This posting comes courtesy of Mandy over at The Rogue Wino. Anyone who considers herself a wino is good with me so I hope you will all flock to her blog and give her some love.
The woman's hand was up, insistently waving me over to her table. This was surprising because she, along with a friend, had only come in for a late-night dessert‒What could possibly be wrong with a bowl of ice cream?
"Excuse me," she said, pushing her dish my way. "I'm so sorry, I should have said something. I have Celiac's disease, I can't have this touching my food."
She was pointing at the offending item, the source of the poison: A lone wafer cookie, the stiff texture of a fortune cookie, standing up like a shark's fin from the top scoop of her gelato. It had not crumbled or flaked into her dish in any way.
"Could I please have another? Thank you."
At our expense, we brought her another dish. I had to throw the first, perfectly good, dessert into the trash, another victim of what I have deemed "Gluten Madness."
In my area, the gluten-free craze has exploded. Interestingly, Celiac's disease, the true gluten-intolerance illness, affects only 1 in 133, according to celiac.org. Judging by the scoffs, interrogations, and menu substitutions by my customers, I would have guessed this number was closer to 50 in 133. It's as though my aging clientele, worn out by the effort of maintaining their gleaming, upper-middle class lifestyles, are jumping on this particular fadwagon as a way to explain all of their ills. "Oh you have Celiac's disease?" I'll inquire of my customers after yet another obscenely detailed inquiry into our menu's ingredients. "Um, no," they pause. "I've been told I might have an allergy."
Let's make something clear: Gluten intolerance symptoms run the gamut from a simple case of buggy gut, to, at their worst (as in the case of full-blown Celiac's), serious intestinal issues; it is not, however, an allergy. Yes, wheat allergies that can result in anaphylactic shock do exist. These types of allergies are also rare, and customers are pretty good about letting you know when something will actually send them to the hospital. From what I've read, Celiac's sufferers can have the tiniest amount of gluten in their diet and still be OK. Basically, none of these gluten-free freaks are going to end up clutching their throats and passing out at my tables because they've accidentally ingested a few stray bread crumbs.
I "get" the gluten-free diet as a healthy lifestyle choice. Grains as foodstuffs came along fairly late in the game in human history, and our bodies have not fully adapted to processing them efficiently, let alone the gummy protein that is gluten. Once our modern day comforts are factored in‒ caffeine, alcohol, processed food and sugar‒we have a recipe for digestive fatigue and failure. Yet my customers, caught up in the Oprah-fanned swirl of self-righteous dietary advice, have lost their minds over gluten. They have turned their backs so harshly, this substance that once provided them with so much joy: "Delicious, fluffy donuts and air-light breads, I banish thee!" they say. And should I do something so presumptuous as, say, bring a basket of this dangerous "bread" too close to their table, they shame me as well.
We offer gluten-free rice pasta on our menu, something which, to my surprise, makes many of my customers' eyes light up. To me, this substitution seems like a delusion: "I know, instead of having vegetables tonight, I'll eat a processed rice product! Drenched in cream and animal fat! I'll never get cancer that way." Spurred on by the thought of having all of their usual comfort foods gluten-free, they begin a barrage of insipid questions:
Do you have gluten-free ravioli? Does our chef want to try and roll out a crumbly pasta that will fall apart in boiling water and taste like shit? Fuck no.
Why don't you have gluten-free pizza? Because we refuse to serve anyone cardboard with cheese melted on it.
Do you have gluten-free bread? We already lose a ton of money by letting people stuff their faces with empty calories free of charge. Buying bread that costs way more and tastes like crap to accommodate your diet? Nope. Not happening.
Do you think you could check to see if you have any gluten-free crackers or something back there? Again, we are not about to keep weird food stuffs around to feed your insanity, or at least not for free.
Sigh. I'm always more than happy to answer questions and make substitutions for people but really? At a certain point people need to start thinking for themselves, and do their homework about whatever fad diet they're involved in before they start badgering their hapless server.
Click here to follow The Bitchy Waiter on Twitter.
Click here to find The Bitchy Waiter on Facebook.