Approximately 36 percent of the population of the United States and 68 percent of the world is lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is particularly prevalent among non-European racial and ethnic groups, including African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans. The college administration is doubtlessly well aware of these statistics, and yet still chooses not to provide lactaids to students in an easily accessible manner.
The student meal plan at Amherst costs $3,700 per semester (well above the national average), and buys students access to a remarkably limited array of dining options. Often, many of the options in Valentine Dining Hall’s (Val’s) narrow selection include dairy (pizza and ice cream, for example), and dairy products are an optional but highly beneficial component of others (such as pasta and paninis). Although Val offers a small number of dairy-free, allergen-friendly alternatives, this drastic reduction in the nutritional choices of lactose intolerant students is completely unnecessary and could be avoided if the college provided lactaids.
When I emailed Val and the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) to propose that Val provide lactaids alongside their dairy products, I was disappointed but not surprised upon receiving a response from Joe Flueckiger, the director of Dining Services, to discover that lactaids, as an over-the-counter drug, are “not something our dining program is able to offer.” Flueckiger presented the Mammoth Market at Schwemm’s as an alternative venue for obtaining lactaids, but the Mammoth Market is hardly a viable alternative. Especially due to the lack of information available online about it, most students likely do not know it offers lactaids. Even then, knowing that doesn’t make much of a difference, as each time I have reached out to check whether they have lactaids in stock, they’ve been out of stock, forcing me to buy them for $20 at the nearby CVS.
Because the Market does not open until 3 p.m. (an opening time I had to find by emailing staff because this year’s hours of operation are not online), students in need of lactaids for the lunch period (which ends at 2 p.m.) would find themselves out of luck. A need to visit Schwemm’s to obtain lactaids also provides additional inconvenience for students juggling tight schedules should they run out of lactaids unexpectedly, an event made far more likely to happen by Schwemm’s offering lactaids in small packets.
And, above all else, Schwemm’s charges for lactaids, adding a financial burden. I tried to confirm both the quantity of lactaids per pack and the cost, but Schwemm’s was out of lactaids when I first checked on Oct. 5, and again on Oct. 6, 7 and 13. Although lactaids are not particularly expensive, that students would be charged any money at all for them is absurd considering the exorbitant per-semester cost of the student meal plan, which evidently does not include the supplements necessary for many students to safely digest the food served.
The pandemic has placed great strain on Val’s procurement infrastructure and staffing shortages have further challenged their ability to prepare and serve food. That Val has continued to be able to provide students with regular meals of at least generally respectable (and at times quite good) quality is a great credit to them. However, the undue difficulty faced by students in attaining the lactaids necessary to digest many of Val’s best offerings is surely a problem that the college could address if so inclined, at the very least by waiving their cost, and ideally by finding a way to offer lactaids on-site at Val.