There is a war occurring between the people trying to avoid gluten and the people serving them in restaurants. This posting is in response to the online post: tickld.com/funny/t/775109. I’d like to propose a truce that will probably satisfy neither side:
What I’d like the people who want gluten free food at a restaurant to know:
- When declaring that you have a gluten allergy (and yes I know that Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease not an allergy) you raise the stakes for the restaurant; they inherently don’t want to poison you, so if they now tell you that you can’t eat ¾ of their menu, don’t reject the perception of your allergy so you can eat bread. You look like an asshole.
- Have some basic knowledge of what has gluten in it, before you declare you want to eat gluten free. Probably ordering Gluten Free pasta and sourdough bread is a tip off to your server that you have gone rogue.
- Accept that if your server says it’s contaminated then it probably is. It took me a while to understand that sushi could be contaminated. Don’t be a jerk and argue with your server.
- Accept that some servers and cooks don’t know even what gluten is or what products have gluten in them, if you ask if something is gluten free and get a weird answer like ‘all our food is gluten free’ in a chinese restaurant, or ‘yeah, no problem, would you like bread with that?’; assume that YOU know WAY more than they and it might be time to leave the restaurant….
- If you ask for special services, give an extra tip
What I’d like the people who work as a server or chef to know:
- I am not a ‘Glutentard’; if you think of me as one, you need to find a different profession.
- Currently 1-2% of all people in the US have Celiac Disease and many more are undiagnosed. Additionally, many people have wheat allergies which cause congestion, upset stomachs, and other problems. Many Celiacs have few symptoms but eating gluten long term will destroy the duodenum, which is the part of the small intestine. This is the area that absorbs vitamins and minerals, including calcium, so long term this is potentially a fatal disease. Most of us grew up loving bread. I loved to bake sourdough bread and was a home brewer before I was diagnosed. Celiacs is a life condition that requires major diligence to be healthy, and most of us (me included) fall off the wagon from time to time and eat something we should not.
- Newly diagnosed Celiacs or people with Gluten sensitivity are inconsistent. Just after my diagnosis, I thought ‘Just don’t eat wheat’. Later I found out that all oats that aren’t certified Gluten Free are contaminated, so my oatmeal breakfasts while traveling were curtailed. As I learned more I changed. Don’t evaluate inconsistency as faking, it could just be ignorance.
- When you offer a gluten-free menu or gluten-free options I’d like to trust that each item is free of cross-contamination. So if you’re offering gluten-free pasta I assume that you did not cook it in the same water as wheat pasta. My pet peeve: Gluten free menus that ask you to inform your server of allergies: when you inform your server, he or she explains what’s cross contaminated. I would like a Gluten Free Menu to list only gluten free items.
- When I eat at your high end restaurant, you have given me the impression that you cook everything for me individually. When I ask if you can accommodate my gluten-free needs, it’s OK to say, “you’ll have to wait an extra 30 minutes if you order this dish because we need to boil new water.”
- How much of your kitchen is unnecessarily contaminated with gluten? If you want to serve food to people who suffer from some sort of problem when they eat gluten, perhaps you are able to reduce the cross-contamination by boiling gluten-free pasta in fresh water and baking with wheat flour only in a separate area of the kitchen or at a separate time. You can state on your gluten-free menu what precautions you take, and then people can judge for themselves if they will be able to eat at your restaurant.
- If, on the other hand, your food offerings are made with gluten and that’s all you want to offer, be polite to your customers but do not offer them a gluten-free menu. You can explain politely to those who ask that you are sorry but you are not able to accommodate their dietary needs. Maybe you can avoid hating them for having a problem that both you and they wish they did not have.
- It’s OK to tell me I can’t order anything fried since the fryer is cross contaminated, and it’s also OK to think about practices in the future that would allow for gluten free frying if you would like to have me as a customer.
- Vanilla ice cream is cheap, and delicious, and as far as I know all brands are gluten free. Even if I can’t eat any of your desserts, it’s OK to offer me plain vanilla ice cream so I can be sociable with my companions. It’s even more awesome if you thought ahead of time and can have an actual gluten free dessert option.
- Could chefs look at each menu item with a eye toward gluten? Could you create corn chips or purchase corn chips without wheat flour? If you make them yourself, do you need to use flour-contaminated oil? Arrowroot or corn starch can thicken a sauce nicely — would it compromise the taste? If not then why not?
I hope this helps all sides…..