Story by Andy Cochran & Josh Williams
Many BYU-Idaho students have medically limited diets, yet food items tailored for people with such restrictions are hard to find on campus.
“I don’t think there are any options,” said Jessica Roberts, a sophomore studying nursing. Roberts has celiac disease, a digestive condition that affects the body’s ability to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
According to www.celiaccentral.org, approximately 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease. Statistically, this means about 123 BYU-I students have celiac disease and are unable to eat gluten.
Todd Huchendorf, the general manager of the BYU-Idaho Food Services, said the Student Board of Directors surveyed a group of students last year regarding whether or not there was a need for gluten-free food.
Results came back showing that there wasn’t enough of a demand or concern to provide gluten-free products.
Huchendorf said Food Services continues to discuss different options, but is met with two roadblocks over and over: money and a well-trained staff.
Food Services has found that things like gluten-free bagels or chips end up costing five times as much as food with gluten. Huchendorf said rapid employee turnover makes it difficult to ensure that gluten-free foods are prepared properly.
He also said the low demand for many items suited for special diets makes waste a major concern.
Celiac disease is not the only dietary issue that students face. Some have diabetes or other food allergies.
Huchendorf said this makes it difficult for Food Services to determine which needs to accommodate.
He said another challenge Food Services faces is providing accurate nutritional information about its menu.
The Crossroads staff has tried setting up software to display nutritional value but found that it’s difficult when they produce so much food and often change menus partway through the day.
Seth Williams, a sophomore studying communication who also has Type 1 diabetes, said the lack of readily available nutritional information at The Crossroads can lead to problems for people with special dietary needs.
“I ordered a hamburger and french fries from the Teton Grill,” Williams said. “After I finished my meal my blood sugar shot up. I can normally fix this by giving myself more insulin, but that wasn’t enough. I spent the rest of the day feeling stressed because my blood sugar wouldn’t come down.”
Kiarra Rhoades, a sophomore studying humanities, said that her allergy to red dye 40, an ingredient common in many sweets, sometimes makes eating out a challenge.
Huchendorf said balancing demand with financial constraints and lack of vocal response makes it difficult to produce the right program for those needs.
He said more student input would make it easier to help students cope with limited diets.
Rhoades said when it comes to special diets, students need to speak up.
“The school should help out of courtesy,” Rhoades said, “[but] if students don’t express their needs, then nothing will get done.”
Huchendorf said that members of BYU-I Food Services plan to travel to BYU in the next few weeks to see how the Food Services in Provo are able to get the nutritional value information.