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Gluten Intolerance And College Meal Plan -- Your Two Cents And Experience Needed

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I'd like some help figuring out what to do next in this complicated situation that I've found myself in involving my college's meal plan. I go to school at a small liberal arts college that has literally changed my life and that I love. However, the dining hall system is outdated and crude. "Gluten intolerance" is a foreign phrase to almost everyone involved. My college is small and community orientated. I love being part of the community but, living on campus means that I am forced to pay an unreasonable amount of money for meal plan. The meal plan system doesn't consider my gi at all.

Briefly, my frustrating experience with getting the meal plan system to stop poisoning me:

I am gluten intolerant. The dining hall doesn't consider gi (gluten intolerant) people when they make meals, they often don't label things that have gluten in them, when they do provide labels they are often wrong, and, after accidentally eating gluten in things that weren't labeled, I am extremely nervous about eating in the dhall. I found out that I was gi in the beginning of the semester and asked the dean of students to help get me off of meal plan (I had a note from a doctor). He told me to talk to the college's wonderful nurse practicioner and ask for a medical excuse. I did, but because I don't have the most severe form of gi, Celiacs, she was unable to excuse me. She was under the impression that the dining hall was labeling things. When I told her it wasn't she suggested I talk to the head dining hall guy about it. He intimidates me, I've seen him be verbally abusive and I'm not willing to put myself in his line of fire. Maybe this is silly (because heis probably a very nice guy) but it doesn't excuse the dining hall. I felt like I had hit the end of the line. I was frustrated. Now it's the end of the semester and my frustrations with the dining hall are higher then ever. I'm tired of getting sick because the dining hall refuses to consider my medical issue, I'm tired of being afraid that I'll be hurt by what I eat.

A friend suggested that I talk to the head financial officer. I wrote him a letter (shown below) and asked to meet with him. After a reminder e-mail he agreed to meet me. He was very polite and listened to me. He mentioned that college is accepting proposals for a new meal plan provider and said that things will get better next semester. I was asking for three things 1) a partial refund 2) ability to be off of meal plan next semester 3) changes for other gi students who are still on meal plan. Great, he vaguely assured that things would be different, request three sort-of-almost met. However, I'm still required to pay money to the system that has seriously failed me and frequently made me ill. He suggested we talk about it in the beginning of next semester, after I've already paid for meal plan in full and after I've agreed to live in campus housing. Partial refund is not possible, he says, because he doesn't want to start a slippery slope. Apparently, students with unmet medical needs requesting partial refunds because they're had to buy their own food for almost every meal is an unacceptable slippery slope. I would be dissatisfied with any service I bought that ignored my medical needs and made me ill on a regular basis, I'm shocked that this is happening in an academic institution. The most shocking thing is that the college refuses to correct the immediate problem.

The letter I wrote to the head financial officer (names removed)

I’m writing as a concerned student who has had difficultly with meal plan in hopes that you’ll consider my suggestions and make changes. I am also requesting a partial refund of the money I’ve paid for meal plan this semester and the option of being off meal plan next semester.

Let me explain the issues I’ve had with the dining hall and how I’ve tried to correct them. I was recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance which means that I get very ill if I eat anything that contains gluten such as flour, barley, etc. Earlier in the semester I asked the Dean of Students if I could be off of meal plan because it would be unfair to expect the dining hall to cater to my auto-immune disease. He referred me to the nurse practicioner who, after testing, discovered that I do not have the severe form of gluten intolerance called Celiac. Since I didn’t have Celiac she could not give me a medical excuse to be off meal plan but reminded me that the dining hall is suppose to be labeling items that are gluten free. She then suggested that we talk to the head dining hall guy about labeling gluten free food. I declined. Since no one was able to get me off meal plan I tried to eat gluten free in the dining hall. This has been extremely frustrating.

