Letter to the editor: Campus dining survey language skewed

To the editor, 

I would like to express my frustration over language used in the recently distributed Pitt Campus Dining Survey (email from AVC Jim Earle on 12/12/2018). Full disclosure: I am a pescatarian (vegetarian who consumes fish and seafood).

Survey question 34 asks, “In general, my preferred dietary pattern is:” followed by multiple answers, the top two of which are both “mainstream,” with the second reading “mainstream, prefer mostly healthy options.” Vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal and gluten-free response options follow. 

I object to the use of “mainstream” as a singular response in contrast to the other dietary response options. “Mainstream” usually connotes normal, accepted or regular. Labeling some dietary patterns as “mainstream” and all others as not suggests that persons following non-“mainstream” diets are different, irregular or not normal simply because of the food they choose to consume.

Mainstream” could also be interpreted as normal American grub, which does a disservice to our diverse population of students, staff and faculty from around the world, especially in this, the “Year of Pitt Global.”

This type of division perpetuates negative, and sometimes harmful, stereotypes about individuals who make certain dietary choices for religious, medical or voluntary reasons. It’s furthered by the addition of “prefer mostly healthy options,” as if only those in the “mainstream” prefer or should have healthy dining options on campus

While this may seem like a trivial concern, I have found that persons who choose to follow such diets are often mischaracterized or stereotyped in our society. The University should expect better from a “nationally recognized independent consulting firm” like Brailsford & Dunlavey. Food and dining should serve to unite the University of Pittsburgh community, not extend divisive misunderstandings.


Alex J. Toner

University Records Manager University Library System

Vice president of public relations, Staff Council