending $30 on pop-one of the few things she can buy-every week.
Leger agreed to the meal plan because she thought the money would be easy to spend. When she was accepted into residence, she sent in two doctors’ letters outlining her medical condition. Leger requested an ingredients list during the first week of school from Patti Franklin, assistant manager of food service for the ILLC and Pitman Hall, but the list never came.
Franklin says that such a list may not be of help to Leger because a supplier can switch brands it normally provides to food services without letting Ryerson know. So what the university expects in the food could be different from what’s actually there, she says.
Franklin said the ILLC chef and food service staff are creating a binder listing the ingredients in all foods, but she doesn’t know when that information will ever be available to students. “In regards to a severe allergy, a person must always be on alert,” Franklin said.
“The only way she is going to be current is by asking.”
But Leger says that’s more difficult than it should be. “I have to fight sometimes,” she says, adding that she’s given up on eating at the Hub cafeteria in Jorgenson Hall. “I have to say, ‘Please let me talk to somebody who can at least help me.'”
Franklin says she wasn’t aware that Leger was having problems getting ingredients information from the staff and that she had told housing and chefs at Pitman Hall about the student’s condition.
But Housing Manager Philip Lim says he was never told about Leger’s condition. “There’s a lot of channels for communication, but this is the first time I’m hearing about it and I’m wondering why,” Lim says.
Last week, Leger received a call from food staff for a meeting to decide on a meal plan that can accommodate her. In the meantime, she is left trying to spend the remaining $496 of this year’s meal plan funds, and $875 next semester on Coke and apple juice.