Navigating dietary restrictions on and off campus

Photo courtesy of Jordan Scharaga

Students explain how celiac disease or gluten sensitivity complicates their options

Emily Jolly

emjolly@ursinus.edu

Being gluten-free is never easy, especially on a college campus. For those of us with limited diets, it can be very difficult to find dining options that you know won’t make you sick and that offer enough of a variety.

At Ursinus, the Upper Wismer dining hall tries to make accommodations for those of us with food allergies with Simple Servings, a station that is free of milk, eggs, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, soy, and wheat.

In concept this station is wonderful since it accommodates those who need to keep their food free of cross-contamination. However, in practice this means that the staff is limited in what they can offer.

When asked if she thinks there are enough gluten-free options on campus, Lauren Turet, a junior with celiac disease, said, “Honestly, no. I do feel like everyone is very accommodating and very willing to bend over backwards to help, but I do feel like there are very limited options for me.”

Turet says that, as a vegetarian, she finds it particularly difficult to get enough food, especially protein.

“If there’s a day that is all pork, chicken, and broccoli, I’ll just have broccoli for a meal,” she said.

Even without the added difficulty of being a vegetarian, other gluten-free students are left unsatisfied.

“I know gluten-free food isn’t easy [to make] and I’m glad there’s at least an attempt, but it’s annoying to have to pay for a meal plan where I can only eat salad, tilapia, and red potatoes every day,” said senior Annie Rus.

There are other possibilities in the dining hall, but they carry the threat of contamination. In Upper Wismer there are the salad and yogurt bars, as well as a gluten-free bread section with a toaster, but often people use it for their regular bread, which leaves crumbs that can make us sick.

“It’s so annoying that people put wheat bagels in the gluten- free toaster. There are four other toasters, why do you need to walk across the room for this one?” Rus said. “Last year my roommate was trying to get me a bagel and he saw the dude in front of him put a wheat bagel in the toaster and when he confronted him the guy said he didn’t know what gluten-free meant.”

As a solution, Rus suggested posting the definition of gluten-free above the station and possibly moving the entire station so it isn’t directly behind the hometown line. That way people may be less likely to grab stuff, particularly the gluten-free chocolate muffins that only appear every once in a while and are our only source of dessert besides certain ice creams.

Brittany Gasser, a sophomore at Ursinus, will often take the risk of getting a rice bowl in Lower, and while the staff is careful and changes their gloves, the threat of cross-contamination is still there.

For those of you perhaps unaware of why cross-contamination is such an issue, understand that even a few small crumbs can make people with celiac disease, such as Turet, Rus, and Gasser, or people with high-level intolerances like myself, extremely sick for several days.

When Wismer fails to offer enough options, or we just want a change of pace, we have to turn to the Collegeville restaurant scene. But even then, finding restaurants that accommodate and understand gluten sensitivity is an arduous task.

Rus doesn’t know of any places other than sit-down restaurants within 20 minutes of campus. Turet likes that there is the Wegman’s nearby with a large gluten- free section, but the only restaurant she is aware of is P.F. Chang’s, one of the fancy sit-down places Rus pointed to.

Gasser, however, knows of several other places with gluten- free menus such as Pizza Stop, Franco’s, Panera, Qdoba, Collegeville Bakery, Red Robin, Olive Garden, and Zoe’s Kitchen.

The trick, Turet explains, is that you have to check with the restaurant to make sure they know how to handle things properly, for while an item can have no gluten ingredients, there is always the issue of cross-contamination in the preparation area.

Even when we can find a restaurant to accommodate those who are gluten-free, it still does not solve the issue of there not being enough options on campus.

Turet leaves the dining hall hungry most days, and while she does have food in her room, she says “it’s difficult, paying for the food here, and then eating in my room a lot.”

Part of the solution would be more options at the Simple Servings station.

“It’s unfortunate that they only offer one meal for dinner or lunch, as opposed to more options,” said Gasser.

While the staff is wonderful and helpful, gluten-free students ask dining services to provide a variety of options at Simple Servings so that everyone with dietary restrictions never has to leave the dining hall hungry.

 

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