The first time I walked to lunch at my six-week summer program in June, I was, quite literally, terrified. I had flown to another state, my parents had left, and I hadn’t even finished unpacking my stuff. On top of all that, I was pretty hungry. The program was on a college campus. I had chosen this one because I knew that they had safe dining halls, but still, doubts echoed throughout my mind as I stood in the long line of kids waiting for food. I saw person after person step out of the line with plates full of pizza, but I couldn’t get a good enough view of the actual food to see if there was anything else.
Stepping away from the conversation I was in with my four new friends, I courageously asked a girl who had just gotten pizza and a salad what the food options were, being sure to erase any hint of nervousness in my voice. “Oh, it’s just pizza and some sort of chicken,” she replied, kindly. My heartbeat quickened, but all hope was not lost. Chicken was promising, and my mind immediately thought of what kinds of sides I could put together with that to make it into a full meal that would satiate my grumbling stomach. Even though I had yet to see anyone walk out of the food line holding a plate that didn’t have pizza, I still wasn’t in panic mode quite yet.
As a savvy allergy kid who deals with this kind of situation on a daily basis, I knew that even if worse came to worst and I couldn’t find anything, I could UberEats Chipotle. However, UberEats was not sustainable for six weeks. I went back to chatting with my friends and patiently waited in line. After an eternity of waiting, phone in hand with the UberEats app at the ready, I grabbed a plate and scanned my options. I immediately sighed in relief, the corners of my mouth turning up into a soft smile: I saw an entire section of juicy chicken, plain white rice, roasted vegetables, and french fries. It was exactly the kind of food I had hoped the dining hall would have when I signed up for the program. I checked the trusty ingredients labels, something that is unfortunately yet unsurprisingly rare at college dining halls, next to each dish just in case one contained my allergen and piled my plate with delicious, allergy-friendly food. As I ate with my new group of friends that first day, stress turned to satisfaction, and dread turned to peace. Independence never tasted so good.
I spent the rest of the summer eating comfortably at the multiple dining halls on campus and cherishing the independence that I could finally embrace now that I knew the dining halls were safe for my allergies. This summer I got to discover the confidence that I always knew I had, but that was often covered up by the anxiety of my food allergies. One thing I wonder about a lot is how much better my last three years of high school would’ve been if my school had taken the extra step to accommodate my allergies like the dining halls did at my summer program. It would have saved me a lot of stress, nervousness, and trust issues that kids with allergies have to experience, often alone, on a daily basis. So, as I enter my senior year of high school knowing that at school, nothing will change, I will hold onto my fond memories of safe, allergy-friendly dining this summer with one lesson in mind: there is hope.