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Savvy Celiac: Will 'U' embrace student's push for gluten-free food?

Something is rumbling at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus … it may just be the tummies of all of the gluten-free, wheat-free students on campus who right now are apparently not receiving accommodations for their gluten-free diets!

But there is a movement afoot that may just change all that and help these students make safe and healthy food choices while they’re at the U.

Gluten-Free Movement at the U

As many parents know, the move to college is a big deal, but throw in the responsibility of managing a gluten-free diet, and it is enough to double any parent’s amount of gray hair. 

Especially when the school knows little to nothing about cooking and eating gluten-free. We all try to educate our kids as much as possible how to make good gluten-free choices, but what if they’re thrust onto an “island” of the University with no gluten-free options, what are we to do?  Our children are left with taking risks on whether that burger, french fries and ice cream really is gluten free.

Bethany Fosler, a student at the University of Minnesota, said this of her experience:

“Living in the dorms my first year I was required to purchase a University meal plan, this brought on great frustration, I was limited to living off the salad bar.”

Sophomore year rolled around and she moved into an apartment which allowed her more food freedom.  She and another gluten-free friend formed the Gluten Free Club on campus in the last year and within two months of starting it, had 35 members. The group has concerns that there is a lack of choice for gluten-free foods on campus.

Proposing Gluten-Free Change

The group quickly began discussing the university’s meal plan.  “The university already has programs in place to serve vegan and vegetarian students,” Fosler said told me in an interview, “therefore we believe it is possible for the university to use these established programs as models for establishing gluten-free choices on campus.”

This spring she submitted a proposal to the food services “vendor specialist”.

Fosler gave a copy of the proposal.  In it, she cited Ithaca College, Notre Dame, University of Kansas, Tufts University and St. John’s University  (in Queens, NY and highlighted on as schools that have implemented gluten-free dining in their schools.

“I propose that the University of Minnesota join other colleges across the nation who provide basic gluten-free essentials for their students…”

“The University could keep its gluten-free products in a separate cooling refrigerator that would be labeled….In the Residential Dining Halls, the refrigerator could offer main gluten-free staples such as bread, pasta, bagels, cereal, waffles and a small section of assorted baked goods.”

“The Minnesota Marketplace could offer slightly different items…frozen dinners, granola bars, crackers and trail mix…”  Proposal for Gluten-free Products: In Demand and On Campus; 2010;Source: Bethany Fosler.

And she tried to temper the concern of the cost before it could even be brought up.  “Most people adhering to a gluten-free lifestyle have already accepted the price difference,” she says in the proposal. “Those who need gluten-free products are willing to pay more for them because they are essential for our well-being.”

Finally, Fosler suggests more people might look at going to the U if they have these options.

And the Results?

So how has it ended?  “I submitted my proposal about a month ago… I have not heard anything back at this point,” Fosler says.  So far no changes are being setup for next year — that she’s aware of.

My two cents:

How can a university that has 70,000 people (students, faculty and staff) on campus each year, prides itself on being in touch with the international community (many other countries know celiac and have gluten-free foods readily available), and is even involved in celiac disease research,  not make some accommodations for gluten-free food?– or even give Fosler an acknowledgment that they are reviewing her proposal?

I completely agree with Fosler’s claim that people might go to the U if they they are accommodating of the gluten-free diet.  Most everyone in the the Twin Cities Raising Our Celiac Kids group makes a decision on which college they’ll attend, based on whether they will be able to eat safely in the school dining hall. Plus if you are a freshman in the dorm and you have to buy the meal plan, why shouldn’t they have to fulfill your medically prescribed diet needs?

Congratulations to Bethany Fosler for her determination in making a difference at the University of Minnesota.  I will keep you posted when the school finally succumbs to her request!  Good luck Bethany!

This blog was written by Amy Leger and originally published on the Savvy Celiac.

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