The New Yorker recently ran a cartoon with two women in a café and one says, “I’ve only been gluten-free for a week, but I’m already really annoying.”
Restaurant servers responded online saying, “Every waiter will agree,” and, “Your allergies will be considered, then probably ignored if they’re suspect.”
I’m sure every waiter does not agree, but it is deadly terrifying that some waiters decide for you if your allergies or illnesses are “real” or “suspect.”
Most of us have encountered the annoying woman from the New Yorker. I know her. She drives me crazy. She’s the one who tells me that her lactose intolerance pills (used to treat an intolerance to the sugar in milk products) help her with her gluten intolerance (an intolerance to the protein in some grains, and there is no pill for that). She also says she caught dengue fever in Canada from someone who came back from India. I’ve told her repeatedly that you get dengue from an infected mosquito, not a person. And then she eats a hunk of brie on a thick slice of French stick because according to her “a little won’t hurt.”
If I ate that, I’d bleed internally, vomit, would sit up in bed crying all night, and hopefully would make it to the toilet before pooping my pants for several days afterwards. I wish this wasn’t true.
But “annoying woman” could save a lot of money on gluten-free products which are expensive, if she would just send her stool to Enterolab in Texas for testing and diagnosis.
Regardless, nobody should have to show their lab results to a waiter, and disturbingly, what the New Yorker cartoon by Trevor Spaulding revealed was self-identified food industry people endangering the health of patrons who merely ask about the ingredients of dishes on the menu. It also showed servers’ resentment toward patrons who might say, “No croutons on my salad, please, because they’ll make me sick.”
Ashley T prefaced her comment on the New Yorker Facebook wall by saying:
- “Coming from someone who worked in the food industry…”—which made the next part worse—“Far too often, those with particular dislikes or even any given intolerance expect the restaurant that they have decided to dine in, to be prepared for those customers with very particular needs. And yes, THAT is annoying.”
- Here’s my response to Ashley T: Is it annoying if I say I’d like my steak to be cooked medium rare? I’m particular about that. Now is it also really annoying if I say I’d like my salad without croutons, or have I now crossed the line here with requests at a restaurant?
However scary it is to eat at restaurants at home when you are gluten intolerant — or celiac, or have an allergy to grains — can be even more daunting when going abroad. But it needn’t be.
What country do you think would be the hardest to travel through while gluten intolerant; perhaps Italy with pasta, bread and pizza adorning menus? According to Gluten-Free-Girl, Italy was no problem for her:
- “You see, in every place we ate in Italy, the waiters and chefs understood. From what I have been told (both here and in Italy), the Italian people have been educated about celiac. Children are now routinely tested for the disease before kindergarten, a test as ritualized as a standard set of vaccinations. If you work in food in Italy, you know how to feed people well, no matter what their allergies and concerns. And here is my favorite fact: adults with diagnosed celiac in Italy are given two days a month off, with pay, to go search out their food.”
In Peru I didn’t receive eye rolls or shrugs from waiters. Some had a hard time comprehending this tragedy. At Dawn on the Amazon Café in Iquitos, where they fry their fish in quinoa crumbs — not because it is gluten-free but because it tastes good — the waiter went into mourning on my behalf when I explained I could not eat wheat. He kept coming back to my table and asking me if this meant I couldn’t eat cake or donuts and clutching his heart in sympathy as he tried to come to terms with my terrible affliction. The next day when I entered the café, the staff remembered that I couldn’t eat their delicious looking bread, they were so sad, but I wasn’t sad as I drank my fresh tropical fruit smoothie.
CeliacTravel.com has a translation of a letter in Spanish explaining gluten intolerance, that you can send to a hotel in advance of your trip.
In the Middle East, I dipped cucumber slices and falafels in hummus instead of using pita bread. At Gluten Free Passport you can download restaurant cards translated into Arabic and many other languages from around the world to give to servers and chefs.
I’ve never encountered the stinky attitude from waiters and cooks regarding gluten intolerance when traveling that I’ve encountered in North America. Though, having said that, after I reported cross contamination by staff (with stinky attitudes) at my local Pizzaville in Canada this past week (a chain with a gluten-free flaxseed crust), their head office took it very seriously. They make a special effort when training regarding the preparation of their gluten-free pizza. The response was immediate, guaranteed they’d take action, and I was given a credit for a free pizza.
Kirsten Koza is a humorist, adventure travel writer, expedition organizer and the author of “Lost in Moscow: a brat in the USSR.” She is a contributing journalist to TheBlot Magazine.