Another day, another gluten-free college cafeteria. More than a dozen campus cafeterias across America are now dedicated gluten-free spaces to accommodate a growing number of students. They’re not all from the hoity-toity names you’d expect, either (coughOBERLINcough). Southern Methodist, Texas A&M, Baylor and the University of Tennessee are all hosts to new facilities that shun wheat. But should they?
According to a 2015 Gallup poll, approximately 21 percent of Americans are gluten intolerant or simply avoiding wheat products in general. A scant 1percent of Americans suffer from actual celiac disease. Here’s the thing, though: Eating, like many of our favorite daily human tasks, is way easier in college. “Functioning as a food allergy sufferer in the real world 101” can’t use this steep of a grading curve if students want to gain and retain applicable life skills. Colleges shouldn’t make this test easier.
Committing to a gluten-free lifestyle means being one’s own advocate, doing plenty of research and occasionally making a consequence-carrying food mistake. Having easy access to a wheat-free dining hall circumvents all of that, removing the incentive to learn those lessons. A gluten-free college cafeteria will certainly be the last dedicated allergy-friendly eatery students will find that’s close and cheap enough to eat in every day. They won’t be charged an extra $2 for Udi’s, encounter rolled eyes in response to flour-related inquiries or have wheat included mistakenly (or intentionally) in their order. It’s a far cry from reality.
Finally, what about other common allergies? Who’s pouring funds into a dedicated dairy-free cafeteria? What about a nut-free cafeteria? Shellfish? One that doesn’t serve any processed foods, or is LEED Platinum certified and produces zero waste? Gluten-free products are a multibillion-dollar industry, but does that mean they deserve their own place on campus simply due to supply and demand?