I know, this is starting out to sound like one of those truly annoying Facebook posts – I am who I am and if anyone is offended by that – really, it’s not that, I promise.
This is about living gluten free in a world of people who know just enough about our condition to have an opinion and yet little enough to have it all wrong. It’s about the double edged sword of the recent popularity of the gluten free diet.
On the positive side, there is more choice now than there has ever been. The gluten free section in the grocery store is growing and even outside of the specialty aisle, more products have gluten free labelling than ever before making it much easier to know what’s safe. And depending on where you live, chances are there have been some revisions to regulations around labelling for gluten and wheat products. In Canada, it must be called out on the label if a product contains or may have come into contact with wheat, though the regulation does not extend to other gluten containing grains. There are however very specific guidelines around claiming ‘gluten-free’ on a label or menu and manufacturers and other food producers must heed those guidelines.
The downside is...the look. You’ve seen it. You go to a party, or you’re ordering food in a restaurant and you get “the look”. It’s the look that says, “oh great, a picky eater”, or “wonderful, another one”.
Before I go any further I do have to say that the majority of the time I have positive experiences in restaurants. I try to choose places that have gluten free choices on the menu so they’ll be familiar with what gluten is, and when I aske the server to let the kitchen know that I have celiac, or sometimes I just say allergy for simplicity sake, the response is usually positive and helpful. I’ve even run into a number of servers who have gluten issues themselves so can give advice on what to order.
But it’s those other times, you go to a place that someone else has chosen and they have no idea. You ask if an item on the menu is or can be prepared gluten free and the response is “that should be fine”. So you try to politely explain that “should be fine” is not good enough. Then the server gets his or her back up and then you start to get nervous as to whether they’re going to take you seriously...I recently had a server try to explain to me what gluten is when I asked whether a particular salad dressing was gluten free. “It should be fine, gluten is just....” Really? You want to explain to me what gluten is? Arg! (that’s my frustration sound)
So to the offended part; do you get offended if a server asks you if your gluten free request is due to an allergy or a diet choice? I read a fair bit in forums and face books posts on the subject and quite a few people are offended by that. I personally am not. If you understand the workings of a restaurant, especially during a busy time, everything is fast, the movements are automatic and it all comes together like clockwork so a whole table’s orders can come out at the same time. When a gluten free order comes in the whole thing has to slow down. Gloves changed, clean pan, different sauce, no cross contamination, it’s a big deal. And for the most part they do care. They don’t want you getting sick in their restaurant. So it’s good for them to know how important the cross contamination issue is. And it’s good for you too if you have Celiac that they know they need to be careful. I usually save the server the trouble and just say “can you tell the kitchen it’s an allergy so they know they need to be a bit careful?” I’ve never had a negative reaction to that.
What I am offended by is when people don’t take the condition seriously. There was a video going around facebook a few months ago mocking people on a gluten free diet and what a pain in the a_ _ they are at parties and in restaurants. “Oh look at me, I’m gluten intolerant, I need special attention.” Did you see that one? What did you think? I took exception that because I’m that person who is the pain in restaurants and at parties and it’ not comfortable or fun for me. I do not enjoy the attention, and I know a lot of other people feel the same way. And of course there was that irritating Super Bowl / Nascar ad a few years ago that was happily altered. Some will say, “Lighten up”, “have a sense of humour.” A sense of humour is definitely necessary, but there is a fine line, and I think people making those mocking videos and ads are adding confusion to an already not well understood problem. Of course they are always prefaced by “oh this isn’t directed at you, you have and actual medical condition but lots of people on gluten free diets don’t”. Okay, fair enough, but still, who are they to decide who needs to be on a gluten free diet and who doesn’t and is therefore deserving of the mocking?
So what do you think? Do you find these things offensive, or only in certain circumstances? Check out my facebook page and leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!