If you have an allergy or special dietary needs, living with someone (or worse, multiple people) who eat what you cannot and sharing a kitchen with them, isn’t just a challenge, it is a flat-out risk. I recently made a clean break with gluten for medical reasons. This was only two weeks prior to moving into my first apartment with a new roommate who not only eats gluten but is also a chef, so I know I am going to be constantly surrounded by my new enemy (gluten, not my roommate). I have however, learned some things that can make sharing a kitchen easier.
Have that conversation that you are dreading
First of all, you need to have a serious conversation with your roommate about what your dietary needs are, and ask for their understanding and support. For a lot of us, getting even traces of gluten, dairy, egg, or whatever else, in our foods can mean being sick for days. Our roommates need to understand this, and most will likely be very receptive.
I was extremely nervous to tell my roommate that I had to go gluten free. Knowing she is a chef who loves to cook and bake, I didn’t want her to be angry that she has to live with someone who is highly allergic to almost everything she cooks. But I told her. I got lucky. She was very understanding. Actually I lucked out even more because in culinary school she was trained how to keep a kitchen spotless, and how to cook many gluten-free meals. So although contamination in my food is inevitable, hopefully it will happen very infrequently.
The point is, talk to them immediately. The longer you wait the more risks you put on your health. Your roommates may be very helpful!
Immediately get rid of all things that have ever come in contact with your allergen!
Your favorite wooden cutting boards? Sorry, they have to go. The cuts in the wood are likely hiding spots for the gluten of your past meals. Wooden spoons? Same thing. Rolling Pin? Oh I really hope you get the point by now. It all has to go. If they belong to your roommate then don’t throw them away (obviously) but get your own and keep them completely separated.
Do you share a toaster or toaster oven with your roommate? You are going to have to invest in your own. Any traces of gluten in that toaster are going to attack your seemingly gluten free meal.
Going gluten-free is EXPENSIVE. The food is expensive. All of the new kitchen gadgets are expensive. But what is money without your health?
Dairy Free/ Egg Free/ All other Special Diets
It is time you start reading those labels carefully. Dairy, gluten, and eggs are all very common ingredients in foods that you would never guess contained them. Even nuts hide in foods you would never expect! Learn how to scan labels for all variations of whatever your allergen may be. Once you do this, throw away any foods that contain these enemies. You do not want to risk forgetting that granola bar contains dairy, only to one day eat it and get sick. Throw the food away, give it away, donate it; do whatever you have to do to get it out of your way.
This may be obvious but in case it is not, you really need to separate your food from your roommate’s. You need your own cabinet, your own shelves in the fridge (Tip: take the higher shelves so that crumbs from gluten-y foods don’t fall onto your food.) You wouldn’t think you needed to do this for packaged foods, right? Wrong.
Anything that is spread on bread (i.e. butter, mayo, jam, peanut butter, or whatever else) has to be separated. No more sharing those basics. If you aren’t sure whether something can be shared, err on the side of caution and get your own.
Dairy Free/ Egg Free/ All other Special Diets
The same goes for all other allergies. Gluten is extra skilled at getting into other foods that it does not belong in, but that doesn’t mean peanuts aren’t going to somehow end up in your cereal. Maybe your roommate loves peanuts and was eating some when he moved your cereal box to get to his foods. You never know what could happen, so just separate everything to be safe.
Living with special dietary needs is never easy. It probably never will be, because there are always going to be people in your life who cook with and eat the things that you cannot. Ideally, we would live with roommates who also don’t eat those things, but this isn’t always an accessible solution. Finding a roommate is enough of a process but to add a filter to your search that diminishes the pool as much as being gluten free (or whatever you may be) does? Who knows when you would find someone! Hopefully your roommates will be very understanding and helpful along your journey!
Best of luck to us all!