Carlo, when we spoke last year, you were getting ready to attend the University of Chicago. You have allergies to Dairy, Wheat, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Soy, Sesame, Fish, Shellfish, Most Fruits and Some Vegetables. What did you find most difficult with eating in a dorm cafeteria on a daily basis?
What I’ve found most difficult is finding a good variety of protein for me to eat. There hasn’t ever really been a problem with there being food for me to eat, but there have been some difficulties with the variety of food, and I’ve been forced to have the same foods over and over, which although it keeps me fed, is somewhat frustrating. There’s always salads and some vegetables and fruits, but protein is harder to come by.
The dining hall is separated into various stations, each serving a certain type of food. There is a Euro Station–mostly carved meats (but almost always with sauces/dressing) and some sort of vegetables, the Halal Station, the Kosher Station, the Harvest Station that serves vegetarian dishes, the Pasta Station, the Salad Station, the Deli Station, the Pizza Station and the Grill Station. You can go around to any of the stations and take what you want, making a meal out of whatever any of the stations are serving that meal. I have to avoid most of these stations. The Pasta and Pizza Stations I pretty obviously must avoid, and the Halal Station and the Harvest Station frequently serve things I can’t have, because of their restrictions on certain types of foods. The Kosher Station occasionally serves things I can eat. The Deli Station is full of cross-contamination, as is the Salad Station.
The Grill Station is just a grill. It makes hamburger patties (you can add your own bun and toppings later), grilled chicken breast, and grilled cheese (which is prepared on a separate grill from the hamburgers and chicken). It makes these things for lunch and dinner every day, which provides a nice stability to the ever-changing options that the other stations offer.
Did you have any allergic reaction?
Thankfully, I have not had any reactions while at college. I think part of that is because I’ve been extra careful, perhaps even more than I usually am. A large part, though, has to be attributed to the dining staff, because they really are trained about cross-contamination and they are very willing to change gloves or use a separate pan. That said, I try to stay away from stations that could pose any sort of risk.
Did you find any other students dealing with similar allergies?
I haven’t really found anyone else with comparable allergies, both in number and in magnitude. There are a few people with intolerances (lactose intolerant) and maybe one or two people with peanut or tree nut allergies, but there aren’t very many people with allergies or anyone with allergies coming close to how many I have. That said, everyone I’ve met has been knowledgeable about food allergies or very interested in learning about them, so I’ve felt safe among my peers even though they don’t have allergies.
How do you feel about next semester and eating in the dorm cafeteria?
One of the things I’m doing over this break is meeting with my nutritionist at Mt. Sinai’s Jaffe Food Allergy Institute. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work with the nutritionist to develop strategies for me to successfully maintain a healthy diet eating in the dining hall. Then, I’ll take those recommendations and meet with my contacts at school, to work it out. I’m also going to sit down again with the dining hall staff and my contacts in the administration and see if we can’t get some of the things that have been proposed put into action. Other than that, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m excited for my classes and looking forward to Winter Quarter, despite the weather.
For your sophomore year, what living arrangements are you planning?
At the University of Chicago, the dorms work in a house system (kind of like Hogwarts). In your first year, you are placed into a house that contains ~40-100 people, first through fourth years. You can stay in that house for all four years, if you would like, or you can move off campus starting your second year. I’m planning on staying in my house, because I love the people in it and living on campus makes everything significantly easier. I may, however, start going to the grocery store more frequently and making more of my own meals to avoid the dining hall. I would, in that case, change my meal plan from the unlimited (which is mandatory for all first years and really nice) to one that more fits the changed situation.
Did you go hungry on any given day because of a lack of safe food?
Thankfully, since the Grill station is always open and serving plain chicken breast and plain hamburger patties, there was never a day where I went hungry. There were certainly days where the lack of variety was frustrating, or two or three day stretches where the only safe food for me would be from the Grill station, but I was never walking around constantly hungry, except as much as all college students on the go do, but that’s just the nature of dining hall food.
Based upon your experience, what would you tell a current high school senior with food allergies looking at college?
Really, the best thing I can say to a high school senior is that food allergies don’t need to be another thing stressing you out. The entire college process is an arduous one, and you don’t need another stressor. Pick a school that you think is the best fit for you academically and socially. All the schools I considered and all the schools that my friends with food allergies go to have been pretty good about dealing with food allergies. Don’t let food allergies dictate what college you go to. You will be able to work with the dining services staff, or just go around them and provide for yourself, if need be. I’m not going to lie and say it will be a walk in the park, but you can successfully and safely manage your food allergies in college. It isn’t easy, but nothing about living with food allergies is. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible, and that especially doesn’t mean that your food allergies will hold you back from having a happy, successful, normal life. Don’t let your food allergies add yet another stress to an already stressful process and don’t let your food allergies stop you from doing what you think is best for you academically and socially.
Again, I hope these help!
All the best,