Labeling

The dining hall rarely labels foods gluten free. When they do, the labels are often incorrect. This is problematic because gluten is often a small ingredient in complex foods and can be hidden. For example, there was a vegetable dish that had soy sauce in it and was labeled gluten free. Surprisingly, soy cause contains wheat so it is not gluten free. I have accidently eaten gluten by eating the crispy rice cereal that, I later learned, contains barley malt.

If I ingest gluten I am ill for about four hours. For those four hours I am lethargic and have diarrhea. Eating gluten also causes damage to my intestinal lining. Not only is this painful but it wastes time that I need to do work. I have accidentally eaten gluten at the dining hall several times because there were no labels. If I eat gluten before an outdoor trip I seriously risk my own safety and that of my participants (I run trips for the Outdoor Program).

Aside from issues about gluten being labeled I find it upsetting that there are no food ingredient labels. This upsets me because it is very hard to find out exactly what you are eating without these labels. More concerning, there are people here who have severe allergies to common ingredients (potatoes, shellfish, peanut butter) and need to know what they’re eating to feel safe.

Communication

I find the head dining hall guy unapproachable. I have seen him verbally abuse a student and he frequently takes suggestions/complaints as personal attacks. I’m afraid that if I talked to him he wouldn’t listen or would be verbally abusive to me. I don’t mean to attack him, he has been a great help with getting food for Broomball. However, I did not want to meet with him and Re because of his attitude.

Consideration

The dining hall knows that gluten free people have to pay for meals yet does not seem to take them into consideration when making meals. Often my options at lunch are the salad bar or cold meat and cheese. The repetition is frustrating but would be okay if I wasn’t forced to pay full price for meals that I mostly can’t eat. Some extreme examples of this are pizza and pasta days. I am often unable to eat most of the foods during lunch and dinner. I worry that I’m not getting enough variety in my diet and may be missing important vitamins, minerals or macronutrients ratios. Since my options are so limited, I’ve had to buy gluten free food to supplement my diet. It is ridiculous that I am paying so much for meal plan and buying half of the food I eat elsewhere.

Continental Breakfast

I run paddling trips for the Outdoor Program mostly on Saturday and Sunday. We almost always leave before brunch. Although the student handbook says that the dining hall offers a continental breakfast in the morning this is often not the case. When there is a continental breakfast it consists of things I can’t eat. When there is no continental breakfast I worry about my participants. It is unsafe for them to not eat before going on these trips.

I’m asking for a partial refund because I’ve had to buy my own food. Often there is almost no food for me to eat, weekends before Outdoor Program trips there is no food for me to eat and I am seriously afraid that I’ll ingest gluten because of missing or incorrect labeling. I should not have to pay for food that I cannot eat or am afraid to eat.

Please, either change meal plan so that it accommodates gluten free people or let me get off of it.

I’d love to talk more about this. Maybe we can meet?

What would you do?

I should add that other students have had serious issues with their allergies and intolerances not being considered and we've all gotten no where. I'm currently talking to a committee of students that regularly meets with the dining hall to try to improve things as well as to the dean of students. When I told my celiac mother about the issue she wrote a rather vehement (although a little confusing) letter to the dean and the nurse P. I don't know what else I can do I feel like I'm at the end of the road though. I'm trying not to let emotions get in the way here but I am very disappointed in that my community is acting so naive and not considering the needs of many of it's members.

I'd like to know what you would suggest I do next?

What experiences have you had in similar situations?

Thanks for taking the time to read this and any help is very appreciated

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This is going to be short and sweet. You have DOCTORS ORDERS to follow the diet. Go talk to the folks at the Disability office. The school needs to either safely feed you or let you opt out of the plan, period. You are covered under the Disability Act.

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It seems to me, that you are doing a pretty good job of trying to change some of the administrative issues involved. Which is a great step, not only for yourself but for other people who are celiac/gluten intolerant.

Unfortunately those things wont help you RIGHT NOW. Does your meal plan allow you to purchase items from the convienance stores on campus? Fresh fruit, plain yogurt, bagged nuts and snacks? Do you have space in your dorm to store non-perishable (maybe I should say not refridgerable) food items? If so, it might be a good idea to stock up on gluten-free snacks and have a fruit bowl. I know some dorms have minifridges. Which are handy. Does yours? Cleaning dishes and stuff in the bathroom is pretty silly, but it does the job.

