Food allergies: A student perspective


Hello? Do you have a gluten-free (GF) menu?”

A blank look registers across the cashier’s face. Her reply is a perplexed frown followed by, “What is gluten?”

Now while this has only occurred twice in my seven year gluten-free journey (and not on WCC territory), there are still people who don’t know the potential hazards of gluten or other allergy-inducing or inflammatory foods.

Food sensitivities can manifest in myriad ways. For some, they can be a root contributor of anxiety and depression. For me, they retaliate with unceasing acne, savagely dry skin, elevated temperature and itching in the extremities like my feet and hands.

Besides gluten, nightshade plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, spices, berries and coffee spike my allergies, though it took me nearly a lifetime to figure that out. Nightshades can also appear in certain aspirins, food preservatives and common household items.

They contain a chemical called salicylates, which acts as a defense mechanism against insects, disease and rot. This potent chemical, however, can cause bad effects within the human body akin to the ones I have experienced with gluten.

I also do not partake of dairy, soy, preservatives, a few select fruits and inflammatories (corn, sugar and all rices save for black aka forbidden rice, which is the only one of the rice family that has anti-inflammatory properties) for similar reasons. That may leave one to ask, “Well … what can you eat?”

That’s a good question, but perhaps more fitting is, “Where can I eat?”

On campus, there are several places to grab a meal in between classes: Uala Leaf Cafe, The Hub, TRiO, and the bookstore. But what options exist for people with food allergies or special dietary needs?

I found out that Uala Leaf Cafe makes a solid effort in this department. Its class menu suits many different types of eating and dietary styles.

This is while keeping in the spirit of the Blue Zones Project (BZP), which is a nationwide effort in pursuit of enriching and rejuvenating lives in communities across the country. One of the BZP’s goals is to put more health-savvy meals on American plates while still providing that zing of flavor.

I asked culinary program coordinator Daniel Swift if the Uala Leaf Cafe had ever served GF dishes on the menu, and he laid it all out for me.

“This is one area that we do not do a lot of,” he said. “We could do more in this area if the demand is there, certainly. To address this, a few made-to-order items would be great to explore … I just started here, and I am looking forward to getting to know our customers and what their needs and wants might be. Hopefully we can accommodate most of them.”

Like me, student Tracee Tengan has food allergies and has a hard time eating out because as she said, “There aren’t very many options.”

While she usually brings lunch and snacks from home, I asked her whether there have been times she has forgotten to bring food.

“Of course!” she said. “You know … hectic mornings, you don’t have time for it, you have to prioritize. And I’m just rushing in.”

On those days, she said, “I’ll suffer it out for the length of the day, like in class. So lethargic in class. I’m losing focus.”

I’ve had those days. However, while others can step out to a vending machine for a quick pick-me-up, for Tengan and I, that’s not an option.

Tengan also has a serious shellfish allergy that even an EpiPen can’t treat. So she must be that much more vigilant.

Odds are good that you don’t suffer allergies to the  degree some of us do, but going by what I’ve seen, we have a spectacular rotating campus menu for many to find food that satisfies and agrees with their bodies.

by Anthony Davis, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter