Campus Dining needs to spread the word for the gluten-free

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Author: Kirsten Wright

Three year mandatory on-campus residency at Occidental allows students to develop relationships and learn to live together in tight spaces. It forces students to creatively decorate their dorm rooms to look like habitable environments, so Stearns 110A feels more like a home and less like a shoe box. Campus living influences students’ social life, study habits and routines, and perhaps most significantly, consumption of food. For most, dining at Occidental is a consistently pleasurable experience. After all, the employees are friendly and helpful and quickly respond to student suggestions, and who doesn’t love a made-to-order omelet the morning after a late night of… studying? However, many students with specific dietary restrictions find navigating the college’s four eateries a difficult and frustrating process, particularly those with a lesser known dietary obstacle like gluten intolerance. 

This difficulty is not due to a lack of effort or attention from Campus Dining staff but instead is because of a scarcity of communication and advertising for those diners. The department actually provides many services and dining options that most students don’t realize exist. For example, Occidental has a nutritionist available to supply students with free diet and nutrition counseling. Who knew, right? 

For vegans, vegetarians and lactose-free diners, the Marketplace provides consistent labels at each station. And although the vegans could probably use a break from the “one thousand ways to dress a portobella mushroom” game that the chefs seem to be playing, these dieters are accommodated for rather well.

Conversely, those who must keep a gluten-free diet have a much more difficult time eating on campus. First, take a minute to think about how terrible having to avoid those mega-sized slices of Auntie Em’s cake must be. We should all pity our gluten intolerant peers and be extra nice to them; no one should go without cake, especially the creamy, red velvet monstrosities provided daily in the Cooler.

Gluten is in a large number of foods served daily at Occidental, and yet labels for gluten free (gf) items are used haphazardly at best. Because the labeling of gluten-free foods at the Marketplace is so inconsistent, students must take time to track down a knowledgeable chef and inquire about each option’s ingredients. All available items for constricted eaters at all dining locations should be labeled as vegan, vegetarian/lactose free or gluten free. If an item is not labeled, students should be able to assume with total confidence that the item is none of these.

There is a substantial number of gluten free options provided by campus dining, but their existence is irrelevant if they are unidentifiable. A gluten-free toaster sits behind the grill in the Marketplace, and students may take gluten free bread and bagels from the refrigerator. Several types of gluten free cereal are tucked behind the cereal dispensers, and students can request gluten free pizza and pasta as well. 

According to a study from the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, about six percent of the U.S. population deals with some type of gluten intolerance. With such a high number of people who must lead a gluten-less life, Occidental should make labeling and preparing gluten-free foods a priority. Campus Dining works hard to accommodate special dietary needs for students, but the advertisement and variety of such options needs improvement. Print out signs, start making labels and perhaps even consider purchasing a third type of gluten free cereal or more than one kind of bread. Do it for the gluten free, cake-deprived kids of Occidental; they deserve a break, don’t you think? 

Kirsten Wright is a senior ECLS major. She can be reached at kirstenwright@oxy.edu.

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