Hello, it’s me. The girl who asked for a gluten free menu. I know what I look like to you. A chubby, blue-eyed, white girl. My smartphone resides in my hand, my glasses are a stylish brand, and I’m probably wearing leggings. Or American Eagle jeans. It depends on how I’m feeling. I know what you see. You could probably guess my coffee order (PSL in the fall, but did you know my favorite way to take my coffee is black?) and my favorite season (fall, but seriously, who doesn’t love fall?!). All in all, to you, I am your typical basic white girl. My request for a gluten free menu just puts the cherry on top of your assumptions.
I get it. I know all-too-well that on the outside, I do not look like someone who has a medical necessity to be gluten free. But here’s the thing: I am that someone. If I eat gluten, I will get terribly sick. And I mean terribly sick. Once, more than a decade before the diagnosis that would change my life, I threw up in a Chick-Fil-A. It was pink, it was chunky, and it was disgusting. But I digress. Sort of.
I saw you roll your eyes. If it wasn’t you, it was the hostess you retrieved the menu from. Or maybe it was the other waiter who helped you bring my family’s food to the table when my plate got turned away because a roll was sitting on my food. That one was induced when you were informed that bread could not touch my food in any way and the plate would need to be remade. I have imagined the eye roll on any kitchen staff that ignores or forgets the “gluten free” note on my order or refuses to remake my plate, choosing to let it sit for a certain amount of time (after removing the offending gluten) before sending it back out. Oh yes, I can tell when you do that. Residue is a thing.
I understand. Really, I do. You have no idea how much I cringe when someone asks me if I think eating gluten free is healthy or when someone asks me what I even eat (have you seen my hips?! Girl, let me tell you what I eat). In the six years since I learned I have Celiac Disease, I have heard and seen it all. I have been told I’m faking it, I have gone to parties and not been able to eat a thing, I have had ice cream shop employees try to stop me from ordering full-sugar ice cream because they think gluten and glucose are one and the same and they don’t want to be responsible for me going into diabetic shock (good intentions, just misplaced). I have had waiters and waitresses roll their eyes at me and sigh in exasperation. I have felt frustrated and scared to eat at a restaurant.
I have read all the posts written by the fad dieters, claiming that gluten is literally of the devil and seriously WHY ARE YOU STILL EATING IT. I have read posts from the other extreme, claiming that celiacs are lying and don’t know anything. Fad dieters and fake science have done serious damage to honest people who just want to eat whatever they want but can’t because their bodies have formed a coup against anything made from wheat, barley, or rye. The villi in my small intestine scream in terror whenever I ingest anything containing gluten. My body rebels, my brain goes into a fog, I can’t think straight, I slip into a depression, my GI system shows its fury in ways I should not describe.
But why am I saying all this? Why am I telling you these things?
Because I must ask you: please believe me.
Believe me when I ask about gluten free options. Believe me that I cannot eat certain foods because they will cause serious damage. Believe me that you need to take this just as seriously as if you had a customer with a peanut allergy. It is the same principle. Please believe every person who walks through your door and asks for a gluten free menu. Treat them all as if they physically cannot eat gluten. Even if you think they’re lying or part of a white girl bandwagon. That is not for you to decide. It is not your job and unless you’re waiting tables to pay for medical or nursing school, it never will be.
Something else I should mention as well: I love to teach. Most celiacs do. Because of the hand life has dealt us and the way the world is, we have had to learn how to be educators on our disease. We can tell you more about gluten and where it can be found than you’ll ever want to know. If I say the word “gluten free” and you’re not sure what I mean, please ask me. I would love to explain it to you. I have educated many a waiter and food service employee and I don’t plan on stopping now. I am willing to teach. Please be willing to learn (as we all should be throughout our lives – not just at restaurants).
I know it’s frustrating to do your job. I have never waited tables, but I have worked in food service. People and their weird demands are, well, weird. And adding an allergy on top of everything you already have to do and worry about just feels like one. more. thing. But this is the one more thing that you need to take seriously. If you take it seriously, so will the kitchen, and anyone else who has to handle my food.
And if I send back my plate to be remade, I promise it is causing me more agony than it is causing you. I (and other Celiacs) absolutely hate the idea that we are causing any inconvenience or disruption in someone’s day. I realize what asking for my plate to be remade does to the flow of the kitchen. But my health is too important. The health of every “allergy person” who walks through your doors is too important. If we ask for our plates to be remade, please make sure they are remade. This is more than not liking how our steak was cooked. This is about the strange desire to walk out of your restaurant as healthy as we walked in (caloric and sugar content of the food aside 😉 ).
This is not intended to rip into waiters, waitresses, and kitchen staff for an already difficult job. This is a plea, from me and every other person who lives with Celiac Disease. We want to give you our business. We want to eat and enjoy your food without wondering in the back of our minds if the waiter and kitchen staff took our dietary needs seriously. If you keep your goal excellence in all things, including how you deal with your gluten free customers, every celiac who visits your restaurant will leave with glowing reviews and send all their celiac friends to eat there. No celiac (or anyone with any kind of significant food allergy) forgets a restaurant that made sure their health mattered.
A basic white girl, who also has Celiac Disease