How I Was Kicked out of College Because of My Anaphylaxis

13094044-peanuts--peanut-butterThe office of Disability Support  Services (DSS) at the University of Washington Tacoma extension campus considered my anaphylactic airborne reaction to peanuts to be so serious that it was documented disability.  I didn’t have to eat or even touch peanuts for my throat to start closing up; my life would be in danger if a classmate so much as ate a peanut-y treat during lecture.  This meant going to school was risky—very risky.  And I knew that better than anyone.  But I thought I had support.

Reasonable Accommodations

Despite the risks, I didn’t ask the University of Washington to ban peanuts from the campus or require all of the security staff to be trained on how to use an Epi-Pen (although, both would have made me much safer).  Instead, I worked with the DSS office to figure out what my reasonable accommodations were: visible “peanut-free” signs on my classroom doors to remind students, teachers would be contacted by DSS so they’d know to enforce the policy, and an email was sent out at the beginning of each quarter alerting everyone who’d be in my classrooms that quarter not to eat peanuts in those rooms.

The game plan wasn’t perfect, and I knew my “peanut-free” signs wouldn’t truly prevent a rule-breaker from eating their Reese’s snack in my classroom.  Because the university is an urban campus (right in the heart of the fun, artsy section of the city), it doesn’t have a cafeteria, so people eat pretty much everywhere.  This is dangerous for me.  There also aren’t rules about eating in classrooms.  Extra dangerous.  While my accommodations may not have been perfect, having support from my university made the difference between whether or not I could attend the school.

Food in the Library

This quarter (Spring 2013) the food policy in the library buildings changed to allow food, so it became very challenging for me to find anywhere relatively safe to study, work on a group project, or eat my own lunch.  And I’d completely lost access to the tutoring center, computers and printers in the library and the books (how do you go to college and not have access to the books?).  I was told the policy was just a “pilot program”; something that could be changed if the library received enough complaints.  So I tried to alert people in charge at the library to the fact that I was experiencing an access issue, and also a safety issue, to due to my disability.

The director in charge of the library was concerned, contacted the DSS office, and decided to return to the original food policy—no food in the library buildings.  The school Chancellor (the school president, the woman in charge) then got involved, and told the library that they wouldn’t be changing the policy back; the “pilot” was now the rule.

This left me without anywhere relatively safe to study on campus.  And I still couldn’t access the library tutors, librarians, computers and printers, or the books.

And Then Everything Got Worse

At this same time, and of course right at midterms, the Chancellor also took away my official disability accommodations.  Completely.  No signs, no support, nothing.

Due to the signage, the DSS office was told that my disability was a “facility issue” now because it impacted the building and, therefore, was no longer under their jurisdiction.  Despite still having a life-threatening documented disability (whether it was a disability or not was never in question), I was left high and dry.

I’d basically been identified by the school Chancellor as a possible liability.  The way she put it was that she didn’t want “peanut-free” signs because that wasn’t a “promise” she could keep.  In other words, the school couldn’t guarantee my safety and didn’t want to get slapped with a lawsuit if I ended up in the ER or died; therefore, they’d do nothing.  No signs.  No accommodations through DSS.  This meant forbidding the library director from returning the library buildings to being food-free and taking away my disability accommodations completely.

My anaphylaxis had become a weapon—a way to scare me off of campus.

You’ve Got to be Kidding Me

I met with the university Chancellor and one of the members of student government last week to discuss the situation; she made it very clear that she didn’t think I should be at the school at all, or at any of UW’s other campuses.  And that I was just a liability as far as she was concerned.

After our meeting I’d thought there’d been enough compromise to at least keep me in school until the end of the quarter, but I didn’t think I’d be able to return in the fall for my senior year.  But our “compromise” turned out to be all talk.

The Chancellor had told me that I could no longer get my accommodations through DSS and, when it came to handling my disability, I would only have access to her office from now on (something I don’t think she was at all legally allowed to do).  I had been removed completely from DSS’s charge and paced fully under the Chancellor, who is neither an official DSS worker nor an allergist.  As a result, she said that her office would make me signs—better signs even, more professional looking.

Well, they did make me signs.  But they were a joke.  They weren’t on the classroom doors—where they needed to be to remind students and staff.  And they weren’t at all visible.  The signs looked like they’d just printed something directly out of Word—12 point font, Times New Roman, black ink on a white piece of paper.  Completely invisible.

