Do you remember the first time you moved out of your parent's house? It was probably pretty exciting right? Maybe a little scary too? This time in our lives is always known as one of the biggest. It's a huge step for independence. No more rules, no more curfew. The world is what you make of it! For most of us, we don't have the luxury of living on our own right out of high school. We trade living with our parents for living with a stranger or someone we barely know. What's it like living with a roommate you ask? It can be...well...complicated. Some roommates are great, some are not. But when you are gluten-free and have to live with roommates who eat gluten on a daily basis...this whole roommate thing becomes an even tougher situation.
For those have been following me for a while, you may know that I moved to Columbus, Ohio just 2 months ago. Many people have asked me, "do you live by yourself or with roommates who are gluten-free?" To put it bluntly, no. Quite the opposite. Right now, I live with 2 roommates who eat gluten on the regular. We share the same kitchen and yes, we share the same space where we eat too. I know, I know. That has to be a nightmare of a living situation, right? Well, by the sound of it, you would certainly think so. Surprisingly enough, it's actually worked out very well all because of a few simple things that I've learned. I'll admit that none of this is easy but there is a way to live with roommates who are not gluten-free. Here's what I've learned over the past couple months that can hopefully help you (or your kids in the future) too.
You NEED roommates who are willing to understand and listen
The first step is actually having roommates who are willing to understand why you're gluten-free. This can be hit or miss since sometimes in college we can't choose our roommates at all. If you have an option, try to pick a roommate who you know will listen to your needs. If they aren't willing to listen then this is obviously a red flag from the beginning.
You MUST set rules and guidelines for the kitchen
Establish rules in the kitchen from the very beginning or you'll have a very hard time getting anything done to your liking. Whether you want your own dedicated area for gluten-free food, have a dedicated toaster, or whatever else, you need to make sure your roommates know about these rules so you are all on the same page. It's very unlikely they will know about cross contamination so do your best to explain how to avoid it.
You SHOULD buy your own pots, pans, and cooking equipment
Buying separate pots and pans is optional but I recommend it. Gluten can sometimes get caught in strainers, pot handles, utensils, etc. Most of the time, thoroughly cleaning your cooking utensils should be enough to avoid cross contamination. However, you can never be too careful. At the very least you should buy separate toasters, toaster ovens, and blenders. Everything else is up to you.
You WILL find gluten in places where you don't want it to be
No matter how great your roommate is or how well they understand cross contamination, they will make mistakes and get gluten in places you do not want it. You will come home one day to find crumbs on the counter or gluten in the kitchen where you don't want it to be. It's not a fun feeling but it will happen. When it does happen, try your best to handle the situation calmly. Clean up the mess, mention it to your roommate if it warrants a comment, and move on to the next thing. This will happen many times, likely on accident, and can hopefully be avoided with more time.
You CAN'T be afraid to speak up and say what bothers you
Having a roommate is all about learning how to live with others and deal with conflict. When it comes to gluten-free, you can't be afraid to speak up if your roommate is doing something that may make you sick. Speak up when it's necessary and work with your roommate to find a solution to the problem. Some people can be blatantly rude but it's likely that they will understand if it comes to your health. You have to put yourself and your health first no matter what the roommate situation is.
Examples of pots and utensils that I bought to separate from my roommate's cookware
Look...every roommate is different, every situation is different, and it's obviously hard for me to say that all of my advice will apply directly to you. At the end of the day, you have to put your health first. Being gluten-free is not anything to be ashamed of and it is not a nuisance to others in any way. You didn't choose to be gluten-free. You didn't ask to have this disease that makes it even more difficult to have roommates. So don't let anybody make you believe that. I'll admit that it's not an easy task to live with roommates who eat gluten on a daily basis. But with some confidence, time, and diligence, it is doable. My roommates now have made the experience amazing and I'm very grateful that they take the time to understand and listen. Would it be easier if my roommates were actually gluten-free? Sure. But we have to make the most of the situation we're given and face it head on. This is likely a situation that will come up for you (or your kids) too and I know that you can overcome it just like myself.