The chocolate shake at the fast-casual restaurant seemed safe. Not only were there signs for gluten-free buns and other special-diet accommodations posted in plain sight, my Google search clearly stated, “Chocolate Milkshake—no gluten ingredients.” I frequently turn to milkshakes when I’m hungry on the go: They’re separate from the main food-prep area, premixed and dispensed right into a cup with minimal handling.
Shake in hand, I sat down at a narrow window seat and settled in, weary from having clocked 13,000 steps touring museums that morning. After a few sips, I passed the shake to my ten-year old and special companion for the day. We were enjoying a much anticipated mommy-daughter day in downtown Washington D.C. I had planned it as an educational adventure for her. I wanted to introduce her to our nation’s capital and expose her to the wonders of its museums.
“Mommy!” she suddenly blurted out with alarm, “I crunched something, like a cookie.”
Although she doesn’t have celiac disease or any food sensitivities, she’s aware that I have issues with gluten. I was diagnosed with celiac disease long before she was born and tried to shield her from some of the stresses associated with the gluten-free diet. My stomach flip-flopped as I tore the lid off the shake, searching for evidence of gluten. Tucked in the folds of the melting ice cream were several tiny pieces of what looked like crushed chocolate cookie crumbs.
I flagged a manager and while doing so, overheard an order being placed in the line next to me: “I’ll have the chocolate shake with Oreos.” The manager tried to assure me that, as per protocol, my plain chocolate shake was in a white cup and that shakes with add-ins like Oreos go in the clear cups. But the flecks of apparent cookie crumbs screamed of cross-contact—or gross error.
“Do we need to go home, Mommy?”
In my daughter’s voice there was disappointment, the prospect of having to abruptly end our special day. But mostly there was just concern: Would I be OK?
“No, we’re not going home,” I said firmly. “Let’s toss the shake in the garbage and hope for the best.”
There’s nothing you can do after a possible glutening, I told her, except try to learn from it and follow any self-care measures that work for you. For me, that’s drinking a ginger kombucha and plenty of water.
The educational trip for my daughter ended up being eye-opening for me. What did I learn? That celiac disease is a family affair. At just ten years old, my daughter is already celiac-smart. She’s developed an awareness and sensitivity to special-diet issues without my consciously instilling that. And glutening doesn’t just affect me, the person with celiac disease; my daughter felt it, too.
Contributor Christine Boyd, former health editor of Gluten Free & More, is a health policy analyst in Baltimore, Maryland.