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Gluten-free living at Brandeis

Living on campus as someone who cannot eat gluten has been my biggest struggle at Brandeis University. My freshman year—albeit it was literally three months because I was a midyear right before COVID-19 hit—I survived off of rice and vegetables. I ate like a rabbit because it was either that or being sick on top of being an anxious midyear. 

I came to Brandeis from my semester in London where I cooked for myself and had many gluten-free options available to me everywhere I went. Even the Starbucks in the U.K. had a gluten-free sandwich option. I frequented cafes that had gluten-free pastries and dedicated gluten-free restaurants and bakeries and lived in the “Free From” section of Marks & Spencer. I still dream about the spinach and ricotta gluten-free ravioli… 

Even before living in London for a semester, my home in New Hampshire was a designated gluten-free safe space. My mom can’t eat gluten and we found out around the same time that we both had the celiac gene. Also there are a few different local businesses in my town that make gluten-free and vegan baked goods (muffins, donuts, cookies, whoopie pies, pizza crust), we had it almost all places we went. But living at Brandeis is an entirely different story. Gluten-free and vegetarian options rarely overlap in the dining halls on campus. So many nights last year I would be in line in the vegan section of Usdan, unknowingly waiting for a seitan (gluten) based vegetarian meal. I know it is hard to accommodate everyone on campus, but it is so insanely frustrating to be hungry and have to settle for a depressing salad—sometimes without dressing because of soy sauce bases—or lentils and vegetables every single day. 

With the implementation of the Bite app last year, a whole other host of issues was created for people with gluten intolerances or celiac disease. Countless times I would order a sandwich on gluten-free bread and get to Louis’ Deli to find out that either they couldn’t find the gluten-free bread, or they were out of it. The frustration I would feel when leaving Usdan with a garden salad and an apple when I was craving a BLT was immeasurable when I had four classes a day sophomore year. Complaining about this seems so pointless and privileged but at a four-year university where we spend tens of thousands of dollars a semester to eat, live and learn on campus, Brandeis should put some more effort into their allergen accommodations. Even at the C-Store where there are many gluten-free options available, they always seem to be far more expensive than their glutenous counterparts—which is a worldwide issue everywhere (except Italy)! I don’t want to have to spend $40 on a few snacks just to prevent myself from bloating three times my size and running to the bathroom during class—kind of seems like an unfair system, right? Especially when we don’t choose our allergies. Around six to seven percent of the US population has gluten sensitivities or allergies. That is around six to seven percent of Brandeis’ non-international population that is suffering at the hands of Brandeis’ and Sodexo’s failures to understand their needs. 

Gluten-sensitive Brandeis students see the cold, sauceless gluten free pasta in the dining halls that is presented almost for show. We see the unappetizing options given to us and we just deal with it. This year I was eager to move to Grad so I could have the smaller meal block plans. I enjoy being able to dictate if I am going to eat a well balanced meal instead of the over-consumption of roasted vegetables that would be inevitable for me when eating in the dining halls. Being able to feed myself has given me the freedom to actually enjoy eating again and not just feel burdened by hunger while on campus. But gluten-sensitive underclassmen continue to suffer at the hands of the dining halls and their incompetence. 

Students with allergies must be given more palatable options and more balanced meal options at Brandeis University.

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