Options abound for LSU students with allergies

In both of LSU’s two dining halls — The 459 Commons and The 5 — entire sections of food are labeled “gluten-free.”

For such students as senior Ella Rose, of Shreveport, who has celiac disease, a digestive disorder aggravated by gluten, LSU’s campus dining halls’ accommodations make her life easier.

Gluten, commonly found in bread products, causes people with celiac disease to have symptoms ranging from vomiting to seizures, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rose said she was diagnosed with the disorder in August. It started with bad stomach aches and turned into a combination of fatigue, stomach pain and nausea when she would eat gluten-containing foods.

Her case is not uncommon.

The number of people diagnosed with celiac disease, or dangerous allergies to other foods, is rising because doctors today are able to test for many food allergies, according to David Heidke, resident district manager of LSU Dining.

As the number of those diagnosed increases, some universities may be failing to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that requires food services to make reasonable accommodations for students with food allergies, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The accommodation requirement came after students at Lesley University in 2009 filed a federal complaint, stating the university would not make adjustments for food allergies. In December, the Justice Department declared Lesley University would have to comply.

LSU Dining produces numerous gluten-free bread products with special ovens in each of its two student dining halls and stocks an extensive supply of gluten-free cereals in marked areas.

LSU Dining has also refrained from using peanut oil while cooking “for years,” said Briggitte Mosley, LSU Dining dietician.

The foods that contain peanuts are labeled, Mosley said. When students with peanut allergies come into contact with peanuts, they can experience symptoms from swelling faces to anaphylactic shock.

“We try to make everything clear and distinct,” she said.

Heidke said accommodating students with food allergies has been easier in recent years because of new equipment, such as the gluten-free ovens.

“As it’s become available for us from suppliers, it’s very easy for us to meet students’ needs,” Heidke said.

At such other on-campus eateries as LSU Faculty Club Inc., waiters and chefs communicate to make sure patrons are informed as to what dishes contain, Heidke added.

Students with allergies so sensitive that being near peanuts or gluten causes them physical distress could be relieved of their obligation to purchase a meal plan while living on campus, Mosley said.

Gluten and peanut allergies are the only afflictions LSU Dining accommodates.

For students such as senior Mallory Gilbert, who is allergic to tomatoes, and Student Government President Taylor Cox, who is allergic to almonds and other nuts, paying attention to what they eat and constantly asking questions are part of their daily routine.

Gilbert said she basically still eats what she wants when at the dining halls but knows what to avoid.

Cox said he often asks about ingredients before eating certain foods.

Students with similar allergies do not usually have problems in the dining halls, Heidke said. “By the time they’re in college, they know what they can and can’t eat.”

Overall, Rose said she believes LSU Dining fulfills its obligation to allergy-ridden students.

“There are always options,” she said. “That’s the best thing for me. I know there’s always something I can eat.”