If you have a food allergy or a diet-controlled autoimmune disease like Celiac, you know how serious an accidental ingestion can be. With most food allergies, eating out can be relatