One year ago, a diligent group of students at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus began working very hard on getting gluten free food for people on campus who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivities.

Their passion seems to come (at least in part) from the void of food choices for them at the U right now.  Their passion is catchy, as I learned when I attended their recent meeting.

Students for Gluten Free Awareness

The group, once known as the Gluten Free Club, is now known as Students for Gluten Free Awareness.   With nearly 50 people in the entire group, I met nearly a dozen vocal students during a recent support group meeting who were very involved in the conversation even asking me questions.  The table along the side had a spread of gluten free goodies — including pb & j sandwiches– perfect for hungry college students.

The students ranged in gluten-free “expertise” — one student was diagnosed with celiac disease 20 years ago others diagnosed as recently as a year ago.  When I asked what it was like to go from home (safe and gluten free friendly) suddenly away to college (not so gluten free friendly), I was peppered with answers:

“You feel lost,” Dan said, “I’d eat potatoes and fruit for weeks.” Dan was diagnosed with celiac two weeks before going to college (talk about little time to get educated and even work with the school)!

Bethany Fosler said she was frustrated, she explained that when you’re in the dorm you have to buy the meal plan.  She said she “paid as much as everyone else but I could only eat 1/10th of the food”.

Another student chimed in,

“I wanted to move out of the dorms just because I couldn’t eat!”

Callie said, “I called my mom crying because I hadn’t eaten dessert in three months….Then she sent me cookies.”

Katie, the 20-year veteran of the gluten-free diet admitted, “it’s a rough transition”.

Of course they would admit, it’s not about the dessert or cookies (although I’m sure it would be nice)…it’s about 1. Getting what you paid for (in Bethany’s argument) and 2. Just getting to eat!

Joining Gluten Free Forces

All of these students found each other, shared their frustrations and are in the process of taking action. In the spring of 2010, the group submitted a proposal (I detailed in a previous post), to the food services “vendor specialist”, detailing gluten free options they would like in various areas of the University campus.  As of June 2010, Fosler said she hadn’t heard from them.

Fast forward to winter 2011, they have seen some options open up.  They can get gluten free pizza at lunch at one dorm — Pioneer Hall.  According to a recent Letter to the Editor at the Minnesota Daily campus paper, the group also noted there is gluten free bread available for sandwiches at  Pioneer Hall, Commissary in the Regis Center for the Arts School Building and the M Deli in Coffman Student Union has gluten-free sprouted wraps as well as some gluten-free products in various on-campus convenience stores.

Not that the students don’t appreciate the new choices, they just aren’t convenient to have them in so few places on a campus that spans the Mississippi River and two cities.

The group says more needs to be done.  Especially when you compare what other universities an college students are doing for both gluten-free and food allergic students— as noted in a USA Today article dated February 16th, 2011.

The U of M group recently went to the Minnesota Student Association (described as the closest thing to student power that they have) to petition for gluten free bread and cereal availability in all residential halls. Fosler added,

“my goal is to see gluten free products on every Bank,” [meaning the three areas of the U of M: West Bank, East Bank and St. Paul campus].  “Now there are no gluten free options in St. Paul at all.”

This group worries about the future gluten free options at the U, as noted in the aforementioned Letter to the Editor:  “While we are very happy with our efforts, these implementations are only temporary.  As time goes on the University needs to see the necessity of these products.  Once the University sees these products being used, it can start to purchase more…”

If you would like to learn more about this group email them at glutenfreeumn {at} gmail(.)com.

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6 Responses to ““You Feel Lost,” Gluten Free Students’ Take on Eating at University of Minnesota”

  1. My son went to orientation at the U last summer. At the buffet brunch, he asked a server (as he was instructed to do) what was safe for him to eat on the buffet. Her answer? “Everything.” Right. “Even the toast?” my son asked. “Oh, yeah. There’s no wheat in it.”

    I did get a gluten-free lunch out of them – a salad with chicken. Bethany had pointed out in one of her articles that that was the U’s standard gluten-free offering whenever the main-course for a meal wasn’t GF. That would get boring in a hurry.

    As it turned out, my son stayed home this year and postponed his transfer to the U one more year. He will go in the fall, but isn’t even considering campus housing. We’re still considering whether to invest in a minimal meal plan. He’d love not to have to fix all his own food, but it’s hard to feel like what he can get is worth the $10 per meal that it costs, and it’s harder to feel like he’d be safe even with what they’d offer.

    It really is astounding how far behind the U is on this.

  2. Amy, thanks for all your hard work- this article is wonderful and really displays the heart of the movement of the U of M campus!

  3. Thank you for reading the post. I think GF at college is the future big hurdle for us. But as with restaurants without any oversight policy in place, how can you get the food on campus (first) and prepared safely (second).
    Although there are places that are doing it well…so we know it’s possible.

  4. I am having the same problems at my college. I go to a very small southern college, and as far as I’ve found out, only one other person here has Celiac. We’ve been working extremely hard to get more options — I literally lost 7 pounds my first week at school because of the lack of food. They’ve been doing really well with helping us out, and I hope it will only get better. I’m just glad that things have been getting better. Best of luck to anyone else out there fighting the same battle! Make yourself heard – even if it seems impossible, someone will hear and someone will help.


  5. Good luck Chelsea with your initiative. I know Udi’s is working with colleges to raise awareness and get their breads on campus. Maybe contact them and see if they can assist in any way.
    Also email the U of M group as they could help I am sure….
    Good luck!

  6. I can totally relate to your frustrations! My daughter (who is 18 now) was diagnosed over 2-1/2 years ago and still struggles to maintain a 100% gluten-free diet. Before she headed off to College in VA, things were more manageable at home where we kept separate containers, toasters, etc. But, issues with cross contamination occurred frequently when she ate out at different restaurants or her friend

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