Gluten Free Students Insist on Options
Students with gluten allergies are speaking out about the lack of gluten free foods available in the Pryzbyla Student Restaurant.
The movement is led by sophomores Kristen Harrison, a nursing major, and Kaitlynn O’Leary, a politics major. Both students have celiac disease and are unable to consume wheat, barley, and rye.
One in 133 Americans is affected by celiac disease, a number that continues to increase, with thousands of others misdiagnosed. The only way to treat this disease is to closely monitor all food consumed, making sure that no items containing gluten are eaten.
“Food manufacturers have responded by creating foods that are ‘gluten free’ and the dining services on most, if not all, campuses have also responded by providing many gluten free choices on the menu,” said Dr. Loretta Staudt, medical director of Catholic University Health Services.
Options for gluten free food in the Student Restaurant are very limited, according to Harrison. While a refrigerator designated for gluten free foods is located in the restaurant, it is rarely filled with food to eat. Other options include specially prepared items at the grill or deli.
“The options at the Pryz are very limited for gluten free eaters,” said sophomore Allie Cain. “Since the selection is so small, I find myself constantly repeating meals rather than having different things like other students.”
While items such as gluten free breads, bagels, and cereals are offered to students, supplies are gone through too fast to meet the demand. Gluten free pizzas were available upon request last year, but are not an option for students this year.
“The availability of options for us is not consistent, and that is a problem,” said O’Leary.
Apart from the lack of options available, a main concern for students is the issue of cross contamination. Food prepared for a student allergic to gluten cannot come in any contact with items containing gluten.
Students with celiac disease are unable to use the toaster or any of the condiments due to the residue of gluten products. In addition, eating from the cereal containers is a risk because even a single piece of another brand that contains gluten can contaminate the entire meal.
Side effects of ingesting products with gluten “include eczema (an itchy rash), stomach upset and pain, bloating… and asthma,” said Staudt. “It can also cause some nonspecific symptoms such as headache and fatigue.”
Celiac disease, in extreme cases, can also lead to issues such as infertility, cancer, and other autoimmune diseases.
“I would like to see more gluten free dining options for my daughter because there is a large enough variety of gluten free products in the grocery stores today,” said Marybeth Harrison, Kristen Harrison’s mother. “Worrying about gluten free meals should not have to be a priority for a college student.”
Catholic University was recently listed on the Princeton Review’s “Is it Food?” list as having the seventeenth-worst college dining service in the country. Students are increasingly frustrated with the options found in the Pryz, and those with allergies are even more restricted.
“It’s hard being gluten free here, but mostly it’s frustrating that I pay over 4,000 dollars for a meal plan I can’t utilize,” said sophomore Christina Everett. “I typically end up sick on a daily basis.”
Hoping to express their concerns, institute some changes and spread awareness, Harrison and O’Leary have met with both Health Services and Dining Services. They are also in the process of working with Hannah Rose Robinson, the liaison between SAGA and Dining Services.
“The University is committed to ensuring that the Dining Services programs meet the needs of all of our students,” said Victor Nakas, associate vice president for public affairs.
Dining Services is rising to the occasion to fulfill the needs of the students. Endri Baduni, the director of operations, and Marcus Worley, head chef, are working together to rectify the situation. Together they walked O’Leary around the Restaurant to each station to hear her concerns and formulate ideas to make the station gluten free-friendly.
Plans include clear signage, indicating if a meal is gluten free and if not how to make it so, educating staff about the disease and how foods must be handled, and expanding the variety of foods.
“After my meeting, I now feel very reassured that we are finally heading in the right direction,” said O’Leary.