Exactly one year ago, Carly Schreiber, a sophomore communication major, lay on the bathroom floor of Target throwing up and shaking, losing feeling in her arms and legs. She waited for an ambulance to show up and take her to the nearest hospital, not knowing what caused her body to act this way. Paramedics arrived and calmed her down, diagnosing her unusual behavior as a panic attack.
A week later she was eating dinner in the Richmond dining hall. A dining hall manager handed her a meal, as he did every day, and she realized her grilled cheese had been made with regular bread. Although regular wheat bread doesn't seem unusual to the average student, it sounds deathly to Schreiber. She has celiac disease, and realized that her "panic attack" a week earlier was actually her body responding to the wheat that the dining hall had been feeding her for two weeks. It was the one food item she hadn't let enter her body in two years.
According to www.celiac.com, celiac disease affects 3 million Americans. Celiac disease is permanent, and any consumption of wheat, malt, rye, barley, and oats leads to damage in the small intestines, and eventually to death. There has yet to be a cause detected for this disease, thus there is still no cure.
With approximately 30,000 students attending UB, some are bound to have diet restrictions, and CDS claims to meet the needs of students that aren't accustomed to eating on campus.
Over the past five years there has been a rise in students diagnosed with celiac disease, and Anita Hathaway, a dietician for CDS, works daily to ensure these students aren't struggling while planning out their meals.
"The first thing we do when we find out a student [with celiac disease] wants to come [to UB] is set up a meeting with the student and usually their parents in order to establish a relationship with them," Hathaway said. "We want them to be able to trust us and feel comfortable requesting certain foods."
With only approximately 25 students registered through the school as gluten free (there are others that don't register through the school because they live off-campus), Hathaway has the time to give each one a good amount of attention and help. She personally emails them occasionally to ensure that they are satisfied with CDS' services. She rarely gets complaints.
Hathaway and dining hall managers ask gluten-free students for food requests, and she purchases ingredients from Wegmans weekly. There is always a section in the corner of dining halls dedicated to the gluten free students, allowing them to safely eat snacks without fear of cross-contamination.
According to Hathaway, there was an incident where a gluten free student was feeling sick after eating meals at the dining hall. After investigating the situation and figuring out what could be the cause of her stomach pains, CDS realized that although the yogurt the girl was eating was gluten free, the machine was cross contaminated with the particles of ice cream cones. CDS took the steps needed in order to guarantee this did not happen again.
Hathaway admits that there are imperfections to the system and sometimes mistakes happen. However, the team works incredibly hard to keep students safe and hunger-free.
All meals that are made for those with celiac disease are cooked on separate kitchen appliances and the cooks use different utensils. Furthermore, everything is cleaned off in between uses, just to be extra cautious, and chefs attend seminars each year so they are informed about celiac disease and the importance of keeping clean and separating the gluten free food from the rest.
Hathaway believes having celiac disease is hardest for freshman students who are leaving home for the first time because they feel uncomfortable requesting food from the dining hall staff. She said it takes approximately one month before they are fully comfortable with, and create a good rapport with, the dining hall managers. Just as it is difficult for the students, parents struggle with sending their children away.
"Leaving the control in someone else's hands is hard," Hathaway said. "Special diets are important and it's scary sometimes to know that other people have control over your child's diet."
One of the main reasons Schreiber came to UB was its gluten free program, which she considers one of the best in the SUNY system. According to her, her parents would not let her attend a school that did not support her needs. She now lives off-campus and has the ability to cook her own meals. Aside from the one frightening event last year, she claims CDS was incredibly helpful with her transition.
Emma Starkman, a junior business major, was diagnosed with celiac disease four weeks ago. After two years of continuous stomachaches, she is happy that she finally knows how to prevent her pain. For a full year Starkman would eat and then have to immediately get into her bed and lie down until the sharp pains in her stomach passed – sometimes it took hours.
"The hardest part is going out to eat or eating on campus because I don't know how everything is made or what technically is gluten free," Starkman said. "I emailed a woman [in the CDS department] asking for places to eat and it wasn't helpful."
Starkman wishes that someone affiliated with the school would help her a little bit more because she receives most of her advice from friends and family, but she claims that Pistachio's on the second floor of the SU has been amazing. The chef follows a very specific procedure and the moment someone mentions "gluten free" the employees change their gloves and use a different set of appliances to cook. She also believes the people that work at Rachel's in The Commons are helpful with allergies.
Having to eat differently from everyone else is a difficult task and CDS does its best to help everyone. Every eatery on-campus has something gluten free available for students, and Sizzles, in the basement of the Ellicot Complex, provides an entire gluten free menu.
"Making a difference one plate at a time," is CDS' slogan, and the employees are doing all that they can to ensure the validity of the motto.