The signs were also hidden; one was at the very front of the classroom next to another sign (ironically the statement about how school doesn’t discriminate based on things like disabilities) and stuck on the wall with blue painters tape (yup, that’s professional looking).  The other sign was lost on a cluttered bulletin board in the back of the class; it took me and a friend hunting before we were finally able to find it.

I didn’t want signs just for the sake of having signs; I needed visible reminders to my classmates and instructors that would help keep me safer.

I was also promised an unofficial “office” with a key, so that I could determine who went into it.  I was given a key … but not to the “office.”  The key unlocked an entire wing where the adjuncts’ offices were.  My little room was the only one with a printer and computer, so if anyone needed to print something they’d go into my office.  And because I didn’t have a key to keep them out (or even a sign on the door saying that it was being used), there was no way for me to keep the room safer than any other faculty-only area on campus.  And the office didn’t even had a window, so I wouldn’t have even been able to air it out if there was ever a problem.

Saying Goodbye to My Academic Dreams

Without even a little support from my previously extremely helpful school and no access to the Disability Support Services office thanks to the Chancellor telling them that they could no longer work with me, I was basically barred from the university because of my disability.  It was unsafe for me to attend my classes, or even go to school to take my midterms.  And my school had made it clear that they weren’t even going to assist in helping to protect my life, so I had to drop my classes.  And my program of study (the only one of its kind in the area, my dream degree).  And left the University of Washington Tacoma completely.

I would’ve been a third-generation Husky alumni when I graduate; my grandpa and mom were so excited for me.  Now, because my degree was so specific, I’ll have to start back over with 200-level course requirements, which will likely add at least another year, if not two, to my prospective graduation date.  And I have to transfer to another university when I’d wanted to finish not only my BA at my school but also do my grad work at UW Tacoma.  I now wonder if I’ll ever even finish my four-year-degree let alone grad school.  My transcript was beautiful—high honors all around—now I’ll have to explain to future prospective schools why I got all “W’s” (withdrawn) this quarter.

My university decided I was a liability, so I was essentially kicked out of school.  And then left with the bill.  Literally, thousands of dollars in financial aid, student loans, and academic scholarships for a quarter I wasn’t able to complete through no fault of my own.

What’s frustrating is how many staff made sad puppy dog eyes at me, but never did anything because they were afraid.  They were using words like “illegal” and “a violation of your civil rights” and “discrimination based on your disability,” which I feel like should’ve been a call to arms.  But the best I got was pouty faces.

Life has completely turned on ear, I have no idea what this means for me now, and I’m still in shock.

[Update 6/4/2013: Still trying to figure out the whole financial thing.  I’ve been sent a bill for this quarter and until I pay the whole thing in full the university won’t release my transcript, which makes even applying to another school out of the question until that’s figured out.

For those of you who are wondering, I will absolutely be finishing my BA, no need to worry, but my graduation date will be about a year or two farther off than originally expected.  And my diploma will have the insignia of a different university, which after all this I’m honestly not too worked up about.  One possible option at the moment is finishing the last year and a half of my BA online through my former state university’s rival school, Washington State University, which I feel like would add a bit of poetic justice to a very unfortunate, frustrating situation.  I’m all for a bit of irony.]

Advertisements

A Year in the Life of a Food Blogger

New YearsBreak started off at such a brisk pace I’d expected it to be full (maybe too full) with get-togethers, holiday-related outings, and attempting new recipes.

Well, that’s what I’d thought it’d be like.  But then everyone came down with the flu right over Christmas.  Thankfully, family was flexible and presents keep, because the festivities had to be put on hold for a couple of days this year.  And that’s the long-ish explanation as to where I’ve been.

Now that I’m feeling quite a bit better (managing to eat solid food providing it’s mild and relatively soft), I’ve been thinking about what a lot has happened in the last year.  And how quickly it’s gone by!  The Crunchy Cook was my new years resolution from last year (this was when I  had a very small handful of food foes), which means my blog is almost exactly a year old.


Biggest Changes:
1. Discovered I have 10 additional food allergies (including eggs, soy, dairy).  This was a HUGE challenge that impacted my entire family.  And it’s still something I’m learning how to work with.

2. Graduated from community college with a two-year transfer degree.

3. Completed my first quarter at the University of Washington (I swear, it’s not nearly as hard as figuring out how to cook with food allergies).

Favorite Foodie Reads:
1. Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found Food that Loves Me Back … And How You Can Too by Shauna James Ahern.  I found this book very encouraging.

