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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Death by Breadcrumbs (Guest Blogger)

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 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.

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logan farr said...

Fed up with the gluten-free nonsense. I believe almost no one anymore when they tell me they have an allergy because of this.

Paige said...

I loved this and I'm going to subscribe to both Rogue Wino and BW. BTW I found my way here because BW's blog was cited in a post on CNN's Eatocracy.

Anonymous said...

OH SNAP! Wait until the Gluten Free Harpies of the internet see this! You're going to get a barrage of "I NEED YOU TO FEED ME SAFELY!" emails, hand wringing, and cries of how much healthier they are now, from a bunch of overweight, rosacea stricken, obese people!

*pops popcorn*

Vanessa said...

::Sigh:: As both a server and one who choses not to eat gluten (due to the fact that it can negatively affect my thyroid disease) this article makes me sad. Yes, there are varying degrees to which you will fall ill after eating gluten. The damage to their intestines that one with celiac's will endure from even the slightest bit of gluten is extreme and severe. Just sad that it doesn't seem that you did much research before posting the article, just enough to make it seem as though you knew what you were talking about. I love rants about the general public as much as the next server, but some things, like allergies to foods or religious/personal reasons for not eating certain foods are none of our business as to WHY, just do it. I'm not saying you're a bad person, or a horrible writer, just seemingly un-educated on the topic.

Rogue Wino said...

It's already started, look at the facebook comments:P I'm fully prepared for the lynching.
Something to keep in mind is that this article is really about the people who *think* they have celiacs.
However.. If you poke around, there is research that suggests that the tiniest amount of gluten won't hurt people that have celiacs. I don't think it's believable that people can get sick from a cookie touching their food, unless they have a several wheat allergy. But this is my opinion(?)

Unknown said...

She should have mentioned the allergy upfront. If you're that worried about losing money, charge them for the cost of the ice cream if you have to, but don't question allergy itself.

You might not have to see the reaction of a person with celiac disease or even just an intolerance, but they'll still get the gut-wrenching stomach ache that lasts for 12-18 hours after the culprit (gluten) reaches their intestines and painfully works its way through, flattening the villi which lines it.

And while yes there are some asshats on fad diets who make your life in the restaurant industry tedious, there are still some people with a legitimate intolerance / celiac disease who will be eternally grateful for the care you've taken in ensuring their meal won't come back to bite them later that night of the next day.

If you don't want to accommodate those with food allergies just say so, but don't half-ass it. You're only wasting the time of those that need it most.

Anonymous said...

she isn't complaining about people who have celiacs, she's complaining bc of people who use gluten free as a diet and freak out over it.

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

I get that (complaining about the fad dieters), but its the celiacs and people with legitimate allergies that are going to suffer when servers, cooks and others in the restaurant industry stop caring because they are so jaded by those who really can eat these things but just choose not to.

Swissy said...

People and their food "allergies" ruin it for the rest of us who do have gastro problems.

MaeZ said...

Acutally, for people suffering from Celiac, a tiny amount of gluten really can make them sick. While I do not have to deal with it myself, I have 4 close family members that sadly all have it. On the other hand, from my experience in trying to dine with them, I can understand the frustration you and the kitchen staff feels. Just keep in mind it is probably far more frustrating for the diners that really have issues. For the ones that just think eating gluten free is some snazzy diet fad that will make them look like Blake Lively, I wish for you to spill cold drinks all over them.

amber said...

This madness hasn't hit Kentucky yet...but I had a friend in high school who had to be hospitalized before she officially got diagnosed with Celiac disease..That's still the only person I've met who has it. For someone to say they "might" have an allergy is crazy! So they've gone their entire lives without eating bread? Isn't that something that you would come to know in your lifetime? I'm sorry, if I had that problem, I would've found out real fucking quick..

JoBo said...

...and some of us just thought it was a funny article... :P

Rogue Wino said...

Steve makes an excellent point, and one I should have concluded the article with. People shouldn't cry wolf with their allergies, as it can weaken service for those who have legitimate problems. I always take very good care of people who let me know their food issues, no matter what they are or how crazy they may seem. It's simply my job (though I reserve the right to bitch about it, in an opinion blog!) But it is exasperating to have so many NON-celiacs sufferers acting like they will die from looking at a piece bread, and not every server is as nice about going to the kitchen and ensuring special instructions are followed to the letter.

Anonymous said...

I blame Gluten-Free Girl's fake illness for fanning the flames of gluten paranoia. It only hurts the real celiacs.

Anonymous said...

My sister has the disease.
She found out when she was six months old on the operating table with her stomach cut open from pubic bone to ribcage.
Or maybe she found out when her classmates lacked the jagged thick scar running across their bodies.
Either way, it isn't something to take lightly, so when some fuckwitted asshat says they have the disease when they do not, it makes me mad as this BS attitude will eventually endanger a person with the real thing.

Send those lovelies my way, please. I'll gladly demonstrate on their own gut exactly what does this disease do to a human body.


Fool Critic said...

"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."

THIS. Why the hell are people so entitled when it comes to COMPLIMENTARY shit? It's a gesture from the kitchen while you're waiting, not something you're paying for. You can't have it? Too bad. Wait for what you ordered.

I once had a guy who had a wheat allergy ask what items on the menu didn't contain wheat. I pointed out the gluten-free options, when he cut me off with, "I'M ALLERGIC TO WHEAT! NOT GLUTEN-FREE!" Um, I'm aware of the distinction, but for the purposes of this conversation I think a gluten-free meal is a pretty safe bet of not containing wheat.

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Susan @ SGCC said...

