Food Allergies on Campus

Image by Lisa Sondergaard

Last week, I had a ravenous craving for a brownie. You know the feeling: the willingness to kill for something with chocolate in it. It hit me in the middle of the Concourse. I was with a friend at the time, who passionately decided to join my quest (chocolate cravings can be contagious, you see). He said “Excellent! The Second Cup is still open!” But I had to stop his mad-dash and explain that this was a mission that was not for the easily-swayed. It would be long and tedious, and probably wouldn’t end with any brownies at all. You see, I’m allergic to peanuts.

I’ve never minded having a food allergy, though everyone always says they feel sorry for me. I have no taste references, so I’m not missing out. It was harder when I was younger because the allergy was less common, but with rigorous precautions that have now become second nature, I am glad to say that at 21 I have only ever had one reaction in my life. The world has made it even easier to cope. Since 1988, the percentage of children with peanut allergies has increased significantly in Canada, which means there have been laws and policies created to protect us. Elementary schools, restaurants, and most workplaces have fantastic allergy-friendly policies. On the whole, it has become easier and easier to manage in the past decade. I know I have to stay away from Thai restaurants and desserts, but otherwise it has been easy to survive in the outside world. That is, until I came to Laurier.

I am now in my fourth year, about to graduate. In my time here I have not been entirely comfortable or impressed with how the Laurier campus deals with food allergies, especially because of how common allergies have become to our age group. In my very first year, peanut-butter banana sandwiches were a common special at the dining hall, which my roommate found out the hard way by eating a sandwich that had been cut by an unclean knife. She could taste the peanut butter. She has a mild peanut allergy too. Luckily, I opted for pasta that day.

It hasn’t been much better since then. Particularly this year, I’ve noticed that the vending machines have started to sell bags of peanuts all over campus. During Orientation Week, the volunteer breakfasts offered peanut butter granola bars to everyone. Bake sales in the Concourse often have peanut butter cookies, or allergy unfriendly treats. Even Wilf’s keeps Thai sauce on their tables with the ketchup.

While I do recognize that these are little oversights, and not everyone always thinks about making allergy-safe baked goods for a fundraiser, the oversights are as dangerous as a public game of Russian roulette. If one person purchases a bag of peanuts from the Concourse vending machines and sits down to eat them, they have endangered another person’s life. Someone with a severe allergy could be sent to the hospital for stepping into the Concourse, simply because someone else chose to eat one particular snack that was offered.

Our school isn’t entirely in the wrong direction for allergy safety. I’ve also noticed that they recently decided to offer peanut butter in individually sealed packages at the dining hall instead of in a communal tub next to the cream-cheese. The Terrace has allergen labels on all of their foods and the dining hall offers gluten-free pasta. Even Wilf’s has special procedures in place to keep people with food allergies safe. There are a few things being done right, but they are far out-shone by what is being dealt with dangerously.

Food allergies are a life-and-death situation, not an afterthought. Yes, there are EpiPens to help when a person has a reaction, but they are not a cure, contrary to popular belief. They merely buy 15 minutes of time to get to a hospital by pumping your body with adrenaline. After that, if there are no more EpiPens around, and if there happens to be traffic… game over. No more essays due. No more nights out with friends. Nothing.

Our school needs to start treating the issue with the level of severity that it demands. Peanuts are the most common allergen, and even they are treated haphazardly. What about people with less common allergies? Seafood? Gluten? Soy? Even vegetarians have a difficult time finding healthy options on campus.

So if you are eating in class, please be aware of what you are eating. Ask the people around you if they have any food allergies and don’t be offended if someone asks you to put your food away. Decide to get chips from the vending machine instead of nuts. Bake sugar-cookies instead of peanut-butter. Every little bit will count to making everyone feel safe on campus. While you may prefer snacking on Reese’s Pieces to Smarties in the concourse, I prefer to study without the threat of dying at school. There is no excuse for the dangerous oversights that appear all over the University system. Throughout my four years at this school, one thing has become apparent: Laurier needs to step up to keep its community safe.