by Cora Markowitz
It’s not easy being gluten-free. But at Kenyon, it’s not hard to make it work. Peirce Dining Hall does its best to accommodate the needs of students who do not or cannot eat gluten, those who avoid it to eat more healthily and students with celiac disease who cannot be exposed to gluten at all. Their bodies are unable to break down wheat, barley and rye.
AVI manager Michael Hogancamp explained that Peirce has had a section for gluten-free options for about three years. “Food-preparation wise, it’s something we always think about. If this isn’t gluten-free, then what can I do to make it gluten-free, is it possible to make this gluten-free for someone so they can have it?”
For the uninitiated, Joia Felton ’17 explains, “Being gluten free means that you don’t eat products that contain wheat. If you’re like me and you have a gluten intolerance, than you mostly have to stay away from eating large portions of it.” Felton further explained that people who have a more serious condition could react to food that has simply touched flour.
For students with a gluten intolerance, eating foods that contain gluten can cause headaches, migraines and fatigue, among other symptoms. Felton couldn’t figure out why she was suffering from health problems until she tried cutting gluten out of her diet.
“My grades went up, I was able to sleep better — everything about me improved,” she said. Students who react adversely to gluten can have a range of conditions, from a minor intolerance to the much more serious celiac disease, a digestive disease that damages the lining of the small intestine. “It just kind of triggered one day; I just started getting really sick immediately after every meal,” Jack Clayton ’17 said.
Sarah Naguib ’17 found out she had celiac disease in 11th grade. “I went through a lot of testing,” she said. “No one knew what it was, and then I came home from school one day and my mom was like, ‘Oh, we got the test results, you have celiac.’” Naguib’s mother explained the foods she could no longer eat and Naguib adjusted her diet.
The transition from home to Kenyon meant adapting to whatever Peirce offers up every day, which can be unpredictable. When Peirce is in a gluten-free slump, it’s hard on students to watch their friends feasting on pizza and cookies every day while they’re left attempting to defrost gluten-free bread that’s formed into an impenetrable block in the freezer.
But most of the time, students find that Peirce does try to have a gluten-free option or two to make sure all students — no matter their diet — can find something to eat. “It’s actually pretty good here at Kenyon,” Clayton said. “The best thing that they do is have everything labeled.” Naguid also praised Peirce, saying, “I can always go up to the AVI workers and they can make me gluten-free pizza.”
Clayton pointed out that the vegetarian section is a good place to look for gluten-free options because many dishes there are naturally gluten free.
“One of my favorite gluten-free foods — I’ve only had this one time, but it was so good — is Kung Pao chicken, and they made it for me, and it was ready so quickly and I was over the moon,” Felton said.
Most people tend to be considerate when they find out a friend doesn’t eat gluten, even if they don’t quite get it. Clayton said his friends like to call him a “gluten freak” — jokingly, of course.
But others believe eating gluten free is just a new fad diet, not considering that for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it’s a necessity — not a choice. “A lot of people take it as a diet, when it’s really not. It’s something that people have to do to be able to eat,” Felton said.
Luckily, there are enough gluten-free students at Kenyon that they don’t feel like the only ones missing out on Peirce’s finer offerings. According to National Public Radio, celiac disease diagnoses have doubled in the past 20 years, so it’s not surprising that more and more students come to Kenyon looking for gluten-free options. “The Kenyon gluten-free community is surprisingly larger than most people would expect,” Clayton said.
Naguid has met other gluten-free students while standing in line at the fridge in Peirce. “We just say hi to each other even though I know nothing about them, except for the fact that they have celiac or that they’re eating gluten-free. It’s a bond,” he said.