Michaela, what food allergies (and intolerances) do you have and how old are you?
I am twenty years old. I am moderately allergic to wheat and have severe gluten intolerance and other intolerances to beef, pork and lemon. I have not been tested for Celiac disease with a biopsy because I went off of wheat and noticed how much better it made me feel and didn’t want to start eating it again. GI doctors require with celiac tests that I still need to be eating wheat and my doctor suggested that I not do that.
What happens if you get exposed to your allergens?
I only have a reaction when I ingest the foods. My stomach hurts really badly and my intestines are usually unhappy. I can sit in a bakery and have no issues at all.
How did you handle your wheat food allergy and intolerances in high school?
High school was an interesting experience. I was in the high school band for all four years. I kept trying to explain to my band director that it would be great to go to a restaurant that had a huge salad that I could eat and then I would have a few snacks when we got back to the hotel. I would at times sit in an Italian restaurant, because that is what the band director picked, and could not eat anything. I had found that even some Caesar dressings had wheat in them. It was a very frustrating event for me even though I knew I had snacks at the hotel.
Another experience that I had in high school was with the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony’s Pikes Peak Winds. I had the opportunity to go to Japan with them. I was really nervous at first. However, my mom helped me out by finding a translator that made little cards and sheets of paper with all the food that I could and could not eat. I went over there for about 11 days. There were some meals that had an unknown ingredient in them, and I decided that it would be a poor idea to eat it because I did not want to get sick. I brought little snacks in my suitcase so that if I did not eat a meal I could at least have a snack. I brought white rice crackers and apple sauce. Most of the kids on that trip watched out for me and helped me as much as possible. I lost a little bit of weight during the trip, but I was also really busy and had an amazing time. Food for me on that trip was definitely not the sole focus.
What is your experience of colleges’ awareness of food allergies?
Some Colleges’ awareness is surprisingly slim; at least that is what my experience has been. Though the University of Denver did an excellent job with accommodating me when I went to a Music Camp there. It was about a 2 week camp and an amazing experience. My mom got in touch with the head chef at the dining hall that we were going to be eating in. The chef had said that he could cook all of my food and I would not have to bring too much. We gave him a list of the foods I can and cannot eat. I came up with a menu for him to follow so at each mealtime, my meal would be ready. They made some of the best Turkey Burgers I have ever had. And the chef made some amazing sweet potato fries. Man oh man was it good. I did not get sick once, and they were truly very good at accommodating food allergies.
My experience at Colorado State University was a little different. At first they said that they would be able to accommodate my food allergies. Though they sent a menu for the week at band camp, and there truly was no way for that to occur. So I ended up bringing my own food that I had in my dorm room refrigerator. I would do all the band stuff at camp, and then I would come back and eat whatever food I had brought by heating it in the microwave. Many of the students were really jealous of the fact that I had so many different foods in the refrigerator and was wondering if they could have some. I said no, I was not trying to be rude, because I only had a certain amount for the week. Overall that was another good experience with food.
What issues did you run into when looking at colleges in Colorado and their awareness of food allergies?
Well I found a few issues. At the University of Northern Colorado they had said that I could live in an apartment or I could live in the dorm and use the kitchen in the basement area. However there are many people who use that area to cook cookies and cupcakes. The last thing that I wanted was cross contamination within a meal that I was cooking. And there was a significant possibility that not everything is perfectly clean. So as wonderful as that had sounded, that didn’t seem to work for me. The apartment idea felt like too much to take on. It would be cooking and grocery shopping in addition to going to school at the beginning of entering college.
The other school that I was looking at was Colorado State University. They had stated that they could handle everything and anything. Though the more questions that I had asked with my food allergies, the more it became apparent that it might not be the best choice. They demanded that I live in the dorm, and their awareness was more about peanut allergies than celiac disease or other intolerances. They weren’t willing to change their menus for me – they just wanted me to find something to eat that was already on the menu and they weren’t good about listing ingredients in the foods.
Since you didn’t live in a dorm, what did you choose to do for living arrangements your freshman year of college? And now?
I chose for my freshman year to live at home because it seemed like a safe place to be. I was a little nervous moving out because of some of the experience I had in the past with people not necessarily understanding my food allergies. Though today I have moved out and live with one roommate in a house. He and I get along great. I have my food and he has his. I have one pan that I cook most of my food in, and he has his. It has worked out just perfectly.
How do you handle your food allergies now?
Today I eat probably about 99% of my meals at home. Probably about once every six months I will go out to P.F. Chang’s with friends because they have a gluten free menu. Though I know that most people my age have food always surround them. So instead I invite people over to my place and cook them a good meal, and then everyone is happy. Most people are surprised at how good Gluten free food really is.
Do you tell your dates about your food allergies? How do you go about doing that?
I do tell my dates about food allergies. At times they have wanted to go to a certain restaurant that I can’t eat anything at. They wonder why I can’t eat there so I explain what happens to me when I do eat wheat. Most of them understand and just want the best for me. Usually after that they let me pick the restaurant so that I know I am eating at a place that is fun and safe for me. My personal favorite is P.F. Changs!
Mom’s Comment: We have found that the colleges/universities that cost more in tuition are much more likely to have sound accommodations for students with food allergies. That doesn’t mean that a state university won’t make accommodations – but as in the case of offering an apartment as an alternative to dorm living, the alternative may not be easy for a college freshman to work with!