Adventures in Gluten (and Sugar) Freedom from a southern blogger chick!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The accommodation conundrum

A missive on the fifth anniversary of the day I thought, hmmm. Maybe I should be gluten free.

I've been thinking about the concept of accommodation a lot lately.

As I approach my five-year anniversary in the gluten-free/celiac world (May 18, 2005), I've become very familiar with what it takes to persuade get a food service company to accommodate someone who has a reaction to gluten. It has changed A LOT in five years, and I'm thankful for those who really do care and who are not insulted when I ask "do you have gluten-free options?"

And after five years (and given some other issues in my life now) I have decided that only the most heartless of establishments (and individuals) will not make an effort to be accommodating to someone with a disease that requires dietary changes. When I encounter you, I give you the Sicilian Evil Eye. My reaction, though, can only be based on ADVANCED NOTICE and RESEARCH on MY PART. I honestly ALWAYS research a place before I go in. And if I know I can't expect to find accommodation, I take my celiac self and my money elsewhere. Or I'll stay home.

With this caveat, I'd like offer you my most recent 10 thoughts on the issue of accommodating someone with a food sensitivity.  The caveat is that these are my feelings alone, but they are based on some specific experiences I've had -- some recently. And my cardinal rule is: since I informed you in advance, ASK ME WHAT I NEED.  I will be polite and tell you. And I'll love you for it.

Caveat Provisor

1. Don't think for me. Have you ever seen the Bon Qui Qui sketch from the old Mad TV show?  YOU can have a Coke?

When you DECIDE what I can have for my meal without asking me if it will work for me, I think Bon Qui Qui has it right: RUDE.  For instance, when I (or someone) asks in advance and is paying for something gluten free, and there's a choice of menu options, ASK ME if I want the hot dog or the rubber chicken. Because honestly, it shows me a little bit of respect when you bother.  I have HUNDREDS of great examples of people who have done this, but the ones that stand out, of course, are the ones when I had to eat what someone in catering or the kitchen thought was gluten free.  And for the record, if you don't know how o read a label, get out of the kitchen.  Seriously?

AND TO THIS I ADD:  I would never think for you.  I'd ask you if you could or would eat somewhere, and if you could eat what I was serving, etc.  If you couldn't I'd adapt FOR YOU. But then, I'm pretty sure I have a vested interest in my own Karma Sprinkles.

2.  Don't assume that a fruit cup or salad work for me. They almost never do.  No, I don't go to pizza places and eat salads, because I'm afraid of the flying flour. And honestly?  If you're serving EVERYONE else sausage biscuits and protein, don't automatically assume that I wouldn't like that too!
In a world of massive gluten-free selection on Sysco (and in local stores, like Kroger) it is a shame you can't put aside a box of gluten-free donuts or biscuits and ACCOMMODATE. All one has to do is ASK.

3.  When you serve someone a gluten-free menu, and they ask the ingredients, try to know what you're cooking with.  To whit: I walk up to a buffet line (and I've reserved a gluten-free meal in advance) and I ask your server (or you, catering manager/chef) what can I have.  Try to know. It honestly embarrasses me to have to ask Can I have this? And worse to have to wait to be sure if they're bringing some out.  The most recent horror for me was when I was told what I could have, but then they didn't have bread and had to get it.  And served it to me FROZEN. Seriously?

4.  But nothing pisses me off more than you ASSUMING I can't have something because you're too lazy or mean or ignorant to check.

5.  This one is a sensitive one, to be sure. But yes, I do take it a little  personally when a small group gathering is planned and I'd like to be there, and there is NO FOOD I can partake of. I've gotten pretty hard assed and think skinned about this one. Most of the time, I just don't go. If you're extremely special to me, I will go, but I will not eat. And I will try not to pout (but I'm pretty emotional lately....)  Knowing that people still do this to gluten-free people is just....well, it breaks my heart most of the time. It's like the time someone had a birthday party for me and someone else and brought out cake -- when I can't eat sugar or wheat. Luckily I know when this is done on purpose.

6.  The only thing worse than no. 5 is for you just to automatically exclude me because you were sure I couldn't have anything on the menu.  Refer to no. 1.  Don't Think for ME.  I'd love to go along sometimes for the cool conversation and your joyful company. And being the paranoid person I am (prednisone doesn't help) I just figure you don't want me around.  And that, sadly, might be true.  And it makes me sad.

7.  I honestly don't like to explain to you why I can't eat something, but if you ask, I will tell you why.  I'll also tell you why I don't take food off buns, can't just scrape the bread off, and why the soy sauce in the bottle isn't OK and I want packets. But I can also be a quiet diner.  Give me a chance.

8. Nothing makes me feel more special than someone making a concerted effort to make sure I can enjoy a group meal, etc. I think that's the kindest thing ever. And when you bring me my own desert, my own brownies, my own bread, etc.  Stars in your crowns. So I am appreciative of all you do. Super recent special shoutouts: Janet Richardson, Jena Simonds, Paula Clemens, Erin Lee Keeler, Steve Price and Tamara Greer, Angela Criscoe, Macon McGinley. Amanda Brodzik, Heather Hollar, Lauren Chandley, Team LASC, the Mean in Green Team, PRSSA...

9. I PROMISE you I won't get mad if I ask if something is gluten free and it's not, as long as you can tell me WHY.  I have read labels on a potato salad jar in a drive through before -- and I love the people who let me do that.  THEY will get lots of my business, I assure you. I don't do this often any more, mind you -- I just avoid places.  But two of my main questions are always a. do you fry in a shared fryer (a yes means I can't have that so I say nothing -- it costs a lot to have a dedicated gf fryer) and b. is there wheat or soy sauce in that.  I once ate a dish and kept getting sick because I'd ask was there flour or soy sauce in it -- only to ask to see the bottle and there was WHEAT STARCH in it.  So I'm specific. And generally polite. And I tip well.

10. Finally, don't ask me if I couldn't just eat it this one time. Pretend gluten is poison. Would you want me to eat poison (wait, it's the end of the semester.  Some people might say yes...) I've been gluten free five years in about 20 days -- and I've never, ever CHEATED ON PURPOSE.  But I've been gluten by people, both on purpose and by mistake. So no. I can't.

(But if I were to cheat....It would be a sack full of Krystal Hamburgers, a full chili dog Meal at the Varsity, and as many hot Krispy Kreme donuts as I can shove down my pie hole.)

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