During my freshmen year of college, I started eating gluten-free after my doctor suggested it because of stomach and skin problems. Over the course of that year and my sophomore year, I ate in the dining halls with few choices and constant fear of cross-contact.
When the opportunity arose to live in my sorority house with a full kitchen, I jumped at the possibility. We only have 12 girls in the house because our houses are located in Colonial Williamsburg. Each of the girls in the house gets a cabinet and a shelf in one of the two refrigerators. We are all on a dish duty rotation; however we police the kitchen and keep it clean…with the help of our housekeeper!
It was a little daunting for me to cook all of my meals on my own this year, but I did not want to get sick from eating in the dining halls. Once I was completely free from a meal plan, I had to cook the food that I bought at the grocery store. I usually eat hot cereal for breakfast and a sandwich (on gluten-free bread) and an apple for lunch, so dinner is the main meal that I really prepare.
The kitchen is stocked with a complete set of dishware, silverware, pots, pans, and other cooking tools. The entire house community uses all of these items. Since everyone uses all of the dishes, I sometimes have to rewash the dishes if I think they were used to prepare food containing gluten.
I keep a personal pot, set of silverware, cutting board, chopping knife and a bowl so I do not need to worry about cross-contact as much. I brought the pot, bowl, and silverware because I already had them from living in a dorm. My cutting board stays in my cabinet because I want to keep it free from gluten. Most of the cutting boards in the house are used for preparation of meats and vegetables, but many sisters use them to make sandwiches. I would rather be safe, so I just got my own.
Also, I must be careful about all of the food sitting out on the counters. Sometimes sisters bring home different sweets or other foods that are leftovers and leave it at the house for the entire sisterhood to eat. Since I always keep my food on my own shelf in the refrigerator and in my cabinet, I do not have to worry about my food getting mixed with gluten. I do not use the toaster for slices of bread, but I do use the toaster oven because I can wipe down the grill (we all know that gluten-free bread is better toasted!). Main tip for living with people who eat gluten: wash anything that you feel has gluten on it.
When I first moved into the Gamma Phi Beta sorority house, I told all of the house sisters about my gluten-free needs. For example, I told them not to eat my peanut butter because of the easy transfer of gluten. Just talking to people about your needs is a way to clear up any questions that they have about gluten and avoids awkward moments when they get you to taste recipes that they make with gluten.
I am very lucky. A few of the girls in the house have made it their mission to figure out how to make me a gluten-free dinner. They make me vegetables and bake with my flours. It is very kind of them to look out for me!
Overall, living in a communal cooking environment is fine for me. Just make sure that everyone is aware of your dietary needs. If you just tell your housemates about being gluten-free, they will want to help you stay healthy!