Dropping the Allergy

I’ve had celiac disease for nearly three years now.  It’s been a long and sometimes very challenging road, but I am healthy and feeling great!  Over the years, I’ve gone through my fair share of hiccups…some making me swear off half the restaurants and fast food joints I know.  But I’m learning to live with the disease, and learning to live my life despite the restrictions it places in my path.  Recently I was out to dinner with a group and the most liberating words came out of my mouth…”I have celiac disease.”  I went on to explain the full story, I can’t eat gluten, I’m very sensitive to cross-contamination, please be sure to check with the chef.  For the past three years, I’ve had a habit of telling restaurants that I have a gluten allergy.  You and I both know that’s not the case, but allergies are taken seriously, and my health is not something worth risking.

Telling places and people that I have an allergy has started to bother me though, I’m doing myself and everyone a disservice by not telling them the truth.  My friends and family may know that I have celiac disease, but there are so many people that still don’t know what that is.  The month of May is celiac disease awareness month, so I’m making it my mission to never again tell that little white lie about my condition.  I have celiac disease.  I’ve been living with it for three years.  Ask me about it and I’d be happy to share my story with you!  If we can’t talk about it honestly ourselves, how can we expect others to understand?  Join me in promising to tell restaurants, servers and chefs from this point forward, “I have celiac disease!”

Stadiums

I love watching games as much, if not more, than the next person.  But nothing truly beats going to a game in person!  While visiting a good friend in Boston this past weekend, we had the incredible experience of visiting TD Garden to catch a Celtics game.  It struck me that a blog post on surviving a trip to stadiums and arenas would be the perfect topic for this week!  Part of the game experience is getting to indulge in foods you don’t normally get to eat.  Thankfully, many stadiums are making the effort now to offer some sort of gluten free options.

TD Garden

Celtics Game at TD Garden

Celtics Game at TD Garden

Enjoying the view from our seats!

Enjoying the view from our seats!

After searching around online, we figured out that there was at least one option for me.  Unfortunately, the TD Garden website wasn’t that much help, and I tracked down most information from comments and blogs online.  Relieved that I wouldn’t have to bring something with me, we tracked down Guest Services as soon as we were inside.  They were very helpful, and directed me to two separate concessions that could offer gluten free menu options.  I can’t speak to the second stand, but the stand closest to our seats had caesar salad or turkey wraps.  After grilling the staff behind the stand about where the wraps are made, whether or not the wraps were gluten free, and any question I could think of, I got myself a turkey wrap.  It was pretty expensive, but I guess that’s to be expected from any food at a special event.

Nationals Park

Game time at Nationals Park

Game time at Nationals Park

Although we haven’t been since early fall, Nationals Park is my favorite stadium to visit.  Not only do they have a completely gluten free concession stand, but they also offer gluten free soft pretzel sticks!!  I can not put into words how much I look forward to those pretzels each baseball season.  It’s always been a weakness of mine, and to find them gluten free was absolutely amazing!  The concession stand carries all the standard baseball favorites (hot dogs, chilli cheese dogs, nachos, and popcorn), plus they’ve even got Red Bridge Beer so you can enjoy your beer with everyone else 🙂

Lesson #1: Do the research before you go, make sure you’ll be okay if you don’t bring your own snacks to a game.  If the website doesn’t have gluten free options listed, call customer service.  If you still can’t figure out whether there are safe options, be prepared to bring your own food!

Lesson #2: Every stadium has some sort of guest services office, stop in to ask for help if you can’t find your way to a safe concession stand.  That’s what they’re there for!

Open Letter to Resaurants

Majority of the time, I try to bring a lunch to work so I don’t have to deal with the hassle of eating out.  Life happens though, and sometimes I have no other option than running out in search of food near my office.  I have a hard time finding places I trust, instantly cringing anytime I see a restaurant that has bins of ingredients lined up, an instant concern for cross contamination.  But seeing a place that has so many signs about requesting gluten-free gives me hope that I can give somewhere a shot.  I always begin my order by courteously requesting that my server change their gloves, explaining that I am “severely allergic” to gluten.  So why then today, after watching the server carefully take off his gloves, wash his hands and arms, and putting on new gloves would the server then hand my food off to the next person in the chain?  Before I had caught up with my food it had already been contaminated!  Seething as I watched my gluten-free salad poured onto another workers stale gloves to be chopped, I explained the situation and they tossed out my first round of food.  As that server then began to clean his hands, another server attempted to make salad round two for me.  Now explain to me why on earth, after two servers have washed their hands and changed their gloves for me, would a THIRD begin making my salad with OLD GLOVES?!

After throwing out two salads that had been contaminated, I finally had one made by a single person with fresh gloves, but it made me think about the situation as I watched this all unfold.  Under no circumstances would it be acceptable for a server to sneeze on food and serve it to a customer.  So why then, after I’ve carefully explained my situation, do they continue to be so hasty with my food?  I am not on a fad diet, I do not eat gluten-free because it’s trendy.  I eat gluten-free because it’s the only solution to celiac disease!  And when restaurants are careless with my food the following almost always occurs within 30 minutes:

1. I am forced to leave work for the day, feeling too ill to continue.
2. I spend the next few hours curled in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, intermittently vomiting and dealing with diarrhea.
3. I lose all energy, and sleep for hours.
4. I deal with lingering symptoms for the next few days.

It’s not acceptable for me to walk over and casually spray your meal with bacteria; don’t do the same to me by hastily handling my food.  When I tell you I have a severe allergy please take me seriously and know that your actions have very serious consequences to my health!