Specialized meal requests for students who are gluten free are on the rise in residential college dining halls.
Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke said Yale Dining has offered specialized meals at increasing rates over the past few years. Currently, 8 to 10 percent of student meals are specialized, a fraction that Van Dyke said she expects to further increase. Specialized meals are needed for a variety of reasons — from religions constraints and medical issues to special diets and lifestyle choices — and students simply have to speak with dining hall staff to acquire them. Dining hall managers interviewed indicated that the most pronounced change in dietary demands is an increase in gluten-free requests.
“I’ve been in this business for 24 years, and there have never been as many gluten-free students as there are right now,” Davenport College Dining Hall Manager Shaffrona Phillip-Christie said.
Silliman chef Stu Comen also said he has noticed a surge in gluten-free students, which could be due to enhanced allergy awareness or dietary concerns. He added that he personally makes gluten-free pizza for a single student every Friday.
Issey Norman-Ross ’15, who is hypoglycemic and gluten-free, said being a celiac at Yale would be very difficult without special accommodations.
“I would say if you don’t seek help and you’re a celiac you will really struggle with getting a balanced diet and also with issues of cross contamination,” she said. “Before I spoke with [Yale Dining], I struggled a lot to stay healthy, especially as an athlete.”
Norman-Ross said Berkeley College has done its best to mix things up for her — whether it be making fries in the back with clean oil or making personalized stir-fries.
Tufts University freshman Grant Steinhauer said rather than individually specialize meals for gluten free students, dining halls at Tufts have a “vegetarian and gluten free” station. Gluten free pasta and pancakes are always offered, he said.
Phillip-Christie said gluten-free requests are just the tip of the iceberg — some students have oil allergies, for example, while others cannot eat butter, garlic or certain herbs. She said she often meets with students and their parents to flesh out dietary plans that work.
Comen said that, in addition to gluten-free meals, he also has substituted in rice flour and peanut-free products to fit student needs. He added that in one instance, a student was so allergic to various foods that his staff had to personally deliver meals to the student’s room.
Despite the openness of Yale Dining staff, Phillip-Christie said some students choose to keep their allergies to themselves.
Matt Czarnecki ’18 is lactose intolerant, but he said he prefers to work with the food that is offered rather than request specialized items, though that may change in the future.
“I am a fan of grilled chicken, and my residential college always has grilled chicken ready if I ask at the grill,” he said. “But eating grilled chicken for dinner nearly every night has become quite mundane, and I do sometimes wish that other alternatives were available for me.”