I had no idea what being gluten-free meant before going to college. The term never even crossed my mind. Then I met my best friend freshman year, who happened to be gluten free, and everything changed.
I come from an Italian family that lives by food. I have no food allergies and I’ll try anything once. The idea of not being able to eat certain foods rarely crossed my mind. I remember finding out my best friend was gluten free when we were at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor and she ordered gluten-free sweet potato fries.
“Why gluten-free?” I asked, thinking it might be a cool new flavor profile I’ve been missing out on.
“I can’t have wheat, rye, barley, or oats,” she replied casually.
I just looked at her, dumbfounded.
I learned that she has celiac disease, which is a genetic auto-immune disorder. With celiac disease, the small intestine can’t absorb nutrients from a protein found in wheat, rye, or barley. So a gluten-free diet is the cure. Eventually, I became more aware about the disorder, and I thanked my foodie-dominant genes that I’ll never have to resort to eating gluten-free bread.
My best friend and I moved into a house of four girls our sophomore year. We were split evenly — two were gluten-free, two were not. What are the chances? I went from not knowing what gluten-free meant, to living with people who were. Here are seven things I wish I would have known before moving in with gluten-free roommates.
1. Get Separate Kitchen Appliances
Cross-contamination with gluten is a huge factor I had to keep in mind when we were in the kitchen. At first, we all struggled with this more than we knew. For example, using the toaster for both regular bread and gluten-free bread is obviously an issue. We didn't realize this until a few weeks in.
Eventually, we all got separate kitchen appliances, such as two toasters and separate skillets, baking sheets, and cutting boards. It was the smart thing to do, but I wish we would have thought of that sooner. Cross-contamination affected my two roommates before we figured it out.
2. Separate the Cupboards
Cross-contamination doesn't only happen while cooking, it can spread while having the food stored next to each other in the cupboard. What if some of my oats spilled into her gluten-free oats? An obvious accident that is most definitely preventable. Separating our foods into different cupboards was a great idea that we learned after trial-and-error.
3. Windex the Countertops After Cooking
An obvious thing to to even if you don't have a gluten-free roommate, but something we might forget about. Windexing the countertops became a habit in our house. It ensured that no extra crumbs were lying around in case of cross-contamination. It was also a good excuse to have a clean kitchen.
4. Panda Puffs are Dank
The thought of eating gluten-free food never appealed to me. One day, my friend offered me some cereal so I obliged. I began eating it and by the time I realized it, I ate her whole box. I looked at the brand and it said Nature's Path Panda Puffs. Huh, did I actually just enjoy that? I found a new snack that day, and it opened my eyes to a world of food I never knew existed. Okay, I'm being dramatic. But I found some new snacks to enjoy.
5. Accommodate to Them, Not the Other Way Around
It's important to be respectful of anyone with a food-related allergy or disease. In the case of my friend, she has celiac disease and it's not by choice that she's gluten-free. Once I began trying her foods, I became more aware of what was gluten-free and what wasn't.
This helped me hold my tongue when I wanted her to try a really good pasta dish, and it also opened my mind to a new style of cooking and eating. In a way, it helped us bond. We started a tradition of gluten-free taco Tuesday night.
6. Ciroc is Gluten-Free
Yeah, so our pregames got an upgrade thanks to my two roommates. Ciroc is most definitely gluten-free. No shitty Burnetts for us.
7. Gluten-Free Cheesy Bread is Actually Really Good
Luckily, our favorite late-night pizza place in Ann Arbor serves gluten-free cheesy bread. And when it's 2 am on a Saturday night, and you and your best friend just want to share a drunken conversation over greasy food — split the gluten-free cheesy bread. It's just as good, if not better than regular.