By Melissa Freund
While the Caf has recently been working to increase their awareness of students’ dietary needs, it remains nearly impossible for an individual living with Celiac Disease to take advantage of the dining services on campus.
“Right now, [the Caf is] unable to guarantee cross contamination with gluten products for students who have a gluten allergy,” John Race, community coordinator of Residence Life at Viterbo, told Lumen. However, “the Caf and the other dining locations have increased their awareness and offerings for not only gluten, but dairy and other food allergies,” Race continued. “Many gluten-free options are available every day and in the Caf there is a sign by the grill station that lists out all of the gluten-free options.”
“One crumb, or about 50 milligrams of gluten, is enough to cause intestinal damage,” Virginia Horth, an adjunct nutrition and dietetics instructor at Viterbo, who specializes in gluten disorders, told Lumen. Cross contamination is a large concern for affected individuals, as wheat particles can remain airborne for several hours, Horth explained. With the cafeteria on campus producing its own baked goods, it is nearly impossible to guarantee a completely gluten-free environment.
Recently, the prevalence of such allergies and disorders seems to be on the rise, leaving the general public wondering what is causing this increase. National Public Radio reported that close to 10 percent of preschoolers suffer from some sort of food allergy, a number that “has more than doubled over the past decade.” Although no exact cause has been pinpointed, it is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is playing a role in the increased prevalence.
One of the recently publicized food allergies that is on the rise is that of gluten. “I don’t know if a percentage of students is known, but I believe [the prevalence of gluten disorders] is on an up rise from conversations I have had with students,” Race stated. A protein found in wheat based products, gluten can cause a myriad of problems, ranging from an allergy to an intolerance, or the most detrimental of all, Celiac Disease.
Approximately, one in 133 people around the world suffers from Celiac Disease. This equals about one percent of the total population, Horth explained. Another 8-10 percent of the population is estimated to have some form of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
However, according to celiaccentral.org, as many as “83 percent of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.”
“It can take as many as 11 years to correctly diagnose an adult with Celiac Disease and eight years to diagnose a child,” Horth stated. This low diagnosis rate is often due to the wide range of symptoms that can be caused by the disease, which can affect the entire body.
“Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder, where the intestines cannot break down the gluten proteins,” Horth explained. As a result, the immune system begins to attack the GI tract. While Celiac Disease is most commonly known for causing a variety of digestion issues, other common symptoms include headaches, infertility and depression.
The only treatment for gluten sensitivity disorders is to implement a gluten-free diet, a change that can affect a person’s entire lifestyle, Horth stated.
Audra Fuchsel, a senior vocal performance major from Onalaska, Wis., has been living gluten-free since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease at the age of 15 and she knows how difficult it can be to implement a gluten-free diet.
Due to the lack of a support system, beyond that of her immediate family, Fuchsel explained that initially, “I found it very hard to settle into my new lifestyle,” at Viterbo.
“When I moved into the dorms my freshman year I struggled to find foods I could eat due to the Caf not being familiar with gluten-free cooking or foods,” Fuschel told Lumen. She explained that, in living so close to campus, “I was lucky” and “I ended up moving home due to my dietary needs,” while students who live farther from campus, do not have that option.
In an attempt to create a community and support system for students who are struggling with Celiac Disease, Fuchsel created the Celiac Disease Awareness club on campus during her sophomore year.
Although the club was not active during her junior year, in 2012-2013, Fuchsel is continuing to support increased awareness of the disease on campus, including making more gluten-free options available to students on campus.
“One of my biggest goals is to work with the Caf in creating a Celiac friendly environment,” Fuchsel stated, “as it would be a huge asset to our university.”
While still in the beginning stages of the planning process, Fuchsel explained that she is currently working with Viterbo’s Food Service Committee in hopes of achieving this goal.
While cross contamination cannot be completely prevented at this point, “if students are unsure of the ingredients in a dish, they can always ask dining staff,” Race said.