Food allergies are a part of my identity. All of us are multifaceted, and my inability to eat dairy and nuts has had profound effects throughout my life. For some of us, our allergies are an intolerance - perhaps an uncomfortable stomach for a night; but for others, like me, they mean life or death. I have come to accept them, even appreciate them, as the insight they have given me into various health complexities has been instrumental in shaping my philosophy of life.
When going through the college process, I was attracted to schools which had specific programs in place to minimize potential reactions while eating. Among all those which I toured, Tufts was the most impressive. Everything was diligently labeled with allergens in bold, and programs, like the Alternative Meal Program, exist which allow specific ordering of foods if nothing appealing to you is available - or if your allergies are sensitive to issues like cross-contamination. Also, All9, a special location at Dewick, has been created - everything prepared there is free from the common nine allergens.
Although this was quite impressive and played a significant role in my choice to attend Tufts, unfortunately my experience since enrolling has not been entirely positive. Hopefully, through this short narrative, I can elaborate upon things which you can do to keep yourself safe while dining with a food allergy at Tufts.
After eating a piece French Toast for breakfast at the beginning of my freshman year, I knew something was off. I went back to quadruple check the label (I had already checked it several times before getting the food off the line), and it said there was no dairy. Comforted, I convinced myself that it was my imagination. Soon, though, that tingling turned into hives, and when I collapsed, I knew it was real. After a trip to the emergency room, I later found out that a chef added milk to the recipe, a deviation from what it should have been.
Shortly after the French Toast mishap, mislabeling occurred again when I ate a vegan desert that had been explicitly labeled as dairy free. The chocolate chips contained milk.
The solution to all of this appeared simple: order through the AMP, as many Tufts students with allergies do, and my food would be prepared separately. No cross contamination, and no deviation from the recipe. In theory, this works.
However, just last week, I had another severe reaction due to butter being added to my pasta, despite writing on my order to avoid dairy. Again, I was forced to take an exorbitant amount of Benadryl and prednisone to stave off an emergency room visit, and I felt ill for the entire week afterwards. These accidents, although thoughtless and easy to avoid, could mean death.
So, this sounds like a disaster. It was. But, I’m fighting for this to never happen again - for me or anyone else with allergies. Our classes and extracurriculars are enough to concern ourselves with; eating shouldn’t be an addition, especially when safety is promised.
The dining staff at Tufts is incredibly friendly, personal, and caring. Just yesterday, Richard Kaupp, one of the head chefs at Carmichael, said “I don’t care if I have to farm the salad myself, I’ll make sure this never happens again.” I appreciated that.
Some things I’ve learned about dining at Tufts with allergies:
Ask. About everything. - It’s easy to become compliant and assume safety, but if I had inquired with the staff every time before eating, some of these situations could be averted.
Advocate for yourself. - Everybody is very approachable. Meetings with Patti Klos, the director of dining, have positively reassured me in several ways.
Never forget your epi-pen, and carry Benadryl - I learned this the hard way. If I had carried Benadryl with me, the french toast incident may not have ended up with me in the ER. Still, I never forget my epi-pen; it’s what prevents what could have been a terrible week from being a tragedy. Make sure you always have two available; I keep them in every bag I frequently carry.
It’s possible. - It definitely took me some time, but now I feel like everything is on the right track. If you start this process before you arrive at Tufts, you should have no trouble. You’ll want to contact Kelly Shaw, the dietician at Tufts Dining, and have a doctor’s note on hand which specifies your allergies.
If you find yourself applying to Tufts with allergies, feel free to reach out to me and we can talk more!