IE Grapevine Updates

Celiactive: People have gluten-free diets for a reason

Isabela Moreno

I once worked in a pizzeria because I’m a poor college student and like every college-aged individual, I’m only trying to survive.

The job didn’t pay much, I was constantly sick, I disliked my coworkers and the shifts I worked weren’t my favorite but it could have been worse. I got paid and money was money.

There was one thing that really bothered me about that job, however. And was that they offered gluten-free products as an alternative. “Now how can that be so bad?” readers may be asking themselves.

Well, the problem was that they never specified the conditions in which they made their gluten-free products. This restaurant was specifically non-celiac safe.

It broke my heart knowing that I could never safely enjoy the product that I was paid to endorse. I saw dozens of celiac burdened customers walk in and pay to eat a product that harms them. And I didn’t do anything to stop them.

I still feel guilty about letting those people go and I’m sorry about not saying anything at the time. Unfortunately, I see this regularly at other food service locations.

I’ll often hear about how a new restaurant has added gluten-free items to its existing menu and this is certainly true.

More and more restaurants are slowly beginning to roll out gluten-free food parade like it’s some huge hurricane simulator blowing out money, but there’s a catch: a restaurant might offer gluten-free items, but the items might not have been prepared in celiac-safe conditions just like in the pizzeria I worked at.

I get so disappointed when I see this happen. There have been times when I’ve gotten so excited over new food, only to have that excitement stripped away by an answer so small but so important; it’s heartbreaking.

After a few hundred times you become accustomed to it. After so many encounters, however, my curiosity gets peaked. I can’t help but quiz the restaurants responsible for these supposedly gluten-free culinary creations.

Why do they offer food that doesn’t satisfy a core community and the community that needs it the most? My questions are always met with a perplexed desire to market to people who want to eat “healthier.”

Unfortunately, I’m arrogant enough to present them with a derisive chuckle. The insincere tone leads me to believe that they have no idea what they’re talking about in regard to what gluten-free is.

These people typically sound ignorant and are following orders from their superiors. I find it especially funny when these individuals use the term “healthy.”

My immediate thoughts are toward those who are not gluten sensitive or have celiac disease; those who are participating in a trendy, fad diet.

I understand spending money to be healthy but eating gluten-free foods is an unnecessarily expensive route to such an objective.

An alternative diet does not automatically imply ‘better for one’s constitution.’ It’s like calling an anti-peanut diet healthy (peanuts are high in protein and other vitamins, by the way).

Sure, for someone with peanut allergies, an anti-peanut diet would be healthy especially if they suffer from potentially lethal reactions.

For someone like me however, it’s the equivalent of feeding a dog celery sticks instead of the steak he’s eying. It’s not going to prove nutritionally useful for the dog.

In fact it may even harm him by robbing him of food and nutrients that he could have absorbed. It’s essentially the same concept with non-celiac gluten-free food and the people without food allergies partaking in a trendy, fad diet.

By vetoing bread and bread related foods these individuals can be missing out on essential nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, and folate.

Sure, they can take expensive multivitamins to make up for it but why wouldn’t they just eat something delicious instead?

I understand wanting to cut back on wheat intake or having a gluten sensitivity or eating gluten-free for a loved one like my boyfriend does, but I still have whole wheat bread in the pantry. He eats it and it’s good for him.

As long as it’s made without enriched bleached wheat flour, it should be fine. Eating wheat once in a while isn’t going to kill you… unless you have Celiac Disease. It will kill you… slowly.

Everyone is different. Everyone has different needs whether it’s in school, the doctor’s office, the bedroom, or the gym, etc. That includes the kitchen. Diet and food is just as diverse as people and their taste buds. There is no catchall diet for every person.

What your friend eats may not be good or taste good to you and vice versa. If you want to try it out for a month, by all means do so. Your bank account will beg you to stop and if you don’t feel more than smug superiority then I recommend you end it and find some balance of foods that do make you feel good.

For those with gluten sensitivities, eat whatever makes you feel good whether it’s celiac-safe or not.

For those who are actually celiac ridden I know the frustration behind becoming so excited for the food that I can only taste in my memories only to be struck down by someone else’s failure to meet my standard. Or the worse realization that I’ve been poisoned by someone else’s ignorance while spending the next three hours cleansing my bowels.

So do me a favor: ask about the conditions your food is handled in before you order it. Ask questions like, “Do you use a shared fryer?” or “Is there flour tossed in the vicinity of the food?”, “Can you wash your hands before touching my food?” You may feel snobby and high maintenance but it’s your own health.

Here’s a secret: the person making food in the back doesn’t have the intentions you or I have. That person doesn’t know what you and I know. That person isn’t going to cook to our standards and that’s OK.

There are people who do cook to our standards and those are the people to go back to. Sometimes, I bypass my own advice and eat what I’ve been told isn’t celiac-safe just to see how I feel afterward.

My gut knows what’s safe better than my brain occasionally and that’s OK to do as long as you don’t repeatedly do this.

Remember, it takes three weeks for every last trace of gluten to exit the system. Related symptoms typically tend to flare during this period depending on the person.

All is never lost. Not every restaurant that serves gluten-free products will be celiac-safe but those that are will always mend my broken heart.

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