Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

10 May

As a person with celiac disease I find that there is a fine line between things I want to know and things I don’t want to know. For example: I frequently eat at a local restaurant whose menu consists of paninis, soup and salad. They have a very yummy, naturally gluten-free tomato red pepper soup that I always order, but it’s still feels like a consolation prize when I look around at the buttery sandwiches oozing with cheese, onions and turkey.  One day when I couldn’t take it anymore I casually asked the chef if he would consider a gluten-free panini option. He replied that they could make any of the sandwiches with gluten- free bread. I asked him if this was something new. “No”, he said, “We’ve been doing it for several years”. “Does the menu say anything about this option?” I asked. The answer was no.  I don’t know why it took me so long to ask but why should I have to? Gluten-free, as far as know, and especially in Santa Cruz, is not on the down low. It seems like a small thing, but I find many of life’s greatest pleasures are simple; like the joy of looking at a menu and ordering from it without having to ask a zillion questions.

On the other hand, I was at another local restaurant where I asked if the French fries were gluten-free (I’ve taken to ordering fries before I even sit down so that I don’t have to watch my dining companions tear apart soft pieces of bread and dip them in oil or generously slather them in butter while I patiently wait for the main course. Maybe this is why I’ve also recently gained five pounds.) Anyway, the waitress went to check with the cook and came back to cheerfully tell me YES, they’re gluten-free…but they are fried in the same oil that we fry our breaded calamari in.  Here’s the thing, if I am going to eat at a restaurant I know there is a chance of “cross contamination” a fancy term for getting unintentionally “glutened”, a made up term, for accidentally eating gluten. The only way around this is not to think about it, because if I think about the fact that even one crumb of gluten that comes in contact with my small intestine will set off an auto-immune reaction in my body that may take weeks to repair, I will go crazy. Not the kind of crazy that I already am, the real kind of crazy.

3 Responses to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. Marlene Bumgarner May 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Typical of me I didn’t check this out when you first started writing it, but waited until final exam week, when I typically start working on my to do list instead of grading papers. I feel well rewarded for waiting, because now there is a treasure trove of smart, sassy blogs to read whenever I want a laugh break. This particular column (does that term work with blogs?) spoke to me because my partner of many years is a spiritual vegetarian, and frequently encounters the same kind of cross contamination you do with gluten (“No, we don’t have any vegetarian dishes but we can take the meatballs out of the soup”).

  2. Jason (Gluten Free / Dairy Free NJ) July 31, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Argh, I know how tough it is to find GF fries. I’m gluten sensitive so I used to feel like it was ok to cheat but now I only eat fries from a dedicated frier out of unity with those who are supersensitive/celiacs. I’ve included a list of chains/fast food restaurants that offer dedicated gluten free french fries in this article: It looks like both Five Guys and In-n-out Burger have CA locations.

  3. Donna April 5, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    “Dirty Oil” was a tough realization recently that we had to break to my 6yr old. He’s not even Celiac, just has an intolerance but even fries cooked in “dirty oil” have been causing glutened reactions.

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