Is your meal plan limited to prepared meals from the cafeteria?

Would it be possible to see a doctor and get a prescription page stating that you have a gluten intolerance and cannot under any circumstance ingest it, lest you become ill and less effective in the learning process? Even if it's not celiac, ingesting gluten does severely hamper your quality of life and you do have a RIGHT to be healthy. I am very sorry that the administration would not just relent and allow you a refund. I don't really understand that.

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Wow - sounds like you attend the college I work at.. small, private school which requires students to purchase a meal plan. I am an admissions counselor and worked with a Celiac student last year (before I was even diagnosed - it was the first I had heard of the disease actually!).

First - be very, very direct. Jeopardizing your health is NOT acceptable. If they cannot accomodate your needs they should let you off the meal plan. Even if they attempt to provide options but you still feel apprehensive you should be let off the meal plan. Do not settle. I promise you they do not want to lose a student over the cost of a meal plan.

Write a letter to your the school's president. Go to his or her office. Do what you can to get their attention. I promise you that if a president gets involved --things will change!

Talk to other students. You reference that others with allergies have had similar problems. Form a task force or coalition with those students. Create a petition. Do what you have to do to show that the school may seriously suffer if they do not make changes to meet the needs of their students.

Gather any support from faculty and staff on campus. Let people know what is happening. Small schools like to squash issues before too many people get involved.

In the meantime, help your dining services director/VP of Student Life with ideas on how to create a gluten-free dining plan. For instance, maybe they can keep a variety of frozen gluten free meals on hand for you. They all can keep a loaf of gluten-free bread and cereal on hand for you and other gluten-free students. These changes are relatively simple and can make a big difference if you are forced to stay on the meal plan.

I am going to send you a message with my e-mail address. Feel free to contact me if you need any help whatsoever.

Good luck! I hope everything works out. Fight for your right to be provided a healthy environment :)

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Ugh. That is a tough situation. I agree with both posters -- be diligent and stand your ground. In the meantime, can you afford to get food for yourself to eat in your dorm? That would be my remedial solution while you are working through this. Keep us posted. I go to a school that actually does make gluten-free food and works hard to provide it, but even so -- they got me. :( But I appreciate their efforts and most of the time I was fine.

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About the time you mentioned broomball, I definitely started wondering if you were on my campus. The complaints sound similar to what I was dealing with three months ago.

I don't know about you, but we don't have a disability office. To get anything done, I've had to go to the dean's, the head of dining services, the "chefs" in the dining hall, the health center, and then petition our food committee. I'm still not completely off the meal plan, but I can handle paying for 5 meals a week instead of all my meals a week.

I discussed it calmly and rationally with the health center first. Then I went to the chef. Then I went to dining services. And at the same time, I talked to the dean. When the idiots on the committee said, "Well, we just don't know...," I informed them that they keep poisoning me, that they've seen several people to the hospital in anaphylactic shock, and gave someone hoof and mouth disease. I told them that I would file a complaint if need be, both for general practices and because they were ignoring medical restrictions in direct defiance of the ADA.

I hope that helps.

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When I told my celiac mother about the issue she wrote a rather vehement (although a little confusing) letter to the dean and the nurse P.

Isn't there a good chance that you are celiac if your mother is? Most likely you didn't rely heavily on gluten foods if your mom is celiac. You could have just tested negative because of not ingesting huge amounts.

Whethere one is celiac or gluten intolerant, the symptoms can be the same. No one should be locked into a food plan if they cannot eat the food. I suggest the NP read up on gluten intolerance and become informed as to how serious gluten intolerance is. If only she could suffer from gluten intolerance for just one day, she'd be a whole lot more understanding.

I know you don't want to change colleges but I wonder what they would say if you tell them you want to transfer somewhere that can accomate your health issues.

Good luck!

