Insufficient accommodations for students with gluten allergy

Amanda Buck

Dining Services’ efforts to help cater to students with special dietary needs is lacking, especially those who have gluten allergies.

If Dining Services cannot provide more gluten-free accommodations and awareness amongst their staff, students living in residence halls should be able to opt out of getting a meal plan instead of being required to purchase one.

Some people choose a gluten-free lifestyle yet for most it’s not a choice but rather a treatment for celiac disease.

People with this autoimmune disorder experience chronic pain in their abdomen that can result in severe constipation or diarrhea if they ingest a product containing gluten.

An individual with celiac disease has a severely limited range of dietary choices, and even injesting a small amount of gluten can induce wretching stomach pain or terrible diahrea.

The gluten-free diet is very restrictive because it excludes anything containing grains such as pastas, breads and beer.

For someone with celiac disease, it is extremely important that no gluten-free food comes in contact with a product containing gluten.

In dining areas, this means that no worker should be using the same surface areas or utensils to make gluten-free food as they do for regular meals.

Unfortunately, cross-contamination happens very often in the food industry.

Despite NMU’s attempts to provide staff with insight on special food allergens, awareness hasn’t progressed quickly enough.

Not long ago, a student with a gluten allergy had to seek medical help after eating something prepared by Dining Services in the Marketplace.

Students should not have their health endangered because of a requirement to purchase a meal plan. If said student would have been able to choose whether or not he or she wanted a meal plan, then perhaps hospitalization would have never occurred.

If a student with gluten allergies does purchase a meal plan, they should have an ample selection of food that is free from cross contamination.

NMU needs to expand training for Dining Services staff to include more education on gluten-free food preperation.

But Dining Services is making an effort to accomidate students with a gluten allergy, be it a small effort.

To prevent further issues such as this from happening, NMU has ordered color coded blue spatulas that are to be permanently used to prepare gluten-free food.

Recently, Dining Services has started to clearly label gluten-free foods and lock refrigerators for students with special dietary needs, actions that should have taken place long before now.

Before, any student could access food in the refrigerators which was causing the most cross-contamination problems to begin with.

There are more than 500 students who are employed through Dining Services, and all are at different awareness levels about specific food allergens, though some training on special dietary needs has been done thanks to Robin Rahoi, NMU’s dining dietitian.

Training has only been given to the supervisors of the Marketplace and the Den.

NMU has yet to establish a formal training seminar for all employees.

If this issue is not fixed soon, students with gluten allergies living in residence halls should have the choice to refuse the $810 to $2,098 cost of a meal plan.

Supervisors are doing all they can to train former and new employees about these health hazards, but even that is not enough. More needs to be done.

A Marketplace employee who did not wish to be identified said, “It is hard for the workers to wrap their minds around the fact that one bread crumb from the hamburger buns could send someone to the hospital.”

Yes, going to the Marketplace or the Den is part of the college experience, but if the university can’t keep up with the dietary needs of their students and the students feel they can provide safe food for themselves in the dorms, the students should be able opt out of the meal plan.

NMU just started looking into the foods they purchase as to how it is produced before it arrives at the school.

They are also working toward providing at least one gluten-free meal per meal period.

Again, these are issues that should have been dealt with a long time ago.

NMU’s dietitian is aware of these needs and is addressing them as fast as she can, but it is sad to know that after all these years nothing was done for these individuals until now.

Until Dining Services gets its act together, students with gluten allergies should have the choice to opt out of meal plan.

After all, would you want to   pay thousands of dollars for a meal plan if there was only one gluten-free option for you to choose from on a daily basis?

I sure wouldn’t, and students with gluten allergies deserve better.

Of course, proper training in gluten-free food preparation needs to come first, but an expanded selection for those with gluten allergies is essential.

Dealing with a disease which limits your dietary selection such as diabetes, celiac disease or Crohn’s disease is hard enough.

Having an impoverished variety of meals available to you makes the discomfort afforded by those with illness near unbearable.

I urge students to advocate for change within Dining Services, so our fellow peers who have dietary restrictions can enjoy more than one dish per day and food that is prepared in accordance with an individuals dietary needs.

If you are someone who has an illness that restricts your diet, you owe it to yourself to discuss your diet with Dining Services.

If you or someone you know has special dietary needs, please email Rahoi at [email protected]