Monday, May 2, 2011

I've been Glutenized... Again!

I had a great time at the Gluten Free Allergy Free Expo this weekend and can't wait to tell you about all the amazing products I tried and great people I met.  Tune back in on Wednesday for a full re-cap.  Definitely no stories of gluten poisoning at the expo which was a nice break from my bad luck this month...


This month we’ve had many joyous and fun occasions – weddings, baby showers, Seders and gatherings with friends.  While I’ve enjoyed all of these events, I spent the better part of the month calling restaurants and friends to ask question after question about how each dish was prepared to determine what I could eat safely.  Even with careful planning and erring on the side of not eating, I have been “glutenized” 4 times this month, suffering terrible migraines, stomach aches and muscle aches lasting for up to 5 days.

Needless to say, this is extremely frustrating and I’ve reached my limit, declaring we will never eat outside of our house again.  Obviously, eating at home for the rest of our lives is not the answer, but it’s frustrating to feel like I’m doing my due diligence and still getting sick.  With more events coming up in the next few months, I think our friends might be a little irritated if I show up at their wedding or baby shower with a Tupperware of gluten-free dinner and ask the chef to heat it up.   But, the risks of wrong information and gluten contamination are on my mind. How do you safely eat at a party?  How can we trust that a dish was truly made gluten free and proper handling was used to avoid cross contamination?

It all started when we went to Quartino's, usually one of my favorite restaurants for gluten-free options.  I ordered soup off the gluten free menu and it came with a huge piece of bread IN the soup.  Obviously, this was a misunderstanding in the kitchen, serving the regular dish versus the gluten-free presentation and I was lucky it was such an obvious mistake.  But, what if it had been more subtle like using a different sauce for the gluten-free option?  I wouldn’t have noticed until the next day when I was confined to bed with a pounding migraine.  My paranoia took over, I sent the soup back, and stuck to salad with no dressing. 

My next run-in happened during a recent work event at a local cooking school.  I asked the chef if the chicken satay appetizer was gluten free and, after listing several ingredients, gave a definitive yes.  Usually I ask multiple questions about preparation like whether the meat was dusted in flour before grilled or if soy sauce was used.  Since I was asking the chef directly, I felt safe with his answer and ate the appetizer.  Later, the chef passed out recipe packets that included the chicken satay recipe.  I was shocked to see soy sauce as one of the main ingredients in the peanut sauce!  I immediately confronted the chef and his response was “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right.  Well, you can eat the chicken”.  I said, “Yes, but I already ate the sauce."  He shrugged his shoulders, grinned and said, “Oh well, what now?”  I was astounded!  How could he be so blasĂ© and nonchalant about such an important issue!  I replied, “Now I’m going to be sick for the next four days.”

Even when people are being considerate and thoughtful in what’s being prepared, I have still been glutenized.  During Seder, I greatly appreciated our friend’s efforts to prepare gluten free dishes.  They graciously walked through every ingredient used to prepare the main dish and we determined it was safe to eat.  The next day, I was so sick I could barely get out of bed, let alone go to work.  I couldn’t understand it – all of the ingredients used were gluten free and I was so careful!  Thinking it over later with more clarity, it must have been cross-contamination.  As careful as our friends were, it’s difficult to understand that preparing chicken using the same surface and utensils used to make the matzah balls is enough to make a gluten-sensitive person sick.

Don’t get me wrong, not every event has been a cause for stress.  My friends and family have made a great effort to provide gluten free options and practice safe food handling.  My aunt is amazing about catering to my allergies.  She sets out a separate gluten free appetizer section during parties with gluten free chips and separate dip bowls so nothing is contaminated by bread or other gluten filled goodies.  She also cooks entirely gluten free dinners when my mom (who is also gluten free) and I are present, so there is no issue of cross contamination. 

It seems to me like it’s an issue of education.  In all of the interactions I’ve had lately, I’ve noticed a huge difference in how my allergies are treated when the waitperson or friend has a family member or close friend with a similar allergy.  Not only are they more knowledgeable, but they can truly understand the consequences of ingesting gluten.  Talking with other allergy sufferers, I know that this is a widespread issue that we all deal with on a daily basis.  I welcome you to share your stories and any helpful tips on how to safely eat out in restaurants or at friends. 

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