For most people, the question of what to eat is a fairly simple one to answer. For students with celiac disease or food allergies, the daily decision at the dining hall is more complicated.
Ashley Rockwell, a 2012 WSU graduate with neuroscience and psychology degrees, is allergic to dairy, eggs and peanuts. She also suffers from celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive condition.
Rockwell said she felt she burdened the kitchen staff at Hillside Dining Hall. Mairi Hartsock/The Daily Evergreen
Student employees had trouble finding foods she could eat and seemed frustrated when asked, Rockwell said. The chefs did their best to try to add variety to her diet, but it challenged them, she said.
Rockwell also said she found it difficult to get meals during busy times, and after hours often resorted to cooking in her residence hall kitchen in McCroskey.
“Many people think that celiac disease is a fad and do not understand how it affects people,” she said.
More than two million Americans have celiac disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The condition causes the immune system to attack the small intestine and is triggered by gluten, which is found in wheat and other grains.
Recently, students affected by celiac disease sued Lesley University in Massachusetts for not providing options for them. The Department of Justice stated that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to those with food allergies or celiac disease. Lesley must make sure that students with such conditions have equal access to the school’s meal plans and dining services.
The resulting settlement required that Lesley University offer gluten-free and allergen-free foods. These meals would then be prepared in a specialized kitchen to prevent contamination.
WSU is ahead of the curve and has already been accommodating students’ dietary restrictions for years, said General Manager of Northside Cafe and Market Hsiu-Pow Hwang.
The dining halls look at the needs of students case by case and provide a wide variety of food they can eat, Hwang said.
Every dining hall is required to label all potential food allergens in every meal and have specific menu options for students with celiac disease and other food allergies. Each dining hall also has a designated area for gluten-free foods and a toaster for gluten-free bread to prevent contamination.
Students can even request meals catered to their restrictions by contacting the campus dietitian, Hwang said.
Alexander Mattson, a junior at WSU who works at Northside Dining Hall and is allergic to soy, lactose and eggs, said he took full advantage of these options to accommodate his allergies.
Mattson said, the staff at Northside were willing to accommodate his dietary needs by making meals from scratch for him and allowing him to call ahead and order meals.
Mattson said the key to eating at the dining halls with food allergies is to plan ahead. He recommended that students who have food allergies should meet with the dietitian at the Alive! orientation, before even beginning school.
Access Center Director Meredyth Goodwin, said most students with food allergies contact WSU dietitian Chelsey Woods directly instead of asking for help from the Access Center. She estimated less than ten students have contacted her with such concerns.
Rockwell worked with the dietitian, she said, but still had a limited number of choices for dining, mainly living on rice, hash browns and steamed vegetables.
The university still required her to have a dining account while living in the residence halls, so she eventually chose to move in to an off-campus apartment.
It was easier to perform in school once she did not have to worry about finding food to meet her restrictions, Rockwell said.