College has its obvious challenges: increased workload, time management, difficult material and distractions. For me, however, the greatest challenge has been something most people wouldn’t even think about: getting food. As an 18-year-old college student with celiac disease, I’ve had to get creative with my food. I’ve found that I can’t always rely on my dining hall.
When I first inquired about being able to get gluten-free food in the dining hall the summer before I moved in, the staff was very positive and willing to help. I found that once I arrived on campus they were very hospitable, but had no plan set in place for dealing with special dietary needs. It was a day-by-day kind of thing where you had to track someone down and have them make you something special, which took a lot of time. By the time my food was ready, my friends would already be done eating. As an athlete heavily involved in track, I simply did not have the time to go through this process at every meal.
After various meetings with the dining hall manager, I have set up plans for easier gluten-free dining for everyone and helped educate them on issues such as cross-contamination. Unfortunately, the dining hall management has been too preoccupied with finding a new executive chef to put these plans into action. I have been asked to help with the interviewing process with the top two candidates, and once one of them is hired, I hope to work one-on-one to create a gluten-free menu.
I have been lucky to be able to work closely with the dining hall to make some changes, such as a dedicated fryer as well as the availability of gluten-free pizza and desserts. I look forward to continuing my efforts in hopes of making it easier on future students with special dietary needs.
In the meantime, I will continue my strategy of making meals whenever I go home and freezing them to keep in my freezer at school. I’ve found this to be a lifesaver when I don’t have enough time to wait in the dining hall and need a backup plan.
I have a rule of never eating something questionable. If I have any doubts as to whether it is gluten-free or not, I either ask about it, or don’t eat it. I have met several other gluten-free students, and I see them make questionable choices just because it’s easier. They don’t ask questions, or have the staff make them something safe to eat.
To current or future gluten-free students, ASK QUESTIONS! It may be easier to just eat things you believe are safe, but it isn’t worth putting your health at risk.
The most important thing is to make sure your needs are met. If your dining hall doesn’t have a plan set up, work with them to create one! It will not only be beneficial to you, but it will help others if you take initiative and make changes. Starting a gluten-free group could also be beneficial. Eating should be enjoyable, not one of the many stresses of college.