As a college student, I've had my fare share of hits and misses when it comes to navigating a moving to a new state, dining halls, and learning how to self-sustain without a meal plan. I've learned not to depend on others to understand my dietary restrictions and always have food on hand that's safe to eat in a pinch. However, an unexpected opportunity proved to me that sometimes you find gluten-free friendliness in the most unlikely of places.
I returned back to Baltimore a week before my university's classes started back to attend a six day leadership retreat with about 70 fellow student leaders on campus. We were whisked away to a retreat facility in Pennsylvania (see additional info at bottom of post), which made me far more nervous than the others in my group because I was leaving behind familiar Baltimore restaurants and grocery stores. Of course I packed several protein bars as well as a couple bags of sweet potato chips in my suitcase, but for the most part I was walking into the week with no idea what to expect in the way of what my dining situation would be. Could I really go a week without preparing my own food?
All fears were cast aside that first evening, where I was presented with a labeled plastic-wrapped plate loaded with food that was only slightly modified from the meal my friends were enjoying. I immediately felt at ease because I knew steps had been taken to make sure my food was safe and I did not feel left out at all because of my dietary limitations. The icing on top (pun intended) was that the staff made me a chocolate cupcake for dessert- a treat that put a huge smile on my face.
What was so cool about the retreat center was that during the summer, they operate as a Jewish summer camp, so the kitchens on site are intentionally designed to keep kosher. Meat cannot be served alongside dairy, and vice versa, so our meals were designated as either meat or dairy, depending on what was in the menu (see additional info below). Whenever it was a meat meal I did not have to worry about dairy cross contamination at all because no dairy products are in the meat kitchen. On dairy days, my food was prepped separately with dairy-free substitutes such as vegan cheese standing in on pizza bagels and grilled cheeses.
From french toast to chicken fajitas, I never ate the same meal twice, and even was given small treats to take with me to snack on through the day. I spotted several familiar brands along the way as well, including Udi's, Enjoy Life Foods, and Chex (the chocolate variety!).
Needless to say, I give full kudos to the entire kitchen staff for going above and beyond to help me eat well and without fear. If they had not been so conscientious, the entire experience could have been a disaster for me. It was such a luxurious treat to be able to have a delicious, safe meal three times a day, and I did not have to touch my protein bars and chips the entire week. While I won't ever stop traveling with a small stash of food on hand, the experience taught me that with awareness, advanced warning, and protocols in place, dietary restrictions do not have to be all that restrictive after all.
Just imagine if more hotels, restaurants, or schools were this accommodating when it comes to dietary restrictions? I know I left inspired by not only the leadership conference but also this glimpse of a facility doing restricted dining really right.
Additional info: the retreat center I stayed at was the Capital Camps and Retreat facility in Waynesboro, PA. For more info about retreats, click here. For more info about their summer camps for all ages, click here. Besides keeping Kosher, Capital Camp's facility is entirely nut-free.
For a primer on Kosher, click here.