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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston’s Difficulties Expanding Gluten-Free Dining Options


On Jan. 28, when a Mass Media reporter visited the cafeteria, employees at two of the five stations serving food did not know what gluten was. At the remaining three stations, only one employee, at Pandini, was able to say whether or not the food he was serving contained gluten. (It did.)



On Jan. 16, the Boston Globe ran an article by staff writer Akilah Johnson about the options available to students suffering from celiac disease in local university cafeterias, including UMass Boston. In the article, Diane D’Arrigo, assistant vice chancellor for campus services, told the Globe that the university “stays attuned to the different dietary needs of students.” However, the staff of Sodexo, the contractor that serves food to UMass Boston, are largely unable to direct celiac students toward appropriate food. 

Celiac is a disorder that causes a person to become intolerant to gluten, which is found in wheat. Those with the disorder experience nausea and other stomach problems after ingesting wheat, and in the long term, studies have demonstrated those afflicted are more likely to develop cancer if they are exposed to wheat on a regular basis. Because people with celiac are often sensitive to even traces of gluten, their food must be prepared in a separate gluten-free area with equipment that has not touched wheat.

In December, the US Department of Justice declared celiac disease a disability that must be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ruling was a direct response to a lawsuit filed against Lesley University in Cambridge, which until recently did not provide gluten-free food in its cafeteria. The decision made by UMass Boston and other universities to expand their gluten-free offerings is a direct response to the expansion of the ADA.

The Globe article explains that UMass Boston has a “gluten-free zone in its food court, with a separate refrigerator, microwave, and toaster to minimize the risk of contamination,” but Mass Media reporters could find no gluten-free toaster in the cafeteria. Additionally, there is some confusion among cafeteria staff regarding what “gluten-free” means. 

On Jan. 28, when a Mass Media reporter visited the cafeteria, employees at two of the five stations serving food did not know what gluten was. At the remaining three stations, only one employee, at Pandini, was able to say whether or not the food he was serving contained gluten. (It did.)

Dave Danells, the general manager of on-campus food service, asserted that all of his staff knew about celiac and gluten-free food. “At the beginning of each semester,” he said, “we go and talk with the different stations and the people that are manning those stations and educate them.“ Danells stated that a student with celiac “could check with the chef who’s at the station and find out [what he or she could eat].”

Danells referred to the It’s a Wrap station during his interview. “We have gluten-free bread over there. We have a separate cutting board and knife.” However, employees at It’s a Wrap were among those who did not understand what “gluten-free” meant. 

During a separate visit on Jan. 29, It’s a Wrap employees showed the reporter every type of bread in the station, one loaf at a time, until the employees found the gluten-free bread. The employees then cut a gluten-free sandwich on the same cutting board and toasted it in the same toaster as all the other sandwiches, contaminating the gluten-free bread with wheat. 

According to Danells, It’s a Wrap is not the only place to get gluten-free food. “Depending on the day of the week, we have a [gluten-free] Sizzle menu at the Sizzle station.” Employees at Sizzle, when asked on Jan. 28, did know what gluten was but weren’t sure whether the food at their station was gluten-free.

Burger King employees did not know what gluten was. Harbor Market employees knew what gluten was, but they were unsure about whether or not it was in their food.

Finally, Danells pointed out that the gluten-free zone in the cafeteria contained brownies and cookies safe for students with celiac. However, these are often sold out and a cashier told reporters that Sodexo has struggled to replace the pastries quickly enough.

Danells believed that even when employees don’t know whether an item is safe for a person with celiac, managers will. “If we did have a disconnect someplace, I’d ask the student customer to seek out a manager,” he said.

On Jan. 28, supervisor Randolfo Lopez was unable to answer any questions about gluten-free options. “I don’t really know,” he said, before advising reporters to contact regional nutrition manager Danielle Shargorodsky. Another floor manager who did not give her name was unable to locate the gluten-free bread at It’s a Wrap.

The Globe article mentioned that “a nutritionist is also available.” It’s possible that the article was referring to Shargorodsky, who comes by UMass Boston once a month to consult with students. When contacted, Shargorodsky said, “It’s a big initiative of mine, food allergies. It’s so important.”

Shargorodsky also stated that Ken’s, the brand of dressing used at the UMass Boston salad bar, is gluten-free. She repeated Danells’ assertion that “all our staff is well-trained,” then added, “We do have gluten-free pasta in the back… You can ask a manager.”

Managers in the cafeteria have not heard of any gluten-free pasta, and Danells was certain that there was none on campus. “We don’t have it yet,” he said, “but it’s available.”