Living gluten-free in the Dordt Commons

Janelle Cammenga- Staff Writer

The clatter of silverware mingles with competing smells. Chatter fills the rooms in a steady murmur. A single voice competes with the hubbub, rising above the rest:

“Stir fry YOUR way!”

The Dordt Commons is full of food choices for all meals of the day. Students continually weave through the crowds, their plates stacked high with food of all varieties. But some students do not have the luxury of all these choices. Gluten-free students like sophomore Tori Webb have a different experience in the Commons.

At the beginning of her freshman year, Webb told her advisor she needed a gluten-free diet due to food allergies. Then she met with kitchen staff so both she and those involved would know what needed to be done.

“I would just go into the kitchen,” Webb said, “and they would make my meal and prepare it, or whatever was already on the line would be gluten-free.”

Dordt Dining executive chef Nick Lawrence manages the food for those with allergies. During Dining prep, kitchen staff remove food for those with allergies and box it up before it can come into contact with other food.

“All of the food we produce for those with an allergy is created separate from other food,” Lawrence said. “We use separate pans and utensils, [and the food is] cooked at different times.”

But Webb’s experience with the Commons was not entirely without issues.

“For the most part, my experience with the Commons has gone really well,” Webb said. “Still, there have been a couple of times I got severely sick.”

Most of her issues with Commons food dealt with cross-contamination: using a utensil in a dish containing gluten, then using the same utensil to prepare her food. One food incident involved Webb having to leave the light-board in the middle of a theatre production last spring so she could go to the hospital.

Lawrence and his crew resolved the issue and Webb did not hold it against the Commons, but she was upset that “they ended up not wanting to take responsibility.”

She also had issues with allergy signs on the line not always being accurate. Lawrence said, “I was aware of that situation, and we were working to correct that every day.” He also said that the purveyor changed several of the dishes partway through the year. The new dishes had new ingredients, making the signs incorrect. Staff corrected signs as they discovered the differences, but some dishes were missed.

“They’re usually really, really careful,” Webb said. “And after the hospital incident, they really cracked down on [procedures].”

As a junior, Webb no longer eats in the Commons. Instead, she opts to prepare her own food.

“I couldn’t afford to keep going to the hospital,” she said.

Sophomore Makeila Shortenhaus also ate gluten-free in the Commons last year. She appreciated the help that the kitchen staff gave her, especially their willingness to make gluten-free pasta for her.

“All gluten-free people understand that gluten-free food will never be up to par with ‘regular food,’” Shortenhaus said, “but it’s nice to have really good quality foods that are accessible to people with allergies.”

Shortenhaus did not have the same issues with food contamination that Webb did, but she said her options for food usually included the same meat-and-salad combination with occasional rice.

“The Grille was a lot better, in my opinion, for finding good, filling gluten-free options,” Shortenhaus said.

Lawrence encourages those with food allergies to come speak to him so they can make arrangements to best benefit those students. This way, he can recognize them when they visit the Commons and he’ll be better able to explain the specific options offered.

“While a student can make it through without talking to me,” he said, “they are missing out on food we prepare specifically for them.”

While the Commons already tries hard to provide food for those with gluten allergies, students note that there is room for improvement.

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