MSU students share their stories on food allergies
When nursing junior Candice LaFurgey goes into anaphylaxis, it is a scary experience, she said.
Her throat swells and she has trouble breathing. The only thing that can help is being injected with her EpiPen, which releases synthetic adrenaline into her system.
“It’s epinephrine so it makes you a little shaky and things like that,” LaFurgey said. “It’s pure adrenaline combating the allergy pretty much.”
The cause of LaFurgey’s anaphylaxis? A pinch of cashew salt on her salad, there by mistake.
LaFurgey is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, cashews and almonds. She cannot consume anything that includes these products, nor anything that has been processed with the same equipment. This can make eating difficult, but she said it’s not all bad.
“Yeah it’s really hard, but there’s a lot of good points to it, too,” she said. “I’m not eating as poorly as I used to. I eat more locally grown foods, especially vegetables and fruits and things like that.”
LaFurgey isn’t the only person at MSU with a food restriction. The registered dietitian on campus Gina Keilen said approximately 10 percent of the student population has some sort of food allergy, intolerance or restriction.
“Vegans and vegetarians are becoming more common,” she said. She also said the frequency of people having peanut and tree nut allergies has increased every year.
To meet the growing need of special food needs, MSU has a variety of options in the cafeterias.
“All of our halls have a special area in them for diet needs,” Keilen said. “Two of our halls, Holmes and Holden, on campus are what we call nut-friendly.”
The special areas in the cafeteria provide gluten-free and dairy-free options, while anything served in the nut-friendly cafeterias won’t have coconut, tree nuts and peanuts in them.
Food in the cafeterias are generally labeled, zoology sophomore Hope Healey said. To her, this a major key to success for those with special food needs.
Healey is a vegetarian and also has a dairy allergy. Like LaFurgey, she had an incident where she had an allergic reaction severe enough to not only induce the use of an EpiPen, but also sent her to the hospital.
She was at the University of Alabama for a college visit. When she went to the cafeteria to eat, she struggled trying to figure out what was safe for her. Healey said the cafeteria didn’t label anything and there weren't any workers she could talk to.
She went for the hummus and pita chips. She thought the pita chips were a little bit fluffier than ones without dairy in them usually are, but she decided to risk it anyway and ended up going into anaphylaxis.
“Really, it was my fault in that instance for not thinking what was safest for me,” Healey said.
With these dietary restrictions, finding food can be quite difficult. Healey said going to a restaurant is almost more trouble than it’s worth.
“There’s mistrust that goes on between me and the wait staff,” she said.
One student who thinks the easiest option for him is just cooking at home is mechanical engineering sophomore Vincent Rogers.
Rogers is both gluten and dairy intolerant. When he does consume these products, he can have gastrointestinal discomfort that lasts the entire day. This, along with a desire to eat healthy, ruled out a lot of foods from his diet and made eating at MSU’s cafeterias more challenging.
“I would say at the beginning it was a little frustrating, just because I do have pretty strict dietary restrictions,” he said. “Not only like health wise in the sense like intolerances and that, but also I try and eat as healthy as possible.”
Rather than having others prepare his food without knowing his specific needs, Rogers said making his own food can be easier for him.
“When I’m back at home, I do all my cooking and I don’t think it’s actually a hassle," he said. "I would actually prefer to live off campus so I could cook my own food because it would be no stress, even though it does take a lot of time. You can meal prep and get everything done at the beginning of the week and just have stuff later.”
Rogers said this might not work for everyone, though. Cooking meal prep might not be the best option for people who either don’t know how to cook, don’t like to cook or don’t have the time to cook.
“So, I would probably prefer to cook my own food,” he said. “But I would say for most incoming students it’s probably easier for them to eat in the (cafeteria).”
Rogers said people living on campus with special food needs should contact Keilen, as she helped him with an issue with Holden Hall's cafeteria.
Sometimes rice is one of the only options available that Rogers can eat, but Holden’s employees were putting butter in rice before serving it to students. This made the rice no longer beneficial and instead harmful to his body. Rogers contacted Keilen and she told the employees to stop putting butter in the rice.
To help culinary staff understand different student needs, there is now allergy training provided that began summer 2015 for all full-time staff and student supervisors.
By the end of this year, approximately 600 people will have gone through the training, Keilen said. That means they will have gone through the class, taken the test, passed and received the certificate. The certificate must be renewed every five years, Keilen said.
She also said the cafeterias try using visuals to make food more easily distinguishable for those with dietary needs. For example, for gluten-free pasta made of corn, rotini shaped noodles are exclusively used.
“Just something to trigger in the students’ eyes and the staffs’ eyes that it’s something special,” Keilen said.
Along with finding food to eat, Rogers said one of the hardest parts of having dietary allergies s getting people to understand how serious they are.
“I can’t just (say), ‘oh this one time it’s fine,’" he said. "I can’t just take like one meal out of the day and just say ‘oh it’s gonna be fine.' It doesn’t really work like that because it will affect me for a long time.”
For LaFurgey, holidays can be hard as well as always having to be aware of the dangers of eating the wrong thing.
“Halloween’s rough because there’s a lot of good peanut butter foods," she said."I haven’t had a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup in 12 years. That’s not the worst part about it, but probably the fact I have to carry around the EpiPen and know where it is at all times just in case that were to happen. And also it’s kind of hard to go to restaurants sometimes. I’ve never been to the Peanut Barrel — haha, funny — but in terms of restaurants I really have to make sure that there is no peanut oil.”
LaFurgey said the best thing someone with allergies can do for themselves is to learn about all their different options, whether on campus or off.
“There are a lot of websites online that can help you figure out what to eat, what you can replace in terms of the food you’re missing out on or something you’re missing out on,” she said. “And talk to doctors, nurses, health professional about how you can be safe when eating in restaurants or the cafeterias on campus or restaurants in general. Get educated.”