In my last sad blog about Livvy I also mentioned that following on from my talk at the TUCO (The University Caterers’ Organisation) conference there were several initiatives afoot to improve the provision of safe freefrom food for allergic and coeliac students starting university.
The issue, very briefly to reprise, is that going to uni for the first time is often also the first time that allergic or coeliac late teens may have had to cope with their allergy or their coeliac disease on their own. Added to the general newness and scariness of the whole university experience and their understandable desire to be ‘one of the crowd’ and not some weirdo for ever fussing about what they eat, the temptation to take sometimes dangerous risks with their food can be very great. My suggestion was that university caterers could really help them by offering not only a well trained and sympathetic member of staff to discuss their needs but, more importantly, plenty of good, tasty and very well signed freefrom/allergen-free food. This would allow them to find safe and tasty things to eat with minimum fuss and hassle if they stayed on campus. And if that food could be exciting, interesting and good value, then maybe their non allergic friends would be tempted to stay on campus and eat with them too.
Anyhow, following on from my suggestions, TUCO themselves are now looking at offering an allergen accreditation to university caterers who go out of their way not just to tick the allergen boxes but to offer a really thoughtful and supportive service to their allergic student customers. How great would that be?
Meanwhile, Jacqui McPeake of Manchester Metropolitan University (who introduced the talk I gave at TUCO) is going one further.
Not only is she arranging for special stands at Freshers Week to encourage allergic or coeliac students to come and talk to them but she hopes that will allow them to move forward to set up Allergy Focus groups for students meet with the catering staff to share ideas and be offered support.
Even more inventive, she has challenged her own team to eliminate at least one of the 14 major allergens from their diet for one month as from the 1st September! The idea is not only to raise awareness among her own staff of what it is actually like living with an allergy or on a restricted diet, but, while they are at it, to raise some money for Allergy UK’s support services. She asked for 14 volunteers – and when I last heard from her a couple of weeks ago, she already had 20!
If you feel like supporting them financially, please do, but even if you want your support to be moral rather than monetary – please do check in to their Just Giving page and ‘share’ the story.
And hopefully the Schools, Colleges and Universities category of the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards will encourage university caterers yet further to really focus on this group of students. As I pointed out in my talk, helping their allergic/coeliac or food challenged students is obviously hugely important and very much part of their remit – but…
With the massive growth in popularity of freefrom food (it is reckoned that nearly half UK households now buy freefrom food fairly regularly if not exclusively) having a really good freefrom offer could bring them good business from prospective customers who were interested in eating freefrom even though they might not need to. A double reward for their efforts!
Update on the Manchester Metropolitan University ‘go freefrom’ challenge. Jacqui says:
We have currently raised £790 for Allergy UK and the team are still eliminating their allergens from their diet. Only one person has “resigned” from the campaign as he said he doesn’t feel too well on his restricted diet – he has cut out gluten!! He is missing his bacon butties I suspect. However he did the challenge for 2 weeks and he found it really difficult which was the aim of the exercise!! The team are certainly thinking more about how we present food/ menus and choices.
Others are actually finding their new diets challenging but have managed to adapt recipes or are finding they are actually feeling better now they are not eating bread products. One of the team members has asked if he can hold a Gluten free cake sale!!’