Imagine being told you could never again order a normal pizza pie or eat a normal chocolate chip cookie. Some of you may know what this feels like. Others of you might have friends who can relate.
Three years ago, two of my sisters, Danielle and Siobhan, were diagnosed with Celiac Disease. They were devastated! They had never even heard of gluten, but were told they could never eat it again. The thought of a future without their favorite foods was a hard (gluten-free, of course) pill to swallow. Just a week after their diagnosis, they visited me at JMU. My entire family was so thrilled to see the many gluten-free options JMU offered, and I was proud to attend a school that makes sure every student is properly taken care of.
So, what exactly is this gluten I speak of?
Good question. Before I delve into the gluten-free options at JMU, allow me to give you a little background on gluten, and the effects it can have on people. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is a name for the proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. More specifically:
Wheat can be found in:
- Baked Goods
Barely can be found in:
- Food Coloring
Rye can be found in:
More than 30 percent of people avoid gluten in their diets. The two main reasons for this are Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity.
Celiac Disease is a genetic, autoimmune digestive disorder. When individuals with Celiac consume gluten, their small intestine becomes inflamed and the cilia within it are destroyed. As a result, they are unable to digest the necessary nutrients for their body. People with Celiac Disease have to be careful with cross-contamination since only the tiniest piece of gluten can do damage to their bodies. Symptoms of Celiac include:
- Abdominal Bloating
- Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Weight Loss
Many of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are the same as those of Celiac Disease. However, gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune disorder, and it is not genetic. In other words, someone who is gluten sensitive will experience many of the same symptoms as someone who has Celiac, but they are doing no damage to their small intestine by consuming gluten. Although someone who is gluten sensitive will not experience weight loss, malnutrition, osteoporosis or iron deficiency, common symptoms include:
- Lack of energy
- Abdominal Pain or Cramps
- Mental Fatigue
I know from living with my sisters that a gluten-free lifestyle is not easy. But, it is doable because more and more restaurants, grocery stores and even colleges are offering gluten-free options. JMU is a great example. I have done some research on all of the ways JMU and the surrounding Harrisonburg community is accommodating its gluten-free students and residents. This way, if you are gluten-free or have a friend who is, you know all the best places to go.
I began my research by asking people I know about their experience eating gluten-free at JMU. Here’s what they had to say:
Siobhan Smith, 13, My Sister
“I remember one time I visited JMU and we went to E-Hall. They had a gluten-free bun for my hamburger, which made me really happy! At that time, I didn’t know much about eating gluten-free, so I had to ask the staff a lot of questions. They pointed me to all the gluten-free options and knew exactly what food had gluten in it and what food did not.”
Megan Fuller, Senior at JMU
“Many of the deli places on campus offer a gluten-free option for bread which is convenient, and there are always salad options, as well. I also go to the Asian food places and choose a rice as the base.”
Emily Rathburn, Junior at JMU
“Freshman year I ate a lot at E-hall because they had a gluten-free station. I liked it because they labeled it gluten-free so I knew there wouldn’t be cross-contamination. Greens opened up a gluten free section last year and I went there all the time because it was really good. They had wraps, sandwiches and desserts. SSC’s Bistro is probably my favorite because they can substitute the bread with gluten-free bread on their sandwiches and burgers and make gluten-free fries. Greens, like I mentioned earlier, is also probably one of my favorite places because the people who work there are so nice and the food is actually really good. I know it is safe because it is dedicated to gluten-free food. I also like that there are gluten-free sandwiches and salads labeled gluten free in the refrigerated area of Festival.”
Well, there you go. Clearly, JMU has the options for its gluten-free visitors and students. Now, let’s take a deeper look at everything available to those avoiding the “g” word.
Duke’s does a great job of listing all of their gluten-free options on a poster for students to see. Topio’s will work with you to make you a gluten-free pizza, and will pay close attention if you have a severe allergy. Zoca offers burrito bowls (I guess they’ll do until we get a Chipotle on campus) that can be made gluten-free if you ask them to hold the tortilla. Side pockets has delicious salads, which can be made to satisfy your taste buds. Finally the deli at Duke’s offers gluten-free bread.
Top Dog Café
Top Dog offers you a salad bar where you can make your own salads. In addition, Mongolian Grill in Top Dog has gluten-free options. A fan favorite is the pad-thai.
I know, right? I was surprised too. If you speak to the staff at Chick-fil-A and make them aware of your intolerance, they will work with you to serve you food you can eat. This can include a bacon, egg and cheese (hold the biscuit) breakfast, and grilled chicken instead of fried.
Mrs. Greens has it’s own gluten-free section. They offer gluten-free cereal, sandwiches, wraps and breakfast items. Mrs. Greens also displays a sign detailing all of its items that are made without gluten. There is a weekly gluten-free special, as well.
When my sister came to visit, she was shocked at all the gluten-free options E-Hall had. Not only do they have a gluten-free section that serves delicious chicken, rice and vegetables, but they offer gluten-free cereals and gluten-free buns for hamburgers, as well. They are very knowledgeable about their food, and even stopped my sister from eating the tater-tots (that contained gluten) last time she was there.
I’m Meal Plan-less
If you’ve been reading and thinking none of this applies to you because you don’t have a meal plan, don’t worry. You’ll like what you’ll read next. The surrounding Harrisonburg area offers a multitude of gluten-free options that JMU students can take advantage of while off-campus. Here are a few of them:
Gluten-free options at Jimmy Madison’s include the Sweet Tea Pork Chops, the Brozed Sea Scallops and the Mahi Mahi Jambalaya. I went to Jimmy Madison’s for the first time last week. I highly recommend.
Bummed you can’t have pizza? Good news: you actually can! Bella Luna is known for it’s delicious gluten-free crust. I’m from New York and I approve of the pizza which is saying a lot.
Grilled Cheese Mania
Next time you stop at the GCM truck, ask for gluten-free bread for your sandwich. Fan favorites are the Mama Mania, Triple Lindy or Classic Johnny.
Vito’s Italian Kitchen
Last time I went to Vito’s, I was with my sister Siobhan. Obviously, she ordered off the gluten-free menu (which is an amazing menu with so many options) and I ordered off the normal menu. When we left dinner, Siobhan was very annoyed at me because I just couldn’t stop eating off her plate. I barely touched mine. Believe me, the gluten-free food at Vito’s is that good.
You must be 21 to read this message: Yes, that’s right. Billy Jack’s offers a $4 Omission IPA, so you too can enjoy a cold one.
Moral of the story: You won’t go hungry. For those of you who are gluten-free, I hope this helped. As someone who has been tested for Celiac Disease and was overjoyed not to have it, I feel for you. Your lifestyle is not easy. But, be thankful you chose JMU, as it is a school that offers you so many options you can take advantage of. So, don’t be afraid to explore and to ask questions. Gluten-free food can be found where you least expect it (recall the paragraph about Chick-fil-A).
Peace, Love and DDP,