Throughout history, food has brought humans together. Oftentimes, people carve out time to meet around meals, bond over favorite dishes and lure people into their general interest meetings (GIMs) with the prospect of free pizza. But, if you suffer from a food allergy, eating can feel more like a chore than a fun activity to do with friends.
Food allergies create a variety of dietary restrictions, and this can sometimes make eating on campus a challenge. Having been recently diagnosed with celiac disease, I’ve acquired a great interest in how Binghamton University’s campus accommodates food allergies — in particular, gluten intolerance.
Celiac is hereditary, meaning that when my little sister’s complaints of stomach pains were diagnosed as celiac, I was also tested and diagnosed with the disease. I laughed at the diagnosis, as all of my bonding with friends over irregular bowel movements now made sense. Soon, however, I had to make dramatic changes to my diet.
Unlike a peanut allergy, the consumption of gluten will not lead to hives or an inability to breathe. Instead, part of the intestines are flattened, leading to a malabsorption of nutrients and an array of other side effects, including thyroid problems, infertility and intestinal cancer. Going gluten-free is not a decision so much as a necessary preventative measure.
Before arriving on campus with a food allergy, it is important to notify and get in contact with the school’s registered dietitian, Alexa Schmidt. Schmidt is extremely accommodating and does her best to provide items on request.
Upon talking to Schmidt, you will be taken on a tour of the dining halls where you will eat most often. The designated dining halls with gluten-free sections are the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4) and Appalachian Collegiate Center in Mountainview College (App). Both have a station labeled “Simple Servings.” This section is allergen friendly and, as their website states, “all dishes feature foods made without milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and gluten for people with food allergies, gluten intolerance, or other special dietary needs.” In addition, there is a special toaster to prevent cross-contamination and a fridge stocked with gluten-free tortillas, breads, waffles and other allergy-friendly foods.
Making sure you have snacks in your room is also crucial to surviving with your food allergy on campus. Most grocery stores now offer a gluten-free section with great late-night bites like cookies and pretzels.
Victoria Chizzik, a sophomore double-majoring in psychology and human development, was also diagnosed with celiac over the summer.
“Eating the first few days was a little difficult, but it’s better now that I’ve been here for a week,” Chizzik wrote in an email. “Now I usually shop at Wegmans because they have an awesome gluten-free section and all the food there is yummy.”
Chizzik also felt that Schmidt was able to help her find gluten-free options on campus.
“She mentioned how I can go into the kitchen and ask for gluten-free pasta, pizza, etc,” Chizzik wrote. “[C4 and Appalachian] basically have every option in gluten-free form.”
Despite the option of Simple Servings and Schmidt’s helpfulness, the eateries on campus do not always have gluten-free options clearly labeled, if they have them at all. The salad bar is often the safest and only choice for a place to eat, since a surprising amount of foods have gluten in them. This makes checking packages and ingredients extremely important.
In addition to dining halls, the Food Co-op and stores off-campus are good places to look for options. The Food Co-op cooks using whole foods, meaning it’s easy to know what you’re eating. They have stocks of dried fruits and nuts, and a dish of the day that is often both vegan and gluten-free.
Living with a food allergy isn’t easy, especially on a college campus. But as long as you stay prepared and informed, getting a good meal is well within your reach.