By Kethan Bajaj
The transition from high school to college can be particularly challenging for students with food allergies. Over the past few years, we have researched these challenges at The Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research (CFAAR) at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. Our research confirmed that increased food allergy awareness training and education workshops can help improve life with food allergies on college campuses.(1)
With all of this in mind, we started College Advocates for Food Allergy Awareness and Education (CAFAE) at Northwestern University during the 2021-2022 school year. CAFAE’s overall mission is to increase food condition awareness and education on campus to help improve the college experience for students with food conditions.
EPINEPHRINE AUTO-INJECTOR TRAINING TABLES
One of the most effective educational events CAFAE organizes is food allergy education tables at the Northwestern Student Center. Here, students can learn about common symptoms of anaphylaxis so they can recognize if their friends are having an allergic reaction. Trainer epinephrine auto-injectors are available to help prepare them to intervene if someone on campus is experiencing anaphylaxis. Along with helpful food allergy education pamphlets, we also offer food allergy-friendly snacks for students to try. CAFAE’s education tables have proven a great way to interact with the Northwestern community and teach students how to potentially save a life.
MENTAL HEALTH DIALOGUES
CAFAE also hosts mental health dialogues to create a social support system for students with food allergies and better prepare them for potential food allergy risk situations. Recently, we hosted a dialogue about navigating the college social scene coupled with a food allergy-friendly banquet. These dialogues all in all have helped create a strong food allergy community on campus, where students can comfortably share their food allergy difficulties and confide in one another for support.
RESOURCES FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
Our team has created food allergy educational videos where students share their stories of navigating food allergies in the college scene. A Northwestern-specific video contains interviews with Northwestern’s dining staff who explain the measures they take to increase food allergy safety in the dining halls. We have also created a generic video useful for colleges nationwide. Along with the videos, we have created toolkits that help students with food-related conditions navigate college life. The toolkit contains tips on talking to roommates, dining on campus, recognizing signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, and more. See our resources here or follow the specific links below!
COLLEGE DINING ADVOCACY
Northwestern has a top 9 allergen-free Pure Eats station in each of its dining halls and one full Pure Eats dining hall at Foster Walker Complex East. CAFAE students have expressed great appreciation for Pure Eats, as it provides allergen-friendly food while helping reduce cross-contamination risk and anxiety. Students have stated that the dining staff are very accommodating and receptive to those with allergies. One of CAFAE’s goals is to encourage more allergy-friendly dining stations in colleges across the nation.
CAFAE also promotes food allergy education and awareness in our local community. We recently attended the Evanston Township High School “Kits, Cats, & Kids Block Party”, where we taught students and parents about food allergies.
It has been exciting to realize that many college students are also interested in raising awareness about food allergies in their communities. We would love to bring them together for a food allergy education conference and build a network of food allergy advocates. We have already started working with students interested in starting chapters of CAFAE on their campuses.
If you are interested in making your college more food allergy-friendly, email us at CAFAE@u.northwestern.edu!
1. Bajaj et al., Determining Avenues to Improve Safety for College Students with Food Allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Feb 2023.
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Feb 2023
Healio, March 28, 2023
See our curated College News for research studies, including the one referenced here.
This GFF Student Advocate Guest Blog Post was written by Kethan Bajaj, a junior at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, studying Biological Sciences and Science in Human Culture.
How well does your college meet YOUR dietary needs?
Please share your advice and dining feedback in our GFF College Dining Survey to help inform prospective students and push colleges to improve. Every survey received increases the impact of our advocacy platform!
Gluten Free Friends works to raise awareness about the importance of safe, inclusive college dining and we welcome student contributors to our blog.
Contact Us with your story ideas!
Follow us on Instagram @gfreefriends