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Tough going, but aid available to UI students with food allergies

BY CAITLIN LOMBARDO | APRIL 08, 2009 7:30 AM

Since she was a child, UI sophomore Kristin Langhammer hasn’t been able to drink milk.

So when she began looking at colleges, the UI Food Service made her choice easier — it was willing to find her a milk-free menu.

“The Food Service is one reason I chose to come here,” Langhammer said. “Some of the cooks in Burge know who I am and will make a special meal.”

Langhammer is not alone.

A number of UI students face common food allergies — eggs, nuts, seafood, and dairy products. For many of them, finding foods without gluten or dairy can be difficult.

But despite having few options in the dining halls, all students living in residence halls are required to purchase a minimum of 10 meals per week — costing $2,210 for an academic year — unless they live in Mayflower. Though Mayflower rooms are equipped with kitchens, residents are still required to purchase five meals per week at $1,115.

UI junior Lisa Vanselow, who has celiac disease, said she never used all 10 of her weekly meals when she lived in Hillcrest as a freshman. While she resorted to eating the same meals each week, she never tried to get out of the contract.

“I ate chicken a lot, ice cream like every day, salad and fries and potatoes,” she said. “I didn’t complain about it, I just thought that’s the way it was.”

And there are no exceptions to the five-meal minimum, said Dicta Schoenfelder, the manager of contracts and assignments in University Housing.

“It depends on the allergy — if it’s something we can’t work out, we normally suggest they live at Mayflower,” she said.

The UI offers many resources, from dietitians to chefs and managers in the UI’s dining halls, to aid students with allergies in their quest for safe meals.

UI sophomore Shannon Evoy, who also has celiac disease, said she’s had a hard time finding a variety of options.

One in 133 Americans suffer from the disease, forcing them to eliminate gluten from their diet. Gluten is in most breads, pastas, and pastries.

For students with the disease, filling their stomachs can be costly. Gluten-free products in Iowa City are expensive, Evoy said, and her parents buy gluten-free food and send it to her.

“The dietitian on staff at Hillcrest was helpful in going through which foods they served had gluten,” she said. “However, that basically meant that I was lucky and had the choice of eating chicken or salad every day.”

Dining-staff members are prepared to aid students with allergies, said Anne Harkins, the manager of Burge Marketplace.

“Many students simply need to know what is in the food, and then they take care of it on their own,” she said. “For others with more severe allergies, we make them a separate meal, and they don’t even go through the buffet.”

This prevents cross-contamination among foods, which can cause severe or even fatal reactions, she said.

“People who are experiencing an anaphylactic reaction have hives or rash,” said Mary Beth Fasano, a UI clinical associate professor of internal medicine. “Sometimes they get some swelling of the lips, tongue and ears. You can have trouble breathing and coughing.”

At the IMU’s River Room, the most popular allergies are addressed, said Richard Geer, the IMU Food Service manager. The staff labels anything with nuts and has lactose-free options, he said.

At both Burge and Hillcrest, students can choose soy milk in place of cow’s milk, though they don’t have the option of more selective items, such as soy cheese pizza.

“Our marinara is allergen free, and our noodles, with the exception of egg noodles, are dairy-free,” Harkins said. “We serve that every day. Chicken, burgers — things such as that that we serve every day are all dairy-free.”


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