For students with food allergies, navigating the dining halls can often be tricky.
According to UGA Dining Services, every dining hall is considerate of these students by ensuring they serve options every student is able to eat, no matter the allergy.
According to Savannah Finley, a sophomore biological sciences major from Augusta who worked at The Village Summit, dining hall employees are taught what to do in the case of a student mentioning they have celiac disease. All individuals with celiac disease are unable to eat any foods containing wheat, barley or rye. Some cases of celiac disease are so sensitive that individuals may have a reaction if their food was even touched by someone who also touched any bread-related foods.
“When a student has an allergy such as gluten, workers change their gloves, wash their hands and use separate food containers,” Finley said.
She said workers are instructed to use specific cooking utensils for preparing these meals as well, such as the “special gluten allergy toaster for gluten free bread.”
Finley said she saw approximately one in every one hundred students mention a food allergy when coming through the line at ECV. While also accommodating her own peanut and fish allergies, Finley said she has not had a problem working and eating at the dining halls.
“When I was on meal plan, my only qualm would be when there were only peanut butter cookies available, or some type of dessert I was allergic to and that would be the main option,” Finley said. “Otherwise there are plenty of types of food to choose from.”
For Rachel Wolfe, a junior management information systems major from Athens, the selection is not enough to counteract her time constraint for ordering gluten-free meals.
“A lot of times when I would go to ask for something to eat, the employee would have to go find the manager or go find someone in the back,” Wolfe said. “Thirty minutes later, I would finally have my food.”
Wolfe said though the dining halls offered a notable selection of gluten-free options for her, the time constraint was too much of a burden. Instead, Wolfe said she keeps food in her dorm and will often visit restaurants on campus.
“Most food at Mexican restaurants is gluten-free so I would rather just go to Barberitos in Tate [Student Center] than wait at a dining hall,” Wolfe said.
Since her celiac disease diagnosis the summer before her freshman year, Wolfe said she has been able to adjust to the diet her disease requires, despite her initial worries.
“Everyone was nice and accommodating in the dining halls, but during orientation I think they really talked up [the selection of gluten-free meals],” Wolfe said. “When I got here it was just a little underwhelming.”
Wolfe said though she does not agree with people without celiac disease undergoing the gluten-free diet, the attention to that lifestyle has brought gluten-free menus to many local restaurants.
“A lot of times if you tell someone you don’t eat gluten, they think you’re just on a diet,” Wolfe said. “But a lot of people don’t understand that being gluten-free is not a health thing, it’s a serious autoimmune disease.”
Now, Wolfe said she is able to successfully navigate gluten-free meals via Barberitos, Mellow Mushroom and cooking at home.
Olivia Bailey, an Athens resident who has to stay away from gluten as well, said she has also found Mellow Mushroom to be an excellent option when eating out. Other places she mentioned with a gluten-free menu include Cheddar’s, Chili’s and Bone Fish Grill.
“Even if they have a gluten free menu it doesn't guarantee that my food is 100% safe,” Bailey said. “A cook can touch someone else's food with a spatula and then touch yours and it can contaminate the gluten free food if the other food had gluten in it.”
Because of this, Bailey said she opts to cook at home to ensure her food is safe.
The UGA Dining Services website outlines the importance of understanding potential severity of allergies and warns customers of the potential for cross-contamination.
Of the four dining halls on campus Bolton Dining Commons offers the most options for students with food allergies. The Special Selections line at Bolton offers gluten-free cuisines free of the eight most common allergens: tree nuts, peanuts, egg, milk, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
The Village Summit also offers a similar structure with a line of allergen-free foods offered in a separate area.
Cross-contamination is a worry many individuals with allergies face. Ginny Harvey, for example, is a junior history and social studies education major from Lawrenceville who always went to Snelling while on the meal plan, due to her peanut allergies.
Since Asian food is often cooked in peanut oil, Harvey said she wanted to stay away from ECV and Bolton’s Asian food options for fear of coming in contact with the oil.
Harvey’s nut allergy is so severe she said she could break out in a reaction if she so much as touches an area that has been touched by someone who was previously eating nuts. In the dining halls, however, she has not had an issue finding nut-free foods options.
“Snelling has pizza, sandwiches and my favorite food in the dining halls, Philly cheesesteaks,” Harvey said.
As with any other food allergy to be aware of, Harvey said she has adjusted to her dietary needs.
“It seems like so many people have allergies nowadays, most of the time it’s something I don't even think about since I'm so used to it,” Harvey said.
The only other action Harvey said could be done to accommodate for students’ allergies would be to inform other students about the potential severity of food allergies.
“Washing your hands after eating anything with nuts in it or being mindful when eating things with sensitive smells, like a PB and J, [are both ways to accommodate nut allergies],” Harvey said.