Students may find a common theme running through tonight’s dinner menu: peanut macaroni and cheese, tomato and peanut chutney, peanut parmesan spiced chicken cutlet, spicy peanut chaat, roasted potatoes with peanuts and Indian spices, peanut harissa, slaw with chilies and peanuts.
And for dessert — wait for it — peanut pie.
No, you’re not going nutty. Tonight’s meal is brought to you by the National Peanut Board.
Dinner in the residential college dining halls will feature an array of peanut-centric dishes created by Chef Suvir Saran as part of Yale Dining’s guest chef series. But while Saran and Yale Dining staff said they are excited about his menu, four students with severe peanut allergies objected to their de facto exile from college dining halls.
Commons will offer standard fare, said Regenia Phillips, director of residential dining, and the colleges will serve peanut-free salmon, rice and vegetables to accommodate allergic students. The salmon and rice dishes were originally listed as containing peanuts on Sunday.
The peanut extravaganza was organized by the National Peanut Board, an advocacy organization overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that works to advance the interests of America’s peanut farmers. The board is providing the peanut products used in the meal, as well as paying all the expenses of bringing Saran to Yale, said Raffaela Marie Fenn, the board’s president. All peanut products used in tonight’s dinner were grown by American farmers, she added.
Fenn said peanuts are an essential part of diets in the United States and across the globe because of their taste, nutritional value and low cost.
“It’s not an elite food,” Fenn said. “It’s a universally-loved product that can enhance a dish by adding crunch, texture, flavor, but also that health and wellness aspect.”
Saran himself emphasized the affordability of peanuts, calling it the “everyman’s nut.” But Saran said he attaches additional significance to the peanut’s ability to unite people of diverse political and cultural backgrounds.
“In this very jingoistic, politically-charged time, the peanut gives us something both sides can come to the table with,” Saran said. “It’s the thing that centers you at the table no matter what side of the table you’re at.”
But not everyone is on board: David Edwards ’12, who is severely allergic to peanuts, said he is confused as to why the peanut should be so prominently featured at tonight’s dinner. Edwards’ allergy is so severe, he said, that even being in the presence of peanuts causes a reaction.
Sabrina Karim ’11, who shares a similar allergy to peanuts, said she is particularly concerned about the potential for cross-contamination. During her freshman year, Karim said, she suffered a near-fatal anaphylactic reaction that she attributes to accidental presence of peanuts in some dining hall food, so the abundance of peanuts has raised fears of a repeat incident.
“I think it’s almost impossible to guarantee absolute decontamination,” Karim said.
Both Edwards and Karim said at first they thought the menu was a joke.
For his part, Edwards said that he’ll be dining off-campus tomorrow night, and Karim said she will eat in Commons.
About 1 percent of Americans suffer from a peanut or tree nut allergy. Almost 30 of the students who responded to Yale Dining’s fall survey reported a peanut or tree nut allergy. Phillips said Yale Dining takes the concerns of students suffering from peanut allergies seriously, adding that they are invited to dine in Commons. For students’ protection, Yale Dining asks students who have a severe allergy to notify dining hall staff of their condition. And despite her concerns, Karim said that in the past Yale Dining has accommodated her needs well.
Saran is one of the world’s leading experts on Indian cuisine; he has published two cookbooks and has served as a consultant on nutrition for universities such as Brown and Cornell. He currently works as co-executive chef at New York City’s “Devi” restaurant.
Phillips said that Saran’s love of peanuts and Indian cuisine has been evident throughout the preparation for tonight’s meal.
“He’s very passionate about what he does,” Phillips said.
In preparation for tonight’s dinner, Saran spent over 16 hours training Yale chefs to cook his dishes properly. As part of his visit, Saran will also give a Branford Master’s Tea today at 4 p.m.
National Peanut Month is not until March, Fenn said, though November is National Peanut Butter Lovers Month.