For most people, the term “celiac disease” means nothing, but it is a major part of the everyday life of Samantha Sylvester ’14. Since she was an infant, Sylvester has been dealing with her condition.
For those who have never even heard of celiac disease, it is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. To put it simply: if people with celiac disease consume anything with gluten, their small intestine will attack itself and make them sick. And for those of you who do not know what glutens are, they are proteins found in foods processed from wheat. So for people like Sylvester, that means no wheat, barley or rye.
Here at Rollins, Head Chef Gustavo Vasconez never had to deal with cooking for a person with celiac disease. Before orientation, Sylvester and her roommate Christine Perreault ‘14, also with celiac disease, contacted Dining Services to inform them of their dietary needs. “We established a system for glutenfree food,” Sylvester explained; now, any food that is safe for the two first-years to eat is marked with a blue sticker. The dining staff is much more conscious of thoroughly washing down all surfaces, changing their gloves and not accidentally mixing any glutens into what is supposed to be a gluten-free meal; Sylvester said that if she or Perreault ever become ill due to cross contamination, all they have to do is call Vasconez and he will fix the problem.
I have to admit, I was quite surprised that in all these years, there had never been any celiac sensitive students at Rollins; maybe that is just because I have several family members who have been diagnosed with the disease so I have been aware of it for a few years now.
However, I am also impressed at how well Dining Services has handled the situation; it cannot be easy to come up with safe meal options for Sylvester and Perreault while also cooking for the rest of the school. The staff has done a great job. It cannot be easy for the girls to be the only two people in the student population who have this condition.
I am just pleased that the dining staff acted so quickly and effectively to provide for them; according to Sylvester, the C-Store brought in gluten-free food and Vasconez did an immense amount of research so that by the time they were moved in, he was well versed in celiac disease and fully prepared to suit their needs.