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Gluten-free students still fear illness from eating at Leo’s
A year after staff at Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall began labeling gluten-free foods, complaints are again arising from gluten intolerant students about how Leo’s addresses their dietary needs.
One of the biggest problems gluten-free students face is crosscontamination. While they have their own microwave and toaster, some gluten free students still find themselves getting sick after using their designated appliances.
“So many of my symptoms have come back since coming here,” said Anne Gilliland (COL ‘16) who has Celiac disease. “There’s definitely cross contamination. I usually get a really bad stomach ache when I have [gluten], and I usually start feeling achy after continuously consuming it from cross contamination.”
Unlike the vegan and vegetarian section of Leo’s, where one must use a clean, meat-free plate before obtaining food, there are no such stipulations for the gluten-free section.
Gluten-free students also feel an element of trust is lacking between them and the Leo’s management. “If they’re going to provide those resources of the fridge, and the labels that used to be on everything, I’m going to trust the fact that there are going to be these labels and that the fridge is going to be stocked, and that’s not happening this year as much ” said Nevada Schadler (COL ‘15). “It’s that breaking of trust that I think is really important.”
Many times, when foods are specifically labeled as “gluten-free,” they do in fact contain traces of wheat or gluten. ”Now that they have the labeling system, you see that things that shouldn’t have gluten in it, do, like rice,” explains Sara Ainsworth (SFS ‘14), “a rice dish should not have any gluten in it, ever, and yet it does.” Every week a new menu is emailed to students with these dietary needs, but more often than not, the menu does not reflect what is actually being served. [Full disclosure: Ainsworth is a Voice staffer.]
Leo’s management did not respond to requests for comment before the Voice went to press.
A common request by members of the gluten-free community is that the Leo’s staff know more about the limitations that gluten-free students are faced with. “I wish that the staff themselves were a little bit more educated on the subject, because some of them are really great. A couple of people at the grill completely understand, but then other people you ask don’t know anything about it,” Gilliland said.
Similarly, Schadler recalls a time when she tried to ask a Leo’s staff member for the contents of the sandwich without the bread: “I went up to the sandwich station the other day and said ‘I can’t have the bread, but can I have what’s inside?’, and the Leo’s worker said, ‘I’m really not supposed to give you this without the bread,’ and I tried to explain that I had an intolerance. It was just this back and forth.”
When gluten-free students eat foods that contain traces of gluten, they are aware of it almost immediately. Symptoms range from extreme tiredness to vomiting, though it differs for every person affected by a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.
While health concerns are a recurring problem for gluten-free students, they struggle with food variety and choice as well. In the beginning of the week, the Gluten Free fridge offers an assortment of muffins, breads, and donuts, but once the fridge is out, it’s out. The lack of gluten-free options has caused Caly Silverwood (MSB ‘14), the founder of the former group Gluten-Free Foodies, to not renew her meal plan this year. “I’m not on a meal plan. I went twice this semester, and I felt that the gluten-free food choices were more limited than last year,” she said.
However, Silverwood does mention some of the positive changes that happened at Leo’s in the spring of 2011 with the urging of her group. “We did have positive impact on the offering at Leo’s. They did do a gluten-free option for Grab ‘n Go.” Silverwood also suggests that Leo’s offer a gluten-free pasta for those with these dietary restrictions. “We were talking about providing one meal—even if it were just a gluten free pasta—a week. It doesn’t have to be much, but just something that gluten free students could go to and get a hearty full meal.”