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Hello,

Sorry you are going through all of this. Threatening to leave the school will probably do no good, sorry if this seems blunt, but the college isn't going to care about one student.

However, whether or not the college has a disability office, you can still find an ADA office in your area. Let the college know that if they don't work with you, you will be filing a complaint. You've tried being nice, and you are getting sick. No one should have to deal with that. And as previous posters have stated, you are covered under the ADA.

I hope you find a quick solution. Please let us know how everything turns out. :-)

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I'd like some help figuring out what to do next in this complicated situation that I've found myself in involving my college's meal plan. I go to school at a small liberal arts college that has literally changed my life and that I love. However, the dining hall system is outdated and crude. "Gluten intolerance" is a foreign phrase to almost everyone involved. My college is small and community orientated. I love being part of the community but, living on campus means that I am forced to pay an unreasonable amount of money for meal plan. The meal plan system doesn't consider my gi at all.

Briefly, my frustrating experience with getting the meal plan system to stop poisoning me:

I am gluten intolerant. The dining hall doesn't consider gi (gluten intolerant) people when they make meals, they often don't label things that have gluten in them, when they do provide labels they are often wrong, and, after accidentally eating gluten in things that weren't labeled, I am extremely nervous about eating in the dhall. I found out that I was gi in the beginning of the semester and asked the dean of students to help get me off of meal plan (I had a note from a doctor). He told me to talk to the college's wonderful nurse practicioner and ask for a medical excuse. I did, but because I don't have the most severe form of gi, Celiacs, she was unable to excuse me. She was under the impression that the dining hall was labeling things. When I told her it wasn't she suggested I talk to the head dining hall guy about it. He intimidates me, I've seen him be verbally abusive and I'm not willing to put myself in his line of fire. Maybe this is silly (because heis probably a very nice guy) but it doesn't excuse the dining hall. I felt like I had hit the end of the line. I was frustrated. Now it's the end of the semester and my frustrations with the dining hall are higher then ever. I'm tired of getting sick because the dining hall refuses to consider my medical issue, I'm tired of being afraid that I'll be hurt by what I eat.

A friend suggested that I talk to the head financial officer. I wrote him a letter (shown below) and asked to meet with him. After a reminder e-mail he agreed to meet me. He was very polite and listened to me. He mentioned that college is accepting proposals for a new meal plan provider and said that things will get better next semester. I was asking for three things 1) a partial refund 2) ability to be off of meal plan next semester 3) changes for other gi students who are still on meal plan. Great, he vaguely assured that things would be different, request three sort-of-almost met. However, I'm still required to pay money to the system that has seriously failed me and frequently made me ill. He suggested we talk about it in the beginning of next semester, after I've already paid for meal plan in full and after I've agreed to live in campus housing. Partial refund is not possible, he says, because he doesn't want to start a slippery slope. Apparently, students with unmet medical needs requesting partial refunds because they're had to buy their own food for almost every meal is an unacceptable slippery slope. I would be dissatisfied with any service I bought that ignored my medical needs and made me ill on a regular basis, I'm shocked that this is happening in an academic institution. The most shocking thing is that the college refuses to correct the immediate problem.

The letter I wrote to the head financial officer (names removed)

I

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This is an interesting thought. Are gi people covered under the Disability Act, I'll talk to the coordinator tomorrow.

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The funny thing is that I have AN ENTIRE KITCHEN in my dorm suite. I share a kitchen with one other person and still can't be off meal plan. I've had to buy a lot of my own foods, which is why I was asking for a refund. You're right though, it's better to spend the dough then be ill.

Also, I have a doctor's note but since the school doctor (who is an amazing person) won't allow me to get off meal plan. I think there is a misunderstadning between what the Dr. thinks the meal plan system is doing (like labeling things) and what it is actually doing.

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What school do you go to that provides gluten-free food? We should make a list of schools that provide decent gluten-free options. If I was going to school again I'd definitely look into that.

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'Food Committee,' do we go to the same college? I just contacted my college's food committee and they said they are willing to work with me. Our fc is a group of students/staff/faculty who are elected to the group every semester or so. Hopefully that will get somewhere but they don't meet until next semester.

