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Advocating for Gluten-Free Options

5/6/2013

Back in the fall of 2007, I was a wide-eyed college freshmen who couldn't wait for my own chunk of independence. I was away from my family for the first time, all the way across the state, and felt empowered that I was in charge of my own life. My first few years had its ups and downs, some very very bad, and others very good. All of them life changing.

In the summer of 2008, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. For those of you who have experienced this, you know that it's hard news to take. Any news that means you have to change your lifestyle permanently and immediately is hard for anybody to take. I spent the remainder of my summer learning about celiac disease and gluten-free living, trying to prepare for a fall semester without being home.

When I arrived at school that fall, I immediately set up an appointment with the head of the food services department at my college so I would be able to eat. Being a residential undergraduate student, I was required to have a meal plan. The manager of food services was very helpful, and very understanding. He himself did not know a whole lot about gluten free lifestyles, but was willing to listen to my suggestions for meal ideas. The first few weeks of school I saw things like a veggie and hummus bar once a week, or gluten free pasta offered at the pasta station. The first few weeks were fantastic, and I ate well and healthy. As the semester progressed, the gluten free items were offered less and less. The staff were saying that they were not popular, so they would only be offered certain times a week. I pointed out to them that celiac disease is not something that comes and goes for a menu, and I have to stay gluten free all the time. They would normally shrug it off. During the lunch hours when the manager was on duty, I would always be able to get a good meal, but at dinner service when it was just the night staff, I would get served breaded food and get told to "just pick off the bread stuff." Needless to say, I became very ill that semester.

After about a school year of being fed food that contained gluten at school, or being lied to about gluten content, I had become ill to the point that I was missing classes every week. I ended up failing most of my classes for the semester, and got suspended from the college. I decided that fighting to get back into that school just to be sick again was not worth my while. There had been other issues I had with the school as well, but this was the major thing that moved me to transfer.

In the spring of 2010 I stared my academic career at Mount Wachusett Community College. I was able to live at home, where I could cook my own food and still attend classes. I just graduated this past spring with a 3.4 GPA and an acceptance to the English Literature program at Fitchburg State University. Taking charge of my diet and how I wanted to live my life was something, I feel, made me a stronger person. There are so many people with a diagnosis with celiac who either ignore their symptoms, or just deal with it because they don't have access too the food they need. People should not have to settle when it comes to health matters such as this.

At Fitchburg State University, I have become an active advocate for students living a gluten free lifestyle. I pushed to get gluten-free options available in the commuter cafeteria, gluten-free options available at student events, and overall awareness on campus has grown significantly. I have even see gluten-free snacks more available in the vending machines, with gluten-free labels clearly marked on the front of the bags. I hope that word continues to spread around campus, making sure that all students who need the support, can access the support on campus.

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