I don’t know that I’d love it quite as much now that I can’t eat the majority of food mentioned, but Shauna’s advice to use food restrictions as a reason to say “Yes!” to foods you’ve never tried has been very helpful in my own food journey.  And a good reminder that there is still a world of flavors out there waiting to be tasted.  Even for allergy girls like me.

Firsts:
1. Started my food blog, The Crunchy Cook.

2. Went on a cruise and was actually able to eat (I got to hand it to Disney, they sure do handle dietary restrictions well).

3. Took a junior-level class at the university (it was awesome, and also not nearly as mentally challenging as figuring out what to cook for dinner when you have a whole collection of food allergies).

Goals/Hopes for 2013:
1. Learn to cook more gluten-free/allergen-free food.  I’m hoping to attempt a new recipe every weekend (not all of them will show up on the blog because not everything will work, but it’ll get me in the habit of trying out new things and being fearless in the kitchen).

2. Blog more regularly about the food I’m learning to cook; I want to have a record of all the recipes that have worked.  And just generally what it’s like being gluten-free/allergen-free.  I’m new to the blogging community, but loving it already.

3. Finally be able to set the date for the wedding (fingers crossed!).

Well, what about you?  What are your goals, hopes, or resolutions for the coming year?  Anything you’re hoping to learn or cook?

Gluten-Free Dining: Anthony’s Homeport

DSCN1559Recently, in honor of my 25th birthday, I went to Anthony’s Homeport at Pier 66 in Seattle (there are several different locations in the Puget Sound).  I’m madly in love with sea food and Anthony’s has a gluten-free menu, so going there makes me a very happy camper.  It’s also right by the water, which is definitely a plus. 

I ordered Cajon prawns with red potatoes and asparagus on the side.  Yum!  Now I want to learn how to make Cajon red potatoes.  It was amazing; I couldn’t have been happier with my meal and the view of the waterfront was beautiful.  And the fact that there was a specific gluten-free menu, made me feel so much safer dinning out.     

For some reason the gluten-free menu doesn’t seem to be listed on the website (check out the website for locations), so if you want to know specifically what is available just call ahead of time.  I had to call Anthony’s back around Christmas to make dinner reservations and the staff was very helpful.  They serve slightly different things based on if you’re going during lunch or dinner, but there are gluten-free menus with several delicious options for both meals. 

The only downside to Anthony’s is that it’s a bit more than I’d usually like to spend on a meal ($10 – $15 for lunch and $20 – $25 for dinner), so I only go once in a while for special occasions like Christmas Eve or my birthday.  If you’re in the Puget Sound, though, and are in the mood for some gluten-free sea food, I don’t think you can do better.  Happy (and safe) dining!

Gluten-Free 101: Foods and ingredients to Avoid

Gluten-FreeSo, you’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease or you’re starting an elimination diet to determine the future state of your relationship with gluten.  You’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to go from here.  It’s normal to feel overwhelmed because learning to be gluten-free—thinking about what’s in everything you eat, reading ingredient labels—is more than a diet, it’s a completely new skill.

The very first step to getting you on the road to recovery is learning which ingredients and foods to avoid and then clearing out all the gluten from your life.  I’m not a medical or dietary professional, but thanks to my many food foes I have a lot of experience reading ingredient labels and looking things up.  While this isn’t a list of absolutely everything that contains gluten, hopefully it’ll help you identify some of the main food foes in your life and give you a better idea of what to watch out for.

If you’re like most folks and don’t have a lot of experience with allergies or food sensitivities, figuring out what’s in your food likely sounds challenging or even downright impossible (start off by learning how to read ingredient labels).

Here’s what to do:  Print out the lists of ingredients and foods to avoid before going to the grocery store (if you try to keep track of it all in your head at first you’ll likely forget something).  Then, before you put anything in your cart, flip over the package/box/can and carefully look over the list of ingredients.  Don’t assume anything (not even something like processed meat or tea) is gluten-free without first checking.


