Getting dinner with friends on Miami’s campus is no easy task for first-year Siv DeBoom. For her, every meal comes with frustration, impatience and uncertainty. DeBoom is one of many Miami students on a gluten-free diet.
It is estimated that 25 percent of the allergies registered through Miami’s Culinary Service are gluten-free. Whether it be a minor sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease – a condition that affects one in 133 Americans – these students have found eating on campus to be one of the most difficult adjustments to college.
“One time I went to get lunch at Armstrong between classes,” DeBoom said. “When I went up to the guy at the pizza place to see if they had gluten-free pizza crust, he said he did not know what gluten-free was so he did not have any.”
Gluten is a protein found in mostly wheat, barley and rye. When consumed, those with the allergy get very sick. The only treatment for both sensitivity and celiac disease is to be on a completely gluten-free diet.
Someone with gluten sensitivity will find themselves with cold-like symptoms, headaches, stomach aches and vomiting, whereas a person with celiac disease has a condition which triggers an autoimmune attack in the small intestine. The attack damages the villi, which will then prevent the absorption of nutrients into the body.
With such costly and undesirable symptoms, students with the allergy try very hard to avoid the substance at all costs. But many, like DeBoom, are having very little luck at Miami.
“A lot of the student workers are not educated enough to make gluten-free food,” DeBoom said. “They do not know to change their gloves or use a separate knife to cut things because of cross contamination, which then leaves me sick for days because of a simple sandwich.”
At the start of the school year, student workers in the dining halls are not fully trained for their jobs until halfway through the semester. With more and more students in need of gluten-free options, student workers must have as much knowledge as managers about the dietary differences.
McKenna Meath, a first-year recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance, has found the same troubles of living a gluten-free lifestyle at Miami.
“I had a student worker not know what gluten-free pizza crust was, so they put the cheese on a flour tortilla instead, which still is not gluten-free,” Meath said.
As for the student workers, serving gluten-free can be just as difficult for them. In Phil’s Deli, if the bread is frozen in the freezer, the student must thaw it out and toast it. This process can take up to several minutes, creating a long line of hungry students and a particularly impatient gluten-free student.
“When the lines start to get really long, we are trying really hard to move as fast as we can to make it less crowded,” Scoreboard student-worker Maili Morales said. “Asking for gluten-free breads at busy eating hours makes it harder for us to follow all the protocol of handling gluten-free food.”
Gluten-free students have found it is easier to avoid eating on campus all together with so few options. Walking into Martin Dining Hall, the gluten-free options provided up front at every meal are grilled chicken breast and white rice.
“Eating grilled chicken and rice for every meal gets really redundant, and the few options they have in the back kitchen for gluten-free students is all the same, we either get pasta or a bagel,” first-year Julie Blumenfeld said.
When planning to eat in the dining halls, gluten-free students are asked to call the kitchen an hour in advance if they want something prepared from the back. The chefs can prepare gluten-free pasta, grilled cheese, bagels, waffles or pancakes if ordered in advance.
With several options to choose from, students are still having difficulty eating at these dining halls.
Beverley Rambo of Miami’s Demske Culinary Support Center suggested students make appointments with culinary support in order to talk about providing and finding gluten-free foods on campus. Making appointments helps the student and dining hall staff become familiar with each other and the foods they request. By reaching out to culinary support, students can also request personal gluten-free items that culinary support will get at local grocery stores, Rambo said.
“Food services say that they will prepare gluten-free students anything students want, but the kitchen is always running out and not restocking in a timely matter,” Blumenfeld said.
Meath shared similar frustrations, specifically with the call-ahead protocol for gluten-free students.
“Calling an hour in advance for food is one of the biggest problems about eating at dining halls, I do not know an hour ahead of time when I’m going to eat,” Meath said. “If you ask for the food from the back when you are at the dining hall, they get really angry, making me not want to eat at all.”
Despite the chaos of being gluten-free free on Miami’s campus, students have one go-to that never fails: MacCracken Market, located in Central Quad. The market is sacred to gluten-free students. The market keeps stock of an endless supply of gluten-free granola, pretzels, frozen meals, fruits and vegetables.
“The options at MacCracken are endless,” DeBoom said. “I can get a huge variety of food without the contamination, waiting, and frustration by the dining halls.”
To the culinary services at Miami, Meath offered some suggestions.
“Miami needs to improve the way in which it serves gluten-free students,” she said. “They need more variety and a better strategy for serving students at busy hours. Even though we are gluten-free, we still have to eat.”