Monday, September 2, 2013

Gluten Free Cafeteria Grub

Everyone fears something. Spiders, heights, or in Harry Potter's case, the-man-who-shall-not-be-named. For me, though, ever since my celiac disease diagnosis, I've feared the one thing I used to love: food. So my first venture into PLNU's cafeteria was more than just a lunch. It was an expedition.

My cafeteria...dun dun DUN!
Now, I've already mentioned in some of my other posts that I've talked to the main chef about my needs and the options this cafeteria offers. Basically: the salad bar and the gluten free, shellfish free, lactose free section tucked in the corner of the kitchen.

Before I entered the cafeteria, I my hands started sweating when I thought about the salad situation. Since I walked out of the doctor's office with "celiacs" stamped on my forehead, I've lived like a cow: chewing grass, lettuce, and spinach at least once a day. You can imagine how high I jumped when I finally spotted the salad bar. Separate baskets, bottled dressings, and not one crouton to spread any gluten cooties!

So, on my first day, I ransacked the salad bar first and beelined towards the fruit. As I twisted past the crowds of college kids filling the cafeteria, each arm weighed down with plates of pizza, pasta, bread, and the rare vegetable, my list of "safe" foods danced through my mind. Fruit, potatoes, salad, vegetables...they echoed in my head like an annoying kindergarten song.

My first cafeteria meal...
When I walked into the cafeteria that night, though, I paused in my tracks and almost caused a traffic jam behind me. Even with the throng of kids, I could see the gluten free section just fine. And it was entirely nothing-unless-you're-craving-some-metal-pans bare. I almost marched out of there, too frustrated to bother. Except, my stomach was growling, dang it, and I wasn't trudging across the campus, up the hill, and down five flights of stairs without cramming my face with something gluten free and delicious!

So, I asked the server, who asked their supervisor, who asked the main chef where the gluten free dinners were hiding. Basically, I just stood awkwardly, my empty plate shining like a beacon in the cafeteria, shouting, "Weirdo! Picky eater! Go around!" Which people did - go around me that is. And then he reappeared, promising that the baked chicken, sliced potatoes, and steamed veggie dinner was certified gluten free. For a second, I kept standing, the nausea of worry (What if the food's toxic? What if he's wrong? What if that plate of grub glutens two days before classes start?) almost kicking my hunger to the gluten-free curb. But, sometimes, as I'm learning, we have to take (cautious) risks. If I'm ever to have a semi-normal dietary life, I need to trust the chef. If he says that delicious brownie is gluten free, I've gotta chomp that sucker down until a zombified week of stomach pain proves him wrong

My "risky" dinner

I dug in and haven't stopped since.

This isn't to mean that eating gluten free at the cafeteria is easy. I just devoured my third meal in the caf, lunch, and it's always an adventure. Sometimes, I don't like what they offer (steamed carrots - yuck!) Sometimes they throw pieces of a regular meal at us and we end up with a plate of mismatched cousins. Today, for instance, mexican rice, beans, corn, and baby potatoes ruled over the gluten free section. No tortillas, no chicken. No burrito. With a side salad and a slice of watermelon, though, my taste buds liked it just fine.

Mismatched and delicious!
When I entered the cafeteria for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. After two days of grazing the cafe, now at least I know that I can survive! The kitchen could offer more proteins, more variety, and more knowedlgable staff. And, as my friend once said, I could take advantage of my "special" self and reign over the cafeteria kitchen with a gluten free hammer. For now, though, I'm happy. I can eat, I can socialize while eating, and I can avoid the gluten-filled landmines around every cafeteria.

Maybe food isn't so scary after all.


What are your cafeteria's gluten free options like? How do you eat gluten free in college? Comment below!

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