It's really shocking and deeply upsetting that this is an issue for other students are other colleges (I think you go to another college). I just don't get the logic that convinces someone that one student's meager money is needed so much so that they would justify poisoning that student. I'm sorry you had to deal with that.

I'm interested in this link between the ADA and gi, I'll be talking to our coordinator shortly.

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I'll keep you posted. Our school has an ADA coordinator so I'm going to set up an apt with her and see if she is aware of the negligence.

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gluten-free pizza sounds delicious, I've never seen someone sell it. Thanks for the advice I am working with students so hopefully that'll go somewhere.

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NEXT QUESTION:

Can anyone show me sources that suggest that I am covered by the ADA in this situation? I'm only finding information covering students in primary schools. It would be appreciated, thank you!

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I feel your pain! I am trying to opt out of my required 15-meal/week plan (I'll be happy with 5 if they won't let me drop it altogether) for next semester, but administration won't allow it since the cafeteria "can accomodate me". "Accomodate" here means that they do provide a few gluten-free dishes and a fruit and salad bar. <_< Fortunately, the food service director is really receptive (his sister has Celiac) and most of the cooks are aware (I was introduced to each and every one when I met with the director). This semester, I don't have a fridge in my room so I've been dependent on the meat, veggies and fruits from the caf so I don't mind paying for the meal-plan. Next semester, however, I will have a fridge and will live right next door to the 'lounge' where I can cook my meals.

I have to admit that my financial aid and loans cover my meal-plan, but going into debt for the chance to grab a banana and some carrots does not sound appealing.

Good luck!

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Go in and talk to the doctor on campus again. Lay out exactly what is happening, how it's affecting you--because if your situation is anything like mine, you feel like hell with no way to fix it; yay for CC and mislabeling--and the fact that your doctor's orders from home need to be followed. Try to call a meeting with both him, the nurse prac, your college nutritionist or dietitian if ya'll have either, and the head of your health services if there is one. Explain your concerns coherently and with concrete information to back it up. That way, you can sway them to your side and they'll be allies when you go back to the food committee/dining services.

(Are you in Mass. for college, by any chance?)

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I feel your pain! I am trying to opt out of my required 15-meal/week plan (I'll be happy with 5 if they won't let me drop it altogether) for next semester, but administration won't allow it since the cafeteria "can accomodate me". "Accomodate" here means that they do provide a few gluten-free dishes and a fruit and salad bar. <_< Fortunately, the food service director is really receptive (his sister has Celiac) and most of the cooks are aware (I was introduced to each and every one when I met with the director). This semester, I don't have a fridge in my room so I've been dependent on the meat, veggies and fruits from the caf so I don't mind paying for the meal-plan. Next semester, however, I will have a fridge and will live right next door to the 'lounge' where I can cook my meals.

I have to admit that my financial aid and loans cover my meal-plan, but going into debt for the chance to grab a banana and some carrots does not sound appealing.

Good luck!

I'm on a 5 meal plan, and to be honest? The only reason they let me drop down that far is because I badgered them to death. This experience has definitely taught me that you can't accept "but really, we have x, y, and z--isn't that good enough?" when dining services cannot actually promise that they're taking all precautions to avoid CC.

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You could request a 504 plan. It's typically used for grade school aged children, but it can be used when you're in college, too. It would give you the legal backing to request gluten-free food or opt out of the meal plan.

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Did a bit of googling but much of the information that comes up is school/campus specific.

This link is specific to U of Washington but there are lots of good nuggets of info you could use for searching for your own college.

http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/equal_access_hrl.html

Excerpt:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. According to these laws, no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity. Housing programs must also comply with applicable state laws and federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This publication does not provide legal advice. Consult your campus legal counsel of ADA/504 compliance officer regarding relevant legislation. Consultation with your regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can also help clarify issues.

***

This link looks promising:

http://www.faancollegenetwork.org/faqs.php

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