I know Gluten Free Girl personally, and she is not a fake. I have also dined with her and she is courteous and respectful to servers about her dietary restrictions. She does not try to call attention to herself.

However, I did really enjoy the article and do understand the author's frustrations.

Damian Byrdy said...

In my experience, those who have food allergies for life threatening calamities usually know what they can and can't eat, but will check to make sure the shit that kills them isn't there.

Those on the latest fad diet don't have a clue because it really doesn't matter.


Anonymous said...

Actually you are wrong about people with Celiac disease being able to eat tiny amounts of gluten without any problem. So far there is not any study that can say 100% how much gluten intake can cause problems with people that suffer with Celiac disease. For all anybody knows it could be a tiny amount or a huge amount that would cause a reaction. I wish we did know, because I have Celiac. I was diagnosed with a blood test that is not 100% accurate, and also an upper endoscopy which is accurate. Celiac is not a rare immune disorder. It is thought that 1 in 133 people do have Celiac disease, which is true, and means the disease is not rare. The problem is that everyone with a stomach ache seems to think they might be allergic to wheat or have Celiac now or have just had a positive blood test that tests for antibodies, and think that means they have Celiac for sure. I am a server, and I do ask somebody when they say they do not eat gluten if they have Celiac. I have found most people just THINK they MIGHT have a wheat allergy. Funny thing though is that they sure do not do their research. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. I love to tell them well maybe you should not be drinking that beer if you think you have Celiac, and then I go on to explain about the barley and rye~

Rogue Wino said...

If a cookie touching something (without flaking off into the food) can get people sick, they probably shouldn't eat in an Italian restaurant. Our cooks touch bread, I touch bread, if someone is that sensitive they could get sick even if they they don't observe any actual crumbs in their food.
As for the how much is safe argument, I was just going off what these so called "researchers" have to say, sorry to have not been more thorough. Annnd yes, 99% of the people grilling me about gluten *do not have celiacs*, by their own admission.

Anonymous said...

Real Celiacs , Ask questions first ,if this chick was a real celiac she would have asked you if the ice cream was homemade , there is gluten in pretty much everything these days. My best mate is a real celiac, (I have poisoned her a number of times myself actually and she literally shits herself for days) . She rarely gets sick going to restaurants , because as R.W says she doesn't go to Italian restaurants or burger joints,bakeries etc. and she's worked as a waiter for a good fifteen years and had the piss taken out of her mercilessly by numerous chefs and me of course . For me personally in my restaurant I hate people who are "allergic to Onions and Garlic" I ask them if they will have an anaphylactic shock or wether they just get a bit "farty" like everyone else does. keep up the great post. hasn't that twat springs 1 got anything to say on this? lol

Avee 82 said...

I have found that people with real allergies ask first. they don't do the whole 'wait and see method'. If someone has an allergy, I am more than happy to accomodate it, but don't tell me you're "allergic" to pickles after I bring your burger. I tend to not believe you.

Anonymous said...

I totally get the frustration from the waiter and I hate when people make up allergies they don't even have. I was a server at a steak house back during the Atkins craze! Of course, I chose that restaurant b/c I actually have a severe wheat allergy that will send me into anaphylaxsis when I consume even crumbs, and that job required almost no interaction on my part with wheaty ingredients. As a patron, I HATE being a pain in the ass and asking for special treatment from restaurants and servers. I try to order items that are made to be wheat (or gluten) free or require the smallest amount of change possible, i.e. hold the croutons. While I do hate that people who CHOOSE to eat GF are ruining it for people with legit concerns, I do appreciate the craze b/c my menu options have exploded!!! For a couple of years there, I couldn't figure out anything to eat other than baked potatoes or chili! :)

maxi said...

I have a friend with a gluten intolerance. She can eat small amounts and be ok! People who say to me that they can't even sniff wheat drive me crazy. And you came to an Italina restaurant why???

Anonymous said...

I always hated people who would have'lactose intolerances' and order iced chocolates made on soy or lactose free milk - 'but ma'am, that drink will come slathered in whipped cream and icecream -should I get that for you without cream and icecream?' 'HELL NO!! I want EXTRA whipped cream!!' Idiots.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but anyone with anything that severe should NOT be eating at a restaurant! I have busted my ass to make sure salmon didn't go out with sauce, to make sure you got corn tortillas instead of flour and even made the kitchen replate the whole fucking thing so there is no risk. But I have no control over what the kitchen can or can not make. YOU could have done your research before you came out to eat at a restaurant that doesn't advertise gluten free. It's maddening. I didn't make you sick, nor did I recommend you eat here. I am not a dietician, I am a SALESPERSON aka server. The reason I bitch about the GF obsession is because I know people with severe dietary restrictions, and you know what? They don't eat out. They don't eat out because its truly severe, and they can't take the risk. They come over to my house, we drink tea, and eat veggies cooked in coconut oil and grill grassfed beef. I'm careful about the utensils I use, the oils I cook with, the soap wash things with, etc. Because my friend who has the most severe problems doesn't expect me to, I simply enjoy her company in my kitchen. But sucky, shitty women who jumped on some fad and want me to be their dietary expert can SUCK IT! I'm sorry you're fat, divorced and middle aged. Losing weight by not eating "gluten" will not make you a better person, and it will not fix your life. Go volunteer somewhere. Stop by a Curves twice a week. Take a cooking class. Or hire a nutritionist.
P.S. And the next night, when my friend who has crazy intestinal issues isn't over, I make apple pie (yeah bitches I make my own crust. With flour and shortening) and I drink yummy beer and stuff some sort of animal with some sort of bread or cheese and usually wrap it in bacon. And I love my tea time as much as I love my beer time. Because I'm living life with people who appreciate life.

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