Expect: to consider reasonable, due or necessary
Up until very recently my GF expectations have been low. I did not consider it reasonable that all people should know what gluten is. I did not feel that I was due a gluten free meal at catered or work events. I did not think it was necessary that people put in extra effort to accommodate my dietary needs when I could always work my way around it on my own. I expected people to be accepting of the fact that I might bring my own dinner to a catered event but I did not expect the event to accommodate me. Even though precedent dictates that people with alternative diets should be accommodated (look at how mainstream providing vegetarian options has become), for some reason, to my shame, I did not hold those same high expectations for myself or my gluten free community.
Now, my expectations have changed.
I realized that my expectations were being shaped by experience and patterns and not based on what is reasonable, due or necessary. It took sustained positive experiences to break the pattern of my experiences with food to adjust my expectations.
I was recently accepted into Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to close the achievement gap in the United States. In order to begin teaching in the Fall I needed to complete a six week training program. The catch? Room and board were to be provided. Most people rejoice at the news that they get free room and board for six weeks but as someone with Celiac Disease, I expected nothing but trouble. My experience with Teach For America (TFA) has changed my expectations for the better. Check out what happened:
The room and board arrangements at Temple University for close to 1,000 corps members and staff members were made by my new organization Teach For America. Although Temple University already had the infrastructure in place to accommodate people on the gluten free diet, it would not have been operational during the summer without the insistence of Teach For America. The fact that TFA went out of their way to communicate with the dining hall specifically about GF options is pretty astounding for several reasons:
1. TFA was accommodating close to 1,000 people’s needs. They made accommodations for vegetarian diets, Kosher diets, vegan diets, rooming issues due to disabilities and many more issues. There were so many needs and people to accommodate. I was so pleased that the Celiacs did not fall through the cracks.
2. TFA had to coordinate with twelve public schools in Philadelphia, finding summer teaching jobs for 800 corp members. This took much time and effort due to sheer mass of teachers, schools and students. Add in the complicated and ever-twisting bureaucratic channels that TFA had to navigate and I think we can consider the GF accommodations close to a miracle.
Temple designated GF toaster with my Udi’s bagel warming up.
Temple’s GF zone — the GF food options are located in a designated “gluten-free/Kosher zone.” It remains unclear to me why you would combine the Kosher and GF options but…what can you do!
Temple’s GF microwave — Temple had many frozen GF products stored in a freezer in the GF zone.
I was very impressed with Temple’s gluten free infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect. The food was bland and unhealthful but that wasn’t because it was GF. It was college cafeteria food! In addition to the GF zone and availability of GF products the dining hall provided all TFA corps members with bagged lunch. The people with restricted diets (ranging from GF to Kosher to Peanut Free) would pick up their lunches in a separate, designated area. Each food item (entrée, sides, snacks and drinks) was labeled with the person’s name and dietary restriction. Mine read: Cecilia Bonaduce — Gluten Free
In addition to the five weeks at Temple I spent one week in Washington DC at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel. The accommodations there were even more impressive than at Temple. The hotel served breakfast sandwiches every morning for the Teach For America people but at the end of the buffet line there were individually packaged and labeled GF breakfasts consisting of bacon, eggs and fruit. When they served Italian food for lunch they had a labeled and separate area with GF pasta and sauce. Though the salad had croutons mixed in it took nothing more than a simple request to one of the waiters to receive a fresh crouton-free salad.
This was my absolute favorite food moment:
The hotel provided bagged lunch and instead of a wilted, undressed salad or a couple of carrot sticks (my old expectations for an “accommodation.”) I opened my brown bag to find a brown rice wrap. Real food!
After this experience I realized that even if you are going to a catered event with 1,000 people like I did this summer we should be accommodated. I have officially raised my expectations. I am hoping for a Pygmalion effect of sorts in which my high expectations will yield positive results in terms of promoting awareness and making accommodations for gluten free people as reasonable, due and necessary as providing options for vegetarians has become in recent years.
It is time that you, just like me, adjust your expectations in order to protect your health and well-being. I used to hold low expectations because I did not think that GF accommodations were possible. I am telling you now that I am positive that it is possible. I witnessed such accommodations this summer and I hope to continue to experience such positive and inclusive events. Furthermore, in the event that accommodations are not met, I will be holding myself to higher expectations as well. I expect myself to be an advocate, to speak up and to stand up for what I believe is reasonable, due and necessary.