By Susannah Faulkner
Coming to college as a freshman is tough enough without a food allergy. At first, it can be both difficult and embarrassing to have to turn down that peanut butter sandwich, late night pizza, or can of cheap beer, as well as having to explain your dietary situation. But, having a food allergy or other dietary need in college should not be a hindrance: you can truly make it an opportunity to grow, to educate, and to raise awareness.
Living with both celiac disease and a dairy allergy, I understand what it is like to endure those first few months of freshman year as the “anomaly that can’t eat anything.” When I first started at Ithaca College in the fall of 2007, there was little to no support or options for students with food allergies or dietary needs. I was stuck eating bland salads and making frequent trips to the local grocery store. But, all that changed when I decided to make my case known and reform the college dining experience at Ithaca.
Here are the steps that I took to help make living with a food allergy at college so much better:
1. Make your case known.
Many colleges do not require first year students to document their food allergies or dietary needs on any medical forms. Make an appointment with one of the head doctors at your college’s health center and explain your situation with him or her. Also, all colleges and universities have a campus nutritionist, but this service is often not advertised.
Contact your nutritionist so he or she too can be aware of your dietary situation. Lastly, introduce yourself to the managers of the dining halls that you frequent the most. That way they can help you if you have any questions about cross contamination, ingredients, or nutrition information.
2. Keep emergency backup meals in your room.
Some days, I would be disappointed that there would be little to nothing that I could eat in the dining hall for lunch or dinner. I started to keep backup gluten free pasta and allergy friendly microwavable meals in my room for such emergencies.
3. Research your options for housing and meal plans.
Thankfully, the American Disabilities Act covers our food allergies and dietary needs. In that case, your college’s Residential Life and Dining Services are required to accommodate to your needs. Many colleges offer students with dietary needs an apartment with a kitchen or a reduced meal plan. Make an appointment with your college’s director of Residential Life and/or Dining Services to check out what options are available for you.
4. Band together!
This is by far the most rewarding and the most fun part of living with a food allergy or dietary need in college. Some options include starting a monthly dinner for people with food allergies (or a more specific dietary need like celiac disease), hosting a forum to talk about the situation on campus, and/or forming a club or student organization for students living with food allergies.
At Ithaca, I worked with our Student Government Association to band students together to make our voice heard on campus. Administrators and Dining Services are very receptive to this, and even started a Gluten Free Pantry in our dining halls to accommodate to our needs.
In addition, I helped to form the IC Food Allergy Awareness Club, which meets twice a month to discuss issues on campus, to enjoy delicious allergy friendly meals, and to just hang out and bond. Finding other students with dietary needs really helps to make college feel more like home.
5. Become an advocate.
If you can start to embrace living with food allergy instead of viewing it as a hindrance, life in college, and in your years to come, will be met with much more joy and opportunities. Help to educate students, staff, faculty, and community members of your dietary need. Reach out to other students who are unsure of their problems and are seeking counsel. Not only will you be helping others, but also you will be making yourself better by becoming an advocate.
Make your voice heard on campus and keep your head held high! Change is possible, and all it takes is one passionate person with a mission.
Susannah Faulkner is a recent graduate of Ithaca College with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics. She served as the Vice President of Campus Affairs for Student Government Association and was the Co-Founder of the IC Food Allergy Awareness Club. She plans on continuing to raise awareness for celiac disease and food allergies for the rest of her life.