WHAT PART OF GLUTEN-FREE DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND???

I have been a little slack lately, for one reason and another, about continuing to record my experiences as a Coeliac Kiwi. BUT … I had another (yes, this was NOT the first) experience of being ‘glutened’ by a restaurant this week, which reminded me in no uncertain terms of why I had started to document my experiences in the first place! It’s definitely time to get writing again – to make it regular. To give credit to those who deserve it – and to educate the rest! I am on a role! I have all sorts of ideas running around in my head as to how to attack the problem of making people (especially chefs) aware of the great potential for harm when a Coeliac unwittingly ingests gluten.

This latest experience served to remind me of how much trust we place in words, the written word especially – without knowing how or why the words came to be there in the first place. We naturally assume that because an item is listed on a menu as being gluten-free, then it MUST be safe for us to eat. Just like we assume that because a sign says POISON we believe we might get into some sort of trouble if we don’t take notice and proper care! If something is put in writing we take it as confirmation of a truth. Gluten is POISON to Coeliacs!

Part of me believes that the reason many cafes/restaurants/caterers are not so careful as they might be is because there ARE people who have created a bad name for those who MUST avoid gluten. I confess, that before I knew the truth about food allergies and found out a friend of mine had Coeliac Disease a number of years ago, I was sceptical when people told me certain foods ‘did funny things’ to them. I thought it was all ‘in their head’. (I am not saying now, that with some people it still isn’t.)

I find it ironic now, that when I was believing this about the people who said these things to me, I was having my own (many) symptoms that added up to Coeliac Disease, unknowingly dismissing each one as normal for me, a part of who I was…. actually accepting them all and putting it all down to my own physical makeup! It was part of who I was alright, except – I found out that I didn’t have to live with it after all! I hadn’t known there was an outside influence responsible for all my individual symptoms! (As I now recognice them to have been). It was only after I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease and found out the damage that had been done to my insides, that I truly was able to look back and see how it had all added up. Hindsight!!! Indeed a wonderful thing. I actually feel rather stupid about it all now! But I also see, there that probably there is a fine line between being stupid and being ill informed? I am holding onto that anyway! Hmmm…food (gluten-free of course) for thought!

Anyway, what to do next? I have decided to inform the restaurant concerned about their little faux pas. I intend to write them a nice letter.

I should of course at the time, have realised that when they brought out my meal with it’s accompanying salad, and the waitress had to go back and ask the chef if the little dish of sauce was gluten free, that a no answer to that question was probably a good indicator to ask about the rest of the meal! However, in my defence, in my earlier days of diagnosis, when I didn’t know these things fully myself, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to ask about the sauce! What I did do at the time, and I guess it’s a start of sorts, was to ask the waitress to let the chef know that if an item on the menu was noted as being gluten-free then everything served up on the plate should be as such. Who serves a gluten-free meal with a sauce that isn’t?! More than we realise, I now believe!

I had actually taken my own little container of sauces with me, so I carried on eating, without further investigation. I am now wondering, if maybe it was an issue of cross contamination? But because I did not ask to see the chef to request further details about the preparation of my meal, I suffered. And within 2 hours, for the next 24 hours or so. Not good enough. On my part – or theirs. It really puts me off eating out! I went to that place because they were listed as having gluten-free options, but now feel let down yet again, by the lack of knowledge evidenced by those who created the meals.

Conversely I had an experience in Australia recently, at a fast food outlet – that runs rings around any establishments here I have chosen to eat with, to date. I mention the fast food chain Ali Baba. www.alibaba.com.au

To say I was impressed with the fact that not only did they have gluten-free items on their menu, BUT – they also went to great lengths to ensure that no cross contamination ensued in the preparation of my food. I actually felt like a valued customer! I couldn’t believe the precision and knowledge that they had in this place, in a food court at the Robina Town Centre in Surfers Paradise. A young girl served me who happened to be a trainee that day. She asked all the right questions, and although admittedly had to be talked through the process by another lovely young guy there, I didn’t mind it taking a bit longer than usual – because I knew I was being properly catered for, and to them it was just par for the course! She told me she was new and I told her I was happy to be her first gluten-free customer. Sadly, Ali Baba is not in New Zealand – yet! I remain optimistic! I joined their facebook page and let them know there also, how impressed I was.

I think the day is coming when eating establishments in this country are going to have to acknowledge that a good experience is going to be recounted to others, just as a bad one is. That word of mouth advertising counts for a lot – positive or negative! I think part of my mission here with this blog, is to encourage eating establishments to be on the “A” List for Coeliac Customers. Ultimately, it could possibly be the best advertising they get for free!

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