Are Dining Halls Safe for Celiacs?

Although gluten-intolerance is becoming a more widely compensated in food products, NYU dining halls do not offer very many options.

Signs advertising gluten-free options are ubiquitous in NYU’s dining halls, but students who lead a gluten-free diet often have a hard time finding uncontaminated items.

For those who have a gluten sensitivity, from intolerance to Celiac Disease, eating gluten can cause a whole range of symptoms, from headaches to abdominal pains. Often, even the smallest bit of cross-contamination can trigger these symptoms. Steinhardt freshman Amelia Murray, who has a gluten intolerance, has gotten sick from eating traces of gluten from the dining halls.

“I’ve gotten sick probably fifteen times, at least once a week. Usually what happens is that my arms and my legs get numb and sometimes they hurt really badly,” Murray said. “It’s frustrating because this could have been avoided.”

Although the NYU Food Allergen Guide and Policy states that there are many non-gluten options available and that separate cutlery and cookware are used to avoid cross-contamination, Tisch freshman Olivia Royal does not think the system really works.

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“I don’t think they’re very good at being careful about [cross-contamination] at all,” Royal said.

Murray agrees and noted that even dedicated gluten-free dishes are not guaranteed to be gluten-free.

“At a lot of dining halls, even though they say the dish is gluten-free, they can’t guarantee it and you might get sick,” Murray said. “A lot of the time if you ask they’ll go and check and it might be, but they don’t know for sure.”

Cross-contamination is not the only problem these students face concerning dining halls. Although there are some dedicated gluten-free meals and stations, there is little variety in the options available.

When Steinhardt junior Chloe Blanchard was a freshman, she ate at the dining halls every day because she was on a meal plan and was living in a dorm that did not have a kitchen. But she found that the gluten-free options soon got boring.

“I just got tired of them really quickly, especially since it was two meals a day, lunch and dinner. The salad bar gets pretty old, and sometimes I could eat a burger without the bun, but that’s no fun,” Blanchard said. “They were fine options, but eating it every day got really tiring.”

Even with steady gluten-free options available, there are still problems with the food the dining halls put out for gluten-free students. Murray has run into problems with the gluten-free bread at Downstein.

“There’s a section that has gluten-free breads and bagels, but a lot of the time a lot of them have mold on them,” Murray said. “I know gluten-free food gets bad really quickly, but it happens frequently. Each time I tell the manager, she’ll say, ‘This never happens. I’m so sorry,’ but it happened yesterday too.”

There is much room for improvement in the dining halls’ gluten-free options. The first step, according to both Blanchard and Royal, is to provide more options for those with gluten sensitivities.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Dec. 5 print edition.

Email Kaitlyn Wang at [email protected]

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