Having Celiac means I am acutely aware of what I eat.
Steak? Gluten free.
Wine? Also gluten free.
Beer? …more gluten free than Udi’s gluten free bread. Figure that one out.
For the most part, I make meals at home. From scratch. With whole ingredients.
Cucumbers? Bell Peppers? Round things that look like I should know what it is? Looks like food to me!
Not for any politico-philosophical reasons; it just works better for my diet. I don’t have to worry about contamination problems if I buy a potato, or wonder what is inside a carrot.
But eating out is a whole other story. I don’t know how the chef is preparing the food, or if bread dust is floating around my salad, or if a sauce has flour in it. I mean, I will find out. I’ll just find out the hard way, unfortunately. There is a place here in town that claims to make gluten free almond flour cookies. And I will totally say: that was the best cookie I have had in a long time.
Unfortunately, it was not as gluten free as they think, and I spent the next 5 hours struggling to breathe and my muscles were all clenched with a sprinkling of heart palpitations.
It was so not fun.
But I know that it is a risk every time I eat something that was made by someone else, in another kitchen, using ingredients I cannot see. The other night, for instance, we had dinner at a super fun restaurant filled with old couples, draped in red velvet and playing TCM with Robert Osborne on the TV hanging in the back while serving black coffee in beige coffee mugs.
Listen, this is the kind of place I like. Be quiet.
Their menu was very helpful and had a “(gf)” next to meals that were considered to be gluten free. So, I ordered the lemon chicken dish. Everything was fantastic, and gluten free…except for the fried onions placed on top of the whole meal.
Gluten? On my gluten free dinner? Fun times!!
So anyway, I just let the waiter know that you actually can’t put fried onions, that are putting little gluten crumbs all over everything, on a gluten free dish. He was cool and said he would “greatly chastise” the kitchen.
This all being said, and getting to the actual story…
Alright, alright. Keep your britches on.
A few weeks ago, we did a Costco trip. It is a lot easier for us to take everybody to Costco together, because everyone has a say in what we get. “Do we need milk?” “YES” “Do you want apricot jelly or strawberry jelly?” “Strawberry!”
So, it does mean that there is a caravan of 7 people walking through Costco together…but we are quick and efficient, and we get it done within half an hour. Bada-bing, bada-boom. Outta there.
After our trip to Costco, it was time for dinner…and there ain’t nothin’ you want to do after buying the food than making dinner. We were about to try Taco Time, since that is a huge thing up here, and we have never tried it; when suddenly, Ben suggested pancakes.
And pancakes always win. Plus, there was an IHOP right across the street.
IHOP is definitely a risky place for me, kind of for obvious reasons. Pancakes? Waffles? Hash browns fried on the same skillet as the pancakes? Omelettes also cooked on the gluten-laden skillet? It is just a recipe for contamination.
However, I have found that communicating the word “Celiac” with the waiter usually makes the difference between getting gravy and croutons, or not getting gravy and croutons. Except for surprise fried onions, that weren’t supposed to be there in the first place: for the most part I can maneuver around restaurant menus pretty well.
So, Ben ordered 5million pancakes and an omelette for the kids to split up; because those omelettes are the size of Nebraska, and everyone still eats until their bellies are full with just one Country Omelette.
I, on the other hand, said:
“Okay, so here is my order. I have Celiac, so if you could just put that next to mine, that would be great. I would like the vegetable omelette with egg whites, and could I have a side of fruit with that instead of hash browns?”
Seemed pretty gluten free and safe to me. But when it arrived, it was dripping with a sauce…and sauces always have flour. Always, always, always.
So we beckon the poor waitress over, and ask her to inquire upon the ingredients of this sauce. Because you can’t scrape off sauce…I’ve tried before, and failed miserably.
This is when things get scary.
This is when the story actually begins.
The manager comes over with the waitress, with a genuinely worried look on her face.
“So, you ordered the vegetable omelette…and you have Celiac?”
“Yes, but I was just concerned about the sauce. Otherwise, everything looked lovely.”
“But, you really have Celiac? Because, you can’t eat the omelettes…”
“No, I just ordered the omelette, but I didn’t know about the sauce. I was just worried about the sauce.” (I really don’t like to be a bother)
“No…you can’t eat the omelettes at all. We put pancake batter in the eggs. The entire thing is loaded with gluten.”
……..WHAAATTTT??!!!!!! Why is there pancake batter in the eggs? Holy crap, I was about to eat an entire gluten laden meal that would have destroyed me! This isn’t just a little problem where I take an alka seltzer for an upset stomach. This is a “I can’t breathe and my heart goes nuts….for hours” kind of problem.
Holy crap, why is there pancake batter in the eggs.
And it says it right there…after we rechecked the menu! It says it right there that they “put a splash of batter in the eggs, to make it more fluffy!” And I totally didn’t even see it.
I thanked the manager profusely for letting me know, because that would have been so painful. That really was awesome on her part for noticing this and coming over and telling me.
Because when I told the waitress that I needed a gluten free meal, and I ordered an omelette, it didn’t occur to her that the omelette was not a gluten free meal. So I am in deep gratitude for the manager realizing this.
After this near miss, we started looking around the table at what we were eating.
Maple syrup, that was not maple.
Strawberry syrup, that had no strawberries.
Blueberry syrup that has never seen a blueberry.
Omelettes, that are actually pancakes.
Cheese, that is mostly oil.
Non-dairy creamer which was not begat from a dairy farm.
Butter that we can’t believe is actually butter.
Suddenly, looking around the table…I wasn’t sure we were actually eating food, at all. Besides the black coffee and bowl of grapes that they brought me, I cannot be entirely sure that anything we were feeding our kids actually had any actual food in the ingredient list.
It is a little hyperbolic, but I could only think of the pink meat which was served to the citizens in 1984. Or the Soylent chips that was served to the population in Charlton Heston’s famous film. Or the ambiguous nature of packing plants that Upton Sinclair featured in his book, The Jungle.
And the problem is that we don’t always see the pink meat if it is on our plate, or think about what is actually in the Soylent chips if we are given them by the store. Everyone else is eating them, and they aren’t dead, so they must be fine!
For the most part, unless something radical happens to shift our perspective of the situation, we won’t realize that what we think, is not what it seems. Until something shakes the foundations of a platform, it is impossible to see what is real, and what is a phony.
And that is what Holden Caufield was railing against the whole time, in the first place.
Phonies. The lot of you.
Makes you kind of want to live a life that is a little more shaken. A little more real.
So, I’ll just leave you with this: