From May, 2015
By Nicola Brown
Photo by Matthew Witt
Following a gluten free diet at UChicago has just gotten easier. With the implementation of the new, certified Gluten Free Station at Cathey Dining Commons, students and staff who suffer from Celiac Disease or are otherwise gluten intolerant have a way to ensure they can eat safely. Before this year, they had to be very careful about choosing food in the dining halls and worrying about the possibility of cross contamination.
The station was created with the help of the Celiac Disease Center at UCMC and the Gluten Intolerance Group, as well as using input from student dining committees, who voiced the need for more gluten free options. It started as a Mongolian grill serving non-gluten free food in Pierce, but was moved to Cathey at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year and was the most logical choice to create a station dedicated entirely to gluten free meals. Its creation makes UChicago the first college campus in the nation to have a station certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Gluten-Free Food Service Accreditation Program.
“It brings a smile to my face to be able to feed kids who are allergic to certain things,” says Tim Andrews, the chef who now cooks for the Gluten Free Station. “To be able to give them what everyone else has, to get them full, to give them the energy they need to go to class, that really makes my day.”
Andrews has been working at UChicago Dining for 16 years and says that switching to the Gluten Free Station offers a more one-on-one experience between him and the students, but that it also requires a little more vigilance. He will not serve students who already have food from other stations on their tray, to eliminate any possibility of cross contamination.
The Gluten Free station comes complete with its own purple-handled cookware, separate food storage and china, and dedicated staff. They do everything they can to maintain the integrity of the station, including daily tests to make sure that the parts per million of gluten are within acceptable levels.
This is in keeping with UChicago Dining’s values, which aim to create a dining experience that makes all students feel safe, included, and welcome.
“Much like our students who keep kosher or observe halal, students who follow a gluten free diet really feel that that’s their home station and the place where they can feel the most safe,” says Stacey Brown, Assistant Director of Dining Operations.
Catherine Moresco, a third year student in the College studying computer science and physics, adds that the station has helped clear up any ambiguity in the information posted about the food served in the dining hall and made it safer for her to eat gluten free. Before, she would occasionally still get a reaction from food labeled as gluten free, but now she has an option that she feels she can trust.
“If there is no food that is marked as gluten free,” she says, “I know there will always be a fallback option so I don’t have to order out.”
In an effort to expand the program, UChicago Dining is on the lookout for new gluten free recipes to give students more diverse options and is also working out logistics so that every dining hall on campus can have its own station. Ultimately, dining at UChicago is about more than just eating, it’s about community. It’s about being able to sit with friends at the house table and talk without having to worry about the food.
“The house table is at the center of our residential dining experience,” Brown says. “It’s the most important thing and we want to make sure that everyone can be at their house table and enjoy that culture.”