Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wee Explanation

While I love social media - the blogging, tweeting, and everything in between, it's good to take a break from it once in a while. Frankly, I also needed a break from talking about gluten. While on a day-to-day basis, I'm usually A-ok with it - this not being able to eat gluten - June wasn't kind to me. I got seriously glutened twice and was ill for many days of the month.

The nature of the incidents left me frustrated by the state of so-called gluten-free options at eateries in our fair city. The first - and worse - of the two occurred at a much-touted and "certified" gluten-free eatery that I'd been dying to try. The service was great, the staff knowledgeable, and the options numerous. Unfortunately, by the time dessert arrived, I looked like I was 8 months pregnant - bloated and in pain - and had developed a dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) rash up my arms and elsewhere. I was out with a good friend, celebrating a happy occasion, so I sucked it up and didn't say anything to her. I went to the restroom and took some of the steroids I take for the DH.

The place was jam-packed by then and I just didn't want to deal with alerting the staff in that moment. I've done it before and had the focus of the evening go from good times and celebration to oh-poor-you. Those evenings are remembered as "That Night We Went Out to Eat and You Got Sick". I don't go into anaphylactic shock, I didn't need to go to the hospital. I just needed to go home - which I did; it was a Friday night and easy to call it an early one after a long week for us both. Had it been a quiet night, a larger and less crowded place, I would probably said something to the staff privately, but I just did not feel comfortable in this case. 

By the time I reached my train stop, I was in agony. I rarely have GI symptoms from celiac, but this was an exception. Coupled with the still spreading itchy rash, I had to wonder what the holy heck had happened?!? This place was known for being very GF-friendly and, as I said, was "certified". (I'll talk about the whole idea/issue of certification another day). I was sick that whole week. Instead of enjoying some time off I had, I was laid low, eating bland things, dealing with symptoms you don't want to hear about, and just generally feeling very sub-par and blue - for A WEEK. Due to one meal.

Once I was feeling better, I made plans with an old friend and - instead of trying one of the many other GF places on my list - I asked if we could go to one of my "safe" places, an old standby that always treats me well. I ordered what I always order... and was chagrined when the DH rash appeared along with GI symptoms before I left. I asked to speak to the manager - someone I've come to know. Turned out she wasn't there that evening. She's ALWAYS there - and on top of the GF issues. Perhaps their GF processes aren't as smooth when she isn't around? I don't know. I just know that I felt let down and frustrated.

I still feel let down and frustrated. I know that mistakes happen and people aren't perfect... but in this case they HAVE to be. I'm tired of feeling grateful towards restaurants that claim to offer a GF menu when it just ISN'T. If you want to be part of the family of GF businesses, your staff can't make these mistakes; the dishes need to be perfectly safe. The GF pizza can't be made in the same pans as the regular pies, the GF crepes can't be made on the same stone as wheat-containing ones, the GF bread MUST be toasted in a dedicated toaster and kept safe en route to the table - no balancing plates and the regular bread basket on your arms just to save a trip from the kitchen , and the fries need to be in a dedicated fryer. If you aren't doing these things, then you aren't offering GF food!

If you think I'm ranting now, you should have seen me around mid-June! I'd become a Negative Nelly and hadn't a single positive thing to say about eating GF in NYC. (I've only eaten out once since, at another one of my safe spots. It was fine. All was well.) I try to focus on the positives and thought it best to take my media break until I could shake off some of my frustration and contribute to the discussion again.

The thing is, I haven't really shaken off the frustration. I'm very hesitant to eat out, to try any of the places claiming to offer GF food. I don't think I'll be eating out much this summer, save for at my (small) handful of safe places. I'll be entertaining more at home, where I can control the food environment. And it looks like I'll be a bit more of a Negative Nelly around here for a while. I want to talk more about this issue of what makes a restaurant safe, whether independent certification is useful, and just what the standards should be for restaurants wanting to claim that they offer gluten-free food.

Thus ends rant. (For now.)

As I probably won't be trying many/any of the new GF menus any time soon, I'd love to hear your experiences if you do. Maybe some good reports will bolster my GF spirits, get me out in the dining game again!

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