Sunday, September 1, 2013

College as a Celiac: My 2 Day Twisted Fairytale

Everyone has that fairytale version of college: the cool crowd you'll join, the classes you'll ace, and, of course, the food you'll stuff yourself with. As a girl with celiac disease, though, I knew my fairytale would be a little less than perfect. And, while these past two days have proved me right, I've discovered a plot twist: I'm alright with that.

My first gluten-breathing dragon sprayed me when, after a long three hour unpacking period, my family and I finally headed for lunch. Hungry. Starving, actually. When I stepped outside and smelled the toasted buns and grilled meat, saw the assembly line of deli meat, salad, and brownies, I wanted more than anything to join the throng of students stacking their plates. After all, it looked delicious...except that the gluten-filled bread was acting a little too cozy with the meats and lettuce for my taste. So we climbed the stairs, the hill, and the roads to reach the safety of the cafeteria. Only, safe wasn't exactly the best description. My choices: meats placed right next to breads, salad with croutons, or fruit.

As I've told before, though, in college you have to be your own advocate. So we "advocated" rather loudly until Chef Urs, the main PLNU cook, finally met with us inside the cafeteria. My stomach grumbling in the background, he gave the grand tour (this is where the food isn't, but will be), the golden ticket (a card with his personal phone number to order ahead), and a promise to make my tummy as happy as possible. In a rather anticlimatic end to this adventure, I devoured the leftover homemade gluten free pizza I stashed in my dorm fridge hours before while my parents chowed on sandwiches from the line.

Always bring food from home just in case!

I did eventually, however, get to try PLNU's gluten free grub. The cafeteria isn't open until tomorrow because parents are still roaming the halls, so instead the school serves food in twenty buffet lines outside. Picking out kids with food allergies is pretty easy: just look for the loners passing all the tables until they finally reach the line in the back where all the gluten free, lactose intolerant, and vegan/vegetarian meals are stashed. Splitting up from my friends to grab my own food? Talk about embarassing! But the meals were good. Not exactly restaurant-worthy, but fingerlickin'. Even better, Chef Urs mimicked the regular menu as closely as possible: on spagehetti night, we chowed on rice lasangna and when we packed tacos with chicken, rice and peppers, others munched on burritos. The best part, though? Meeting the other kids who were gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, or suffered food allergies.

My chicken tacos with rice and beans

I love my friends who chow down on everything in sight, but people who can relate, and I mean the my-stomach-explodes-after-that-food-too kinda relate, make living with celiac disease so much easier. During the ice cream social last night, when I stood empty-handed compared to everyone else's heaping bowls of Ben-and-Jerry's, everyone asked me why I didn't eat. I'm already skinny - why watch my weight? What's an ice cream social without ice cream? Except for one girl - Kelly - who is gluten intolerant and avoids dairy, just like me. Instead of indulging in ice cream, we swapped stories of the best gluten free bakeries nearby, our favorite GF foods, and how we both plan to survive in college.

At the same time, though, like I've always said, celiac disease is not going to limit my life. It can limit my food choices, but not my friends, my classes, or my social calendar. Maybe that's why I grabbed my jacket when, at ten thirty at night, my RA called out, "Burrito run!"

Technically, I've been an official Point Loma Sealion since my dad drove our overstuffed van past the gate and onto campus. Technically, I've been an actual college freshman since orientation - a deadly combination of academic speeches, "get aquainted" parties, and religious events that add up to 12 hour days - began. And yet, the whole "I'm a college kid" didn't hit me until that night. It didn't hit me until, with a handful of girls squished up beside, under, and on top of me, we ditched campus and headed to Adalberto's for our first midnight burrito run.

Burrito runs are a staple at Point Loma and I could definitely tell. Even though the place is nothing more than a small, slightly worn shop tucked in the corner of a group of stores, it was packed with PLNU students at 10:30 that night. Of course, with all of the stress and dietary changes that hitchiked with college, I didn't actually order a "midnight burrito." And yet, as I sat around sipping my water and drooling over the piles of carne asada nachos and fries, shrimp burritos, and, most well known, the french-fry stuffed California burrito, I felt at peace. Would I have liked a peice of that? Heck yeah! Did having to turn down offers to share a delicious wrap ruin my night? Heck no!

I drooled over this so hard...
Instead of soaking in grease and fat, I soaked in the atmosphere. I chuckled at the hoards of PLNU boys with burritos in one hand and trouble in the other horsing around at the plastic table across the aisle; I looked at the girls whose butts and legs and elbows had poked me in the ribs as we squeezed enough people in one sedan to match (or even beat) a clown-car routine at the circus. My RA, Sarah, took pictures of all of us perched at the tables - mismatched teens suddenly tied together by the numbers posted on dorm doors - and my smile is genuine. I went on the burrito run not to eat, but to socialize and embrace the lifestyle of a PLNU college student.

My life in college will never be a fairytale with perfectly packaged gluten free meals waiting to save the day. And that's okay. I can socialize. I can have fun. I belong. Just two days in, I have met amazing people, listened to life-changing speeches, and realized my calling as a PLNU Sealion. And there's no fairytale - celiac disease included - better than that.

Two days down and so many more to enjoy!


Are you a celiac in college? How is your food situation? Did it get better with time? Comment below!

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