Being gluten-free may be all the rage with the celebrity set, but that is one area of celeb life gluten-free folks do not want to imitate, by choice. Silly Instagram pics, limo rides and Louboutins? Yes. Having a weird dietary restriction that makes you stand out? Not so much. Sure, some folks are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon--but when you are not gluten-free by choice, one is faced with a abundance of issues.
Having a gluten intolerance hit me like a ton of bricks about five years ago, and transitioning to a gluten-free self was difficult. Quite frankly, I had enough to deal with, given that at the time I had just moved in with Gregg, I left my job to eventually start my own company, and coping with the devastation of my Grandfather, who lost his battle to pancreatic cancer. Not to mention, the economy tanked.
At the time, being 22, living in San Francisco and dealing with a mysterious autoimmune disease that prevented me from enjoying a slice of pizza Delfina or Acme Bakery Epi bread is no one’s idea of a good time. My world shifted dramatically. Social situation became challenging, and having to explain that I was now gluten-free started to become annoying. Over time I got used to this, and was ready to discuss/answer questions about how I eat, in a way that does not provoke conflict. (People pick up on vibes if you are annoyed!) I understand it can be annoying, but family, friends, and strangers are curious.
Luckily for me, San Francisco is very gluten-free friendly place. Finding an abundance of gluten-free fare, familiarizing myself with grocery stores like Rainbow Groceries, becoming a label reading ninja, and scouting out stores and shops that catered to my needs was fairly easy. Gluten-free items seemed to be more noticeable and easily available. Social situations seemed to not be as stressful.
While I may go about embarrassing myself in restaurants with dozens of questions, allow me to enlighten folks everywhere on the best ways to deal with your potentially socially alienating gluten-free situation. Here are some tips:
Question everything. I was first embarrassed to ask millions of questions, but I knew I had to for my own health. Know that it is OK to ask how food is prepared, if a restaurant or host can accommodate your dietary restriction, or at times having to educate people on what in the world a gluten intolerance is.
Plan ahead. When eating out, know what is available in your area, and plan ahead--especially if dining out with friends. Use a smartphone app or Yelp! and Foodspotting to locate restaurants that will accommodate your needs. This is great if you go out of town, too. Others often think I can just go to any restaurant and order a salad, but food I can get at most places is just not as nutritious as what I make at home. (Salads are great! But, I don't always want a boring salad!) Plus I have to ask so many questions to be sure of staying gluten-free is a pain. If you can find a place that meets the likings of everyone in your group, that would be ideal.
Scan menus ahead of time. I always scan menus ahead of time. If you do not see many choices, call ahead; in most cases, even with minimal choice on a menu, it is likely that the kitchen would be accommodating and adapt some of the dishes to suit your gluten-free requirements Around the San Francisco Bay Area, many restaurants offer a gluten-free menu; sometimes you just need to ask.
Know how your food is prepared. When looking for a restaurant, be sure to find out how they typically prepare their foods and if they can accommodate your requests. Ethnic restaurants are oftentimes good choices because many of their foods are naturally gluten-free. Fast food restaurants are not a good bet—they serve meats (sometimes breaded and fried) and french fries that fit nicely into a gluten-free world? Perhaps not. Make sure that french fries are not being fried in the same oil as other breaded or gluten-filled foods. I always tend to get viciously ill after I eat french frieds at McDonalds; But perfectly fine at In-n-Out.
Make smart menu choices. At restaurants, I choose items that are likely to be gluten-free or that the kitchen-staff can easily modify to be gluten-free. Before ordering, ask your server specifics: how is the food prepared and what ingredients are used. You can even offer suggestions on how to season and prepare your meal.
Communicate. I generally make sure my server knows the severity of my condition before actually placing an order. Explain your restrictions and ask for their help. If you can not get their attention, ask to talk to the chef directly.