Students with food allergies struggle to find a quality meal

By Katie Staroszczyk Nov 6, 2020
Many products, although they do not contain a certain allergen, are processed on the same equipment which can cause students with severe allergies to have a reaction. 
Photo: Samira Kassem

Illinois Wesleyan has many options for students to eat on campus, but when it comes to students with food allergies and intolerances, finding a basic meal is much more difficult. 

Managing food allergies in everyday life is a struggle because students have to be hyper aware of how all their food is made. 

From the ingredients to even the cookware used to make the food, every part of the cooking process could potentially trigger an allergic reaction if not monitored closely. 

One of these allergies that can be extremely serious is a gluten allergy, more commonly known as Celiac disease. 

Gluten can be found in almost anything, from bread to spices to even the glue in envelopes. 

If a student with celiac eats even the smallest amount of gluten, various symptoms like vomiting and severe abdominal pain can occur. Even if the ingredients are gluten free, the way they are prepared can compromise them. 

Pasta, for example, is not gluten free normally. If a restaurant offers gluten free pasta, they may boil it in the same water that regular pasta had been in, and now the gluten free pasta is “gluten-ed.”

How does IWU accommodate students with allergies like these so they can find a meal stress-free? Unfortunately, not well enough. 

“How does IWU accommodate students with allergies like these so they can find a meal stress-free? Unfortunately, not well enough.” 

At SAGA, only two to three allergy-safe plates are prepared and then set out under a heat lamp. Those plates, however, aren’t changed or remade throughout the entire day, so a student with severe allergies may be eating dinner that was made at eight in the morning. 

In Dugout, the conditions are much safer for those with allergies. In Sub Connection, when a student says they are allergic to gluten, every staff member switches their gloves, cutting boards and cutting utensils to prevent cross-contamination. Sub Connection is one of the only safe options for students looking for a full meal. 

Since the meal plans don’t sustain students well enough, some decide that spending all the money on a meal plan just isn’t worth it. 

Students with severe allergies have the option to fill out paperwork that exempts them from having to purchase a meal plan, but the process for getting this paperwork isn’t easy. In fact, the paperwork or any information about it isn’t available anywhere on the Illinois Wesleyan website, so many students with allergies never knew the option existed. 

What can IWU do to better serve their students with food allergies? Dugout is already on the correct path. 

All on campus locations should be more aware of cross contamination with the utensils they use and even the gloves they wear. Small changes like these can have the biggest impact in keeping students from getting sick. 

The food locations on campus should also normalize cooking allergy friendly foods in the main lines. 

SAGA has a vegetarian friendly line every day, and if some of the main lines could also be peanut-free or dairy-free more often, then students would be able to eat a fresh-made meal. 

If the meal plans are still not worth it to students, the paperwork to opt out of a meal plan should be easily accessible. 

Unless Illinois Wesleyan can better serve their students who have food allergies, more and more will be forced to find subpar meals elsewhere.

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