Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Gluten-free means never not having to question everything

Remember the movie Love Story?  In it, there's a somewhat ridiculous line, though it's sweet in the film, "love means never having to say you're sorry".  I told you it was ridiculous.... Anyway, I was thinking recently about what gluten-free really means.  Of course, it means different things to different people.  There are some, or rather, many of us that are gluten-free because we have celiac, a gluten intolerance issue or worse, a wheat allergy (gluten-free is wheat free, but wheat free doesn't mean gluten-free, BTW).  Then there are hoards of other people that couldn't explain what gluten-free actually means for a million bucks.

I think we've all been guilty of being glad that so many people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon in the last several years. It's hard not to get excited when you can find a gluten-free version of apple fritters, battered fish and even "fried onions" at your local supermarket.  Today in fact, there are more gluten-free versions of things I can have than I can't.  Over a decade ago, I never thought I'd be able to say that.

Recently, I attended a charity event (which I didn't buy tickets for, but went as a guest) and beforehand I checked to see if any of the "finger food" served at the venue would be gluten-free. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly based on the town I was in, I found out I could eat something from the saute station and nothing else.  I didn't realize until we arrived that some cheese grits with spinach dish was the ONLY thing at the saute station.  Oh well, that's why I had cheese crackers, almonds and yogurt pretzels in my!

We were going out to dinner after the event so I just needed something to nibble on while tasting many delicious wines. But my husband, who gets way more annoyed about me not finding safe food at such events than I do, was determined to find something else for me to enjoy. In checking out the mostly gluten-filled buffet station options, he noticed individual servings of what looked like a berries and cream dessert. Surely, he thought, this must be gluten-free. He excitedly told me about what he'd found and decided we should find out if I could enjoy this lovely treat.

Mind you, we're in a hotel ballroom so there aren't servers and employees running around just anywhere. We had to wait for a while until we finally found someone to ask.  The guy dressed in kitchen garb, including a "chef's jacket", that I decided to ask about the dessert seemed put off by being disturbed. That's fine by me - I just had a quick question that he could answer easily with a "yes, no or I don't know". His answer didn't bring much confidence that the dessert was gluten-free.  In the end, he determined that it was.  And if I was new to the gluten-free game, I would have made myself very sick away from home - not cool.

Trusting my instinct instead of the questionable (and somewhat questionable) answer from the restaurant staffer, I asked my husband to eat the dessert first.  If he determined that it tasted like berries and cream (all that was supposedly in it), then I would have gladly tried it myself. But guess what?  There were TINY pieces of cake in the dessert!  That's right - cake - and it was NOT gluten-free cake, obviously. How ridiculous is that?  I honestly had a hard time believing it happened!

I felt really badly that I let this incident pretty much ruin the rest of my night.  Not because I ate something that made me sick - I was vigilant enough to keep that from happening.  Not because I wanted the dessert either.  It just infuriates me that so MANY people in the U.S. still DO NOT get what food allergies are or - or know what gluten-free means.  Honestly, only third world countries are behind us on this issue.  It's completely embarrassing how misinformed (or totally uninformed) the majority of food service workers are in this country.   



Best gluten-free "Ritz" style cracker!

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