October 7, 2013

Gluten-Free Students Lament Dining Options at Cornell

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Despite Cornell Dining’s attempts to increase gluten-free offerings on campus, students who follow a gluten-free diet say their dietary restriction still makes eating on campus a struggle.

Cornell Dining has made several improvements to their menus to improve and diversify options for all students, including those with dietary restrictions, according to Michele Lefebvre, nutrition manager for Cornell Dining.

Within the past year, Cornell Dining has expanded its gluten-free options, specifically targeting prepared foods offered at on-campus cafes, Lefebvre said. For example, Trillium now has premade gluten-free sandwiches and salads available in a cooler. The expansions are meant to help the University provide a healthy, diverse array of dining choices, Lefebvre said.

Despite the expansion of choices, students say they still feel limited in their dietary options. Carly Rosenberg ’15 and William Koehler ’16, who are both gluten sensitive — meaning they have difficulty in digesting food containing gluten — both noted the difficulties of maintaining a gluten-free diet on campus.

“I like diversified options. It’s a nuisance when all of my friends want to go to one place to eat and there aren’t any gluten-free options there. Instead, I just sit there or I have to bring my own food,” Rosenberg said.

Koehler echoed Rosenberg’s sentiment, saying finding a dining hall that caters to gluten-free students can be difficult.

“The biggest issue with eating gluten-free on campus is that at every meal, I become the focus of where my friends can eat,” Koehler said. “I wish I could just find something to eat anywhere I went. I also get frustrated when I look up the menus for the dining halls online and there is no allergen information.”

Other students also said they struggled with the inconsistent availability of gluten-free options, with gluten-free options often running out before they arrive at their dining destination.

Lauren Kearney ’16, who chooses to maintain a gluten-free diet for nutritional reasons, said she wishes the University would add the allergen information on Cornell Dining’s website.

“I think that items on dining hall menus should be labeled gluten-free online so that we know what’s available. The allergens listed in the dining halls, such as wheat, dairy [and] soy, should be all shown online,” Kearney said. “Sometimes a dish sounds like it’s gluten-free, like baked tofu or grilled fish, and then you get to the dining hall and find out that wheat was used in it.”

Koehler agreed that online updates would be helpful in choosing where to eat on campus.

“I’d like to see the allergens listed online for each meal. That would make finding a dining hall I can eat at so much easier,” Koehler said.

Lefebvre noted that Cornell Dining staff are well-trained in preparing gluten-free food. Cornell Dining allows students to request gluten-free sandwiches to be made at various on-campus eateries.

“If somebody comes up and says ‘I need gluten-free bread,’ our staff is trained to take off their gloves and put down deli wrap paper to protect the area,” Lefebvre said. “We’re trying to be good about cross-contact with food allergens. You can’t just call something gluten-free unless you get a certification to know it is 100 percent gluten-free.”

Despite Cornell Dining’s attention to some aspects of gluten-free food preparation, Koehler said he occasionally has issues with cross-contamination in Cornell’s dining halls.

“The allergen information in dining halls is certainly helpful, but I have to stay vigilant because it’s occasionally wrong,” Koehler said.

However, Koehler said that he is grateful for the availability of gluten-free bread on campus.

“The availability of gluten-free bread in cafes is what makes eating lunch on campus possible,” Koehler said. “It’s a life saver.”