Approximately 30 students have reported concerns about gluten, a protein that generally appears in processed wheat, to an on-campus dietician formerly employed at Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall, but it’s likely that others are also affected by Celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
“I didn’t bother talking to the dietician at the school because the only thing she could have done for me is give me a key to the gluten-free area [at Leo's],” Sara Ainsworth (SFS ’14) wrote in an email.
In the year since Aramark, which operates Leo’s, introduced gluten-free products in the lower lever of the dining hall, students with gluten intolerances have been underwhelmed by the offerings.
“While I admire their efforts in making a gluten-free area, it’s not enough. There needs to be more labeling because gluten is sneaky,” Ainsworth wrote.
Discouraged by the limited options and a fear of cross-contamination, Jillian Ugol (MSB, ’12) hosted a meeting with other gluten-intolerant students in her on-campus apartment in late February. During its second meeting on Monday, the group shared its frustrations about dining on campus.
“[The gluten-free area is] stocked about 50 percent of the time,” Ugol said.
Carly Silverwood (MSB ’14), a marketing intern for Udi’s Healthy Foods, a company that sells gluten-free products, founded the group earlier this semester to build support for and promote awareness about Celiac disease. Udi’s plans to help; during Georgetown’s upcoming Relay for Life event, a company representative will be on-hand to distribute information about gluten.
“I think that we can effect positive change for students who are on the [gluten-free] diet,” Silverwood wrote in an email.
The group also plans to present their ideas to Greg Bibb, a Leo’s employee who manages the dining hall’s gluten-free options. According to Ugol, changes are necessary because the need for gluten-free products remains high.
“Two out of three times I’ve gone to the Tombs, they’ve been out of gluten-free beer, and they constantly restock,” she said. “There is a demand.”
The group’s other suggestions at Monday’s meeting included proper refrigeration of gluten-free products, regular stocking of the fridge to ensure availability of specified gluten free items, and a proposed weekly gluten free dish at Leo’s vegetarian bar. Silverwood emphasized that cross contamination is a constant risk at Leo’s — even when gluten-free products are being used — because of widely-used cooking tools and utensils.
The group also considered other ways to raise awareness on campus. Merav Levkowitz (SFS ’11), a student who attended the meeting, suggested that they petition the Corp to label its gluten-free products, “to raise a friendly hand.”
But others, such as Caroline Cotto (NHS ’14), a member of Georgetown Gastronomes who did not attend the meeting, believe that changes in the dining hall are a priority.
“The gluten-free fridge and the few loaves of gluten-free bread in Leo’s don’t cut it,” she said.
Photo: Max Blodgett