Are you a celiac?
And, do I have to answer "yes" to have my decision to be gluten free taken seriously?
It happens often, I go to a restaurant and ask my server if they have any gluten free options. I immediately encounter the question, "Are you a celiac?" I am sure my disappointment must register - I am not known for my poker face. Here are the questions that are running through my mind:
1. Does my server actually understand the differences between celiac disease and gluten intolerance?
I doubt it, I barely do and I have spent a lot of time trying to educate myself. There is a wonderful book, "Healthier Without Wheat: A New Understanding of Wheat Allergies, Celiac Disease, and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance" by Stephen Wangen, that describes celiac disease as a small circle within the much larger circle of gluten intolerance. Celiac is not necessarily more severe or debilitating than other forms of gluten intolerance. It means gluten affects the cilia/small intestines. For those with gluten intolerance, gluten can affect many other systems in the body, ie. liver function, neurological systems, etc.
2. Isn't it easier/faster for everyone (including the kitchen) if the process stays the same for all customers who avoid gluten?
The restaurant either has gluten free offerings or it doesn't. There are processes in place that ensure cross-contamination doesn't occur or there aren't. The staff is knowledgeable and respectful or they aren't. This shouldn't change based on my answer of celiac or not.
3. Most importantly, is the restaurant going to be less careful and thoughtful with my food if I answer in the negative?
So now I am on the defensive, feeling somewhat apologetic for asking in the first place and annoyed that I now will be spending money at a place where I may get sick afterwards. And although I do not want to lie, it is tempting and easier then explaining my personal journey to being gluten free. Do I need to tell you about the battery of tests I subjected myself to or the years of poor health I dealt with?
I get it, more than most probably, having a gluten free individual in a restaurant can be tricky for your staff. It is a busy Saturday night and your line is buried in tickets. The kitchen is a hundred degrees, the cooks are dancing to a beat that only hot equipment, cramped spaces, sharp objects and lots of bodies can produce. The expeditor grinds everything to a halt with a gluten free request - you have to wash your hands (a good food practice anyway), get new utensils, change pans and be very mindful with that item from order to plate. It takes time. It also means the restaurant has to know every ingredient in every dish and this is not always possible. For example, I may ask if the rice dish is gluten free. I know rice is gluten free, but you may use a chicken stock or a spice blend or a dash of somethin' somethin' that isn't. Trust me when I say I would much rather hear there is nothing I can eat safely then gambling with my health.
As a business, it is your job to offer your customers quality food service. This does not mean second-guessing your patrons' diet decisions - it means honoring them.