If you have a food allergy, the transition to university can be a pretty daunting experience. In high school, you were likely surrounded by people who had known you well for many years and teachers who knew your name. In university, the chances of this happening again are quite slim. Most classes contain 400+ students and, unless you manage to schedule time to meet with your professors multiple times, they likely won’t know your name let alone your food allergy. So what’s the good news? The good news is that you prepared for this ahead of time and are ready for the new challenge of independence! In case you’re still in the preparation phase, I’ve put together a few things to think about and look for within your new environment.
Let’s start with the dorm life. Many first year dorms or residences contain a lot of shared bedrooms where the room is shared with a roommate. Every school is different so be sure to scope out possible residence options when you apply to that school. Also, be sure to educate your roommate (if you have one) and all new friends about your food allergies and the proper administration of your auto-injector. You are definitely going to eat in your room, which means your roommate will also eat there. With this in mind, your safety is paramount. If your roommate doesn’t understand the severity of your food allergy, speak with the residence life staff and ask them to help you explain it. Also, don’t be afraid to make special room requests when applying or even after being accepted to a university. You can ask to be placed in an allergy-friendly room or ask for a solo room to ensure your safety.
Next up, cafeteria food. If you are living in a residence with no shared kitchen, you will likely be eating a lot of campus food. Treat this experience as you would going to a local restaurant. Explain the severity of your food allergy to the food staff and ask if they serve any food that may contain your allergen(s). Then ask to speak with a manager or supervisor to ensure you will be looked after for that day and every day in the next year. Ask if the staff know what cross-contamination means and whether or not there is any risk of this with their food. Lastly, stick with your gut feeling. If you feel uneasy about eating at a particular cafeteria or restaurant, move on! There are plenty of other options on campus to fill your stomach.
Another thing to look into for your university is anaphylaxis policies. These can be quite difficult to navigate and find. Even if your school does have policies for food allergies, they are likely to appear on a continuum from either very diverse to cover every food allergy to very specific where less-severe allergies may be overlooked. These are worth taking the time to look into as it may inform a lot of your food choices on campus. If you find that food allergy policies do not exist at your university, you might want to join a university council or speak with a campus political leader to try to put a new policy in place. These people are working to make the student experience more positive; so don’t be afraid to ask! They will almost always do everything they can to help.
Last but not least, parties. By now, you’ve likely been exposed to parties and have learned a few things about managing your food allergy in a party atmosphere. However, at university and college, alcoholic drinks tend to make an appearance. This may be a new obstacle for you and, if it is, remember to keep a level head. If you notice that a drinking game has people sharing cups, it is a good idea to avoid playing that game since you don’t know what these people ate earlier in the day. It could have been your food allergen! Also, stick to drinks you know to be safe for you. There are many different types of alcoholic beverages out there and some contain almond extract, hazelnut, dairy, etcetera. So stay aware and stay safe.
This may seem like a lot to look out for when also trying to manage the new challenges of course work; but remember that you are independent and are ready to conquer university!