Ingredients to Avoid:

  1. Wheat flour (yes, this includes white bread)
  2. Whole wheat flour
  3. Barley
  4. Rye
  5. Oats (due to cross-contamination, unless it specifically says it’s gluten-free)
  6. Spelt (Only an option if you’re wheat-free and not gluten-free)
  7. Bleached flour
  8. Kamut
  9. Triticale
  10. Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  11. Malt-Vinegar (flavoring, syrup, and extract)
  12. Wheat germ or bran
  13. Wheat starch-modified
  14. Hordeum vulgare extract
  15. Hydrolyzed wheat gluten
  16. Hydrolyzed wheat protein

Questionable Ingredients:

  1. MSG (can be made with wheat gluten, but I honestly don’t know enough to tell if it’s safe so I just avoid it)
  2. Artificial coloring (sometimes it’s safe, sometimes it’s not)
  3. Carmel coloring (I’ve heard a  lot of different thoughts on this, so I try to always avoid it just to be safe)

Foods to Avoid:

  1. Baked goods that use a non-gluten-free flour (hamburger buns, cakes, bread, most corn bread, donuts)
  2. Pasta made from wheat flour
  3. Ramen noodles
  4. Cornbread (unless made from a gluten-free recipe)
  5. Beer (unless labeled gluten-free)
  6. Barely malt
  7. Breaded foods (you can make a gluten-free version at home)
  8. Bread crumbs
  9. Couscous (sometimes you can find a gluten-free version at the grocery store but avoid it completely when eating out)
  10. Flour tortillas
  11. Graham crackers
  12. Sauce or teriyaki sauce (unless wheat-free, read the ingredient list)
  13. Teas that contain barley (always read the ingredient list)
  14. Ice cream containing cookie dough and other chunky things (rocky road can be a problem, too)

25th Birthday Adventure

In honor of my 25th birthday, my fiancé Mr. M treated me to a Seattle adventure.  

Pike Place Market in Seattle is one of the very first places my fiancé and I ever went on a date, so it’s a special place to both of us.  And just generally a lot of fun.

I love how the food looks at Pike Place, so many bright colors and cute little signs.

More beautiful food.  I’m not sure why, but it’s so much more fun to buy produce from a farmers’ market than from the supermarket.  Perhaps this is due in part to the crates.

This is the very first Starbucks.  We’d wanted to walk through it just to say we’d been, but there was always a crowd of people waiting.

I made a new friend.  Not entirely sure why, but there seem to be quite a few pig status in the Pike Place area. 

Standing in the street outside of Pike Place Market.  Yes, I was one of the annoying people who blocked traffic in order to snag a photo.

On the dockAfter wondering around Pike Place for a while, Mr. M and I walked down by the water.  We must have looked a little pitiful trying to take a picture of ourselves because a nice couple offered to take the picture for us. 

I’m madly in love with sea food, so for my birthday dinner Mr. M took me to Anthony’s Home Port at Pier 66 because they have a gluten-free menu!  It was delicious.

Despite the Seattle stereotype, it was a beautiful and very sunny day.

Before heading out, I picked up a nice little box of blackberries to eat on the drive home.  I wonder if the other people in the parking lot thought it was odd that I was photographing something on top of the car.

I had a great birthday.  If you ever end up in the Seattle area, don’t forget to check out Pike Place, Pier 66, and Anthony’s Home Port.  They’re some of my very favorite places. 

Belated Valentine’s Present

Mr. M, the boyfriend, gave me a belated Valentine’s Day present.  Two boxes of fresh, gluten-free pasta!  They’re from the Bellingham Pasta Company, located in Bellingham, Washington.  If you’re gluten-free and live in Washington State or are happen to be in the area, Bellingham is a great place for a food vacation!  Loads of gluten-free options.

DSCN1380

I’ve been given the most unusual gifts since going gluten-free.

DSCN1382

Once the lovely present was cook, it made for quite a tasty dinner.

Gluten-Free Dining: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza

DSCN1350Mr. M, the boyfriend, and I went to The Rock Wood Fired Pizza as a belated Valentine’s Day outing (he also gave me pasta!).  He loves to eat out for special occasions but, thanks to my various food foes, I find the whole idea of strangers feeding me … well …  pretty scary. 

In order to keep me from getting glutened and still be able to have a dinner date sometimes, we’ve discovered that looking restaurants up online is really helpful.  Sometimes, though, places will have gluten-free options available but it won’t say anything about it on the website (perhaps because it varies based on the location?). 

The Rock didn’t say anything on their site, but when Mr. M called we found that I could actually get any nine inch personal pizza gluten-free!  The moral of the story: call ahead.    I ordered the “Yellow Brick Road” (basically just a Hawaiian), which was really good.  The only downside is that $13 is kind of pricy for a personal pizza (my pizza was $10 with a $3 fee for the gluten-free crust), but it is nice to have the option of going out for gluten-free pizza.

To find locations in your area or to see the menu, check out the website.  And remember, call ahead of time!  Happy (and safe) dining!

Gluten-Free Dining: Red Robin

DSCN1326Whether you’re gluten-free or have a collection of food allergies, eating out can be a pain (literally).  When I found out that I couldn’t have gluten/wheat or beef anymore, I thought my gourmet hamburger days were over.  But, thanks to Red Robin, it appears I was wrong.

Red Robin has several allergen-specific menus that tell you exactly what you can and can’t eat.  Just inform your waiter of your specific food foe and ask to see the appropriate menu.  Don’t be embarrassed, lots of people have to ask for the special menus.  And your dining experience will be much safer and less stressful if you’re not just guessing and hoping things are actually gluten-free, peanut-free, or whatever you need them to be. 

I ordered a grilled turkey burger, without the chipotle mayo (it has gluten), and on a gluten-free bun (there was a $1 fee but it was definitely worth it).  And, instead of fries, I ordered broccoli.  The gluten-free menu says that the fries do not contain any gluten ingredients but that there might be cross contamination with the fryer at some of their restaurants.  If you want to go with fries, just be sure to ask your server if they use a separate fryer for the fries and whether there could be cross contamination.

The gluten-free buns aren’t available at every Red Robin, so you might want to call ahead or you can always get a lettuce wrap.  I couldn’t have been happier with my order.  The bun was soft and the patty was well flavored.  It was perfect.

Hamburger and chicken patties as well as salads are also available gluten-free with minor alterations.  Check out Red Robin’s gluten-free menu online.  Happy (and safe) dining!

Chocolate Birthday Cake (gluten & sugar free)

[Update: Due to new allergies, this isn’t something I can eat anymore.  But I’ve left it on the blog because it’s tasty]

In honor of my sister’s seventeenth birthday, I attempted my first gluten-free cake.  As many gluten-free people know, a birthday just isn’t quite the same without cake.

I didn’t have much luck finding a classic chocolate cake recipe that was gluten-free, so I modified a standard cake recipe by changing the flour and sweetener.

Unfortunately, I got a little confused while mixing the ingredients, didn’t mix them in quite the right order, so the cake turned out a little denser than I would’ve liked.  It still tasted nice, though.  I also discovered that frosting a cake is much harder than I’d imagined. My hat goes off to everyone who is able to make frosting look like an art form (I’m just happy if I can get it on the cake and not all over the kitchen).


Allergan/Sensitivity Info: Gluten-free, sugar-free, nut-free.   

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 softened butter (don’tput it in the microwave, let it stand for about 30 minutes)
  • 3 eggs (these also need to be at room temperatures, so you can let them sit with the butter)
  • 2 cups brown rice flour(gluten-free)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder (check the label to make sure it’s gluten-free)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 and 1/3 cups Spenda/generic brand of sucralose (you can also use 2 cups sugar instead if you don’t need it to be sugar-free)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 and 1/2 cups milk

Directions:

  1. Lightly grease the bottoms of two cake pans (either 8x8x2-inch square pans or 9×1 1/2-inch round pans).  Line the bottoms of the pan with waxed paper (I didn’t have any on hand so I lightly dusted the bottom of the pans with coco powder after I’d greased them).
  2. Stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt (in other words, all of the dry ingredients except the Spenda/sugar).
  3. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter for about thirty seconds. Then, slowly add Spenda/sugar and beat it for a couple of minutes until well combined (don’t forget to scrape the sides of the bowl).
  4. Add eggs to the butter and Speenda/sugar mix.  Mix for about a minute after adding each egg.  Then, beat in vanilla.
  5. Now, alternate between adding the milk and the flour mixture to the butter mix.  Beat together.
  6. Divide the batter between the two pans and spread it out evenly.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean).
  8. Cool cakes completely before removing them from the pans.
  9. Frost with whatever you like and serve.  I used Pillsbury’s Creamy Supreme vanilla frosting (both sugar-free and gluten-free).  Homemade cream-cheese frosting would also be yummy.

Gluten-Free Find: Clam Chowder

progresso-soup-new-england-clam-chowder-1_2I’m trying to focus primarily on learning to cook gluten-free food from scratch this year,  but sometimes it’s so nice to just be able to open a can and quickly heat up some warm soup, especially during the chilly winter months.

Chowder has always been one of my favorite soups, so I’m very pleased that Progresso now offers New England Clam Chowder that’s gluten-free!  Hooray!  I was so excited about it that my fiancé bought me a whole case from Costco for Christmas.

You can find this and several other gluten-free Progresso soups  in the soup aisle of your grocery store or on Amazon.