Do we cater for coeliacs in UCD? Alison Lee investigates.
Most people have a vague idea of what coeliac disease is – but few people know the facts relating to this autoimmune condition. Defined as “a persistant abnormal immunological reaction to dietary gluten”, coeliac disease means that gluten (a protein found in wheat, oats, barley and rye) damages the intestinal
lining, resulting in nutrients not being absorbed properly. Therefore, people who are susceptible to this condition can suffer from gastrointestinal problems, anaemia, weight loss and mouth ulcers if they don’t stick to a strict gluten-free diet.
This is easier said than done, especially when eating out. Thanks to European Union legislation, all foods you buy in the supermarket are clearly labelled, so it’s easy to tell what’s gluten-free. But in a restaurant or café, requesting a gluten-free option can be complicated.
Imagine holding up a long noisy lunch queue anywhere on campus, trying to explain at the top of your voice what ‘gluten-free’ means to a stressed restaurant worker who may have never head the phrase before. You can’t blame some coeliacs for simply avoiding buying food on campus at all.
Communication difficulties aren’t the only obstacle to getting served a gluten-free meal. Many eateries buy in mass-produced foods like chips, chicken curry, and burgers – it’s unlikely that the ingredients of these dishes are made obvious. Even if they were, contamination of gluten-free foods can easily happen in a restaurant kitchen. For instance, it’s unsafe for a coeliac to eat chips cooked in the same oil as breaded chicken.
While researching this article, Otwo discovered that some cafes on campus hardly cater for coeliacs at all. The salads in Nine One One all contain croutons or pasta – a no-no for coeliacs. In the Centre Club, staff didn’t recognise the term ‘gluten-free’. Salads were the only coeliac-friendly option in Elements.
And most places only offer flour-based snacks like pastries, sandwiches, and wraps.
But it’s not all bad news: The main restaurant provides a daily gluten-free special. Also, the Arts Café offers a wide rage of gluten-free snacks like fruit, nuts, cheese, and rice cakes. The trick lies in knowing where to look.
Practical solutions could include educating restaurant workers about coeliac disease, ensuring the availiability of more gluten-free foods, or providing microwaves on campus so coeliacs could prepare their own food. But all these suggestions are fraught with complications. Maybe the key way to address the problem could simply involve heightening public awareness of what ‘gluten-free’ and ‘coeliac’ actually mean.
This is something the students could work towards, in conjuction with on-campus restaurants
and of course coeliacs themselves. The managers of the various restaurants and shops on campus would be willing to provide gluten-free options if they knew demand were there. Most people are more than happy to help – but it’s also up to coeliacs to make their voices heard.