Saturday, January 3, 2015
The Secret Society of the Gluten Free
I’m originally from the south. We coat everything in flour and deep fry it. We bake pies with flaky homemade crusts, thick cobblers overflowing with berries, fluffy dumplings, and gravy so thick you could cut it with a fork.
In other words, we revel in gluten; but not anymore, at least for me. Severe joint pain and a few other issues have left me searching for relief, thus I venture down the path of the gluten free (GF).
It’s been an adjustment, especially when it comes to eating out. I feel as though I have joined some sort of underground group – The Secret Society of the Gluten Free.
I call it that, not because we are a silent group. No, we will vociferously ask for our GF options. I use the term because, when asking for a gluten-free menu at a local restaurant recently, the waitress glanced around furtively, leaned over, and said, in a low voice, “I’ll go find you one.”
When she returned to the table, she slid the menu across to me as if she were passing top secret documents that would soon self-destruct.
I commented on the oddity to my husband, after the waitress had ventured off to pass along government secrets to the Russians at the next table. Then I glanced down at the menu. “Oh, look,” I said, “it’s in code.”
Ok, it wasn't really in code, but the laminated 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of plain white paper, with small but simple black type, required a ludicrous amount of cross-referencing with the regular menu. The GF menu also included the standard “I hope you know you are going to suffer some cross-contamination, and probably explosive diarrhea, for having the unmitigated gall to eat out” warning as well as instructions for the restaurant staff on preparation of the somewhat dry and boring gluten-free options.
The rice, I might add, was listed as a non-GF food. Rice. The added seasonings were apparently rife with gluten.
I stuck closely to the menu, and specified more than once to the waitress that this was a GF meal. Having served as spy-for-a-day, she’d lost interest in the whole GF affair and jotted the order down as if it were no big deal.
Four hours later, my feet were swollen, usually the first sign I've had gluten. Thankfully, I missed out on the explosive diarrhea.
At another restaurant (you’d think I’d learn the dangers of eating out, wouldn't you?), I was lectured by a friend that restaurants were taking pains to train their staff in the dangers of cross-contamination for celiac patrons.
“That’s not been my experience,” I tell her, yet she firmly stuck to her belief that all servers were wise to gluten.
The waitress arrived to take our orders, and I asked if there was a gluten-free menu (probably locked in the vault). No luck. So I inquired as to which menu items were gluten-free.
“Um, that’s yeast, right?” she replied, as I gave my friend an “I told you so” eyebrow.
I even had to explain that no croutons could touch the salad. “No, I can’t just pick them out,” I firmly told the disbelieving waitress.
I am so tired of salad.
In a world where travel is common and eating out is a social thing, it’s hard to avoid restaurants. Even at my job, a regular team luncheon is expected. It’s difficult to explain that one can’t simply just order a salad (Did I mention I’m sick of salad?) and trust that it’s free of gluten. (What are those crumbly things?? Are those artificial bacon bits?? What’s in that dressing?)
I’m tired of explaining whether or not I have an “official” diagnosis, and what happens if I eat gluten. Personally, I don’t want to explain my intestinal issues, and I’m sure the surrounding diners don’t want to hear about it while they are enjoying their warm yeast rolls, pies, cakes, and other gluten vehicles.
As for second-hand gluten, or cross-contamination, it’s frustrating. Try insisting that your friend or co-worker not pass that plate of rolls across your plate, or eat that sandwich while standing close enough for crumbs to fall into your very plain salad. (Lettuce is evil and if I eat any more I will find myself delivering Easter eggs.) Of course everyone thinks you are overreacting and just being cranky because you don’t have enough carbs in your diet. Never mind trying to explain the issue of needing a separate toaster.
I was told by one person that they gave up gluten for a while and felt amazing, but explained that was most likely due to the fact they gave up drinking and sugar, as well.
“Whoa, now, let’s not get crazy,” I replied. “I’m not trying to deprive myself. There are plenty of gluten-free alcohol options. And sugar? That stuff’s gluten-free. I will eat it right out of the bag.”
I’m not some kind of nut case, you know. Pass the wine.