Kent State University has become the first U.S. institution to devote an entire dining hall to gluten-free options in response to increasing concerns about food products containing gluten.
More universities are becoming aware of their students' desire for gluten-free options, according to Chris Rich, vice president of development for the Gluten Intolerance Group. Nearly 3 million Americans have a genetic condition called celiac disease, which brings pain, fatigue, and diarrhea when gluten is consumed.
"A lot of parents kept coming in and stressing about the well-being of their students and having options that wouldn't make them sick," says Richard Roland, director of dining services at Kent State.
The law is also on these students' side. In 2013, the Justice Department ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires colleges to provide alternative food options for students with food allergies.
While Kent State is the first university to have an entirely separate facility for gluten-free options, named Prentice Café, officials acknowledge that this is not completely necessary. "All that's required is a dedicated area that provides gluten-free foods and complies with health and safety standards," Roland says.
Reactions to the move were skeptical at first, but the dining hall is now popular with students and members of the community, according to university officials.
College leaders also note that the gluten-free dining hall has attracted students to campus from all over the country—even Hawaii.
"Opening the facility helped develop and foster a culture of healthy eating, even with people who don't have to avoid gluten," says Marlene Maneage, an operations manager at Kent State (Wyman-Blackburn, University Business, 3/30; Chuck, NBC News, 9/16).
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