Life StoryFeb/Mar 2014 Issue

We've Got "Issues": Fend the Trend

When restaurants jump on the bandwagon and add gluten-free meals to their menus, be wary of how they prepare it—and ask a lot of questions!

Photo by Oksana Charla

Photo by Oksana Charla

Dear Issues,

I’m starting to feel like the gluten-free trend is getting dangerous. Excited by all the gluten-free menus popping up in restaurants around town, I’ve been dining out much more often, trying new places outside my usual short list of safe restaurants. While my social life has improved, I’m getting sick more often. I order only off the gluten-free menus, so what is happening? I’m thinking about limiting my outings to my old haunts, which means staying home more often.

Signed, Losing Hope

Dear Losing,

I hear you. While I maintain the gluten-free trend is good news only to those of us with food issues, I can see why you’re worried. The sad fact is that some restaurants just want to cash in on the gluten-free trend without doing their homework. Other restaurants truly want to offer safe options but they just don’t realize how horrible it is for intolerants and celiacs when our pasta is cooked in the same pot as the gluten-y kind.

So it’s up to us to educate. Don’t avert your eyes—I’m talking to you… and everyone else out there who enjoys eating without ending up in the bathroom.

The next time you enter a newly gluten-free dining hall, come prepared. Be ready to ask the server about how the gluten-free food is kept safe in the kitchen. If they give you a blank stare, push further. Ask if they can talk to the chef (or hey, if you’re up for it, march back to the kitchen and introduce yourself) because you get violently ill if gluten even touches your tongue. Ask about prep, pots and pans used, sauces and sides. Mention the sneaky sources of gluten, like soy sauce, malt vinegar and a “dusting” of flour. Be incredibly clear, don’t back down from your “I have to know this” stance and say “thank you” repeatedly and sincerely.

Is this hard? It can be. Is it annoying? Oh, you bet. But if you want to leave the house and get beyond your old go-to spots, it must be done. This kind of grilling will tell you which restaurants actually are safe and which are just looking to make a quick buck.

Also, keep in mind that you’re making that restaurant a little bit safer for the next gluten-free diner.

Breach of Trust

Dear Issues,

I have celiac disease and a dairy problem. My husband has always been very supportive and on the lookout. This week, however, I was cooking with some chicken broth he picked up at the store when I realized it listed barley malt on the ingredient list. Not only was dinner ruined but the slip-up has caused me to panic. If my husband—a guy who knows everything about gluten-free and dairy-free—can make a chicken broth mistake, what hope do I have of safely dining at anyone else’s house?

Signed, Panic in the Pantry

Dear Panic,

Ugh! I’m so sorry for this invasion of your kitchen. The one thing we sensitive eaters should always been able to count on is the safety of our own homes. Your saucepan was breached and that’s gotta feel like a violation.

It’s fine to flip out for a second. OK. All done? Now let’s figure out how to get out of your panic zone.

First, forgive your husband for an honest mistake. The great thing about making an error like this is that your husband will never make it again.

About someone else’s place, I don’t want to add to your panic but the fact is you may not be totally safe in anyone else’s house. No matter how well intentioned your friends and neighbors may be, they are still people. And people are fallible, just like your husband. You cannot count on perfection. You can only try to relax and enjoy yourself in the company of friends who have your best GF/DF interests at heart.

One thing you can do, however, is spread the word. That chicken broth story can go a long way in educating your friends about how easy it is to get gluten slipped into your system. Make it funny, emphasize how much you love your husband and what a label-reading fox he is. Make this the take-away: “This gluten-free thing is so tricky! You have to pay attention to every detail!” The next time you’re invited over, you can bet your host will take more than a cursory glance at her chicken broth.

April Peveteaux is the author of Gluten Is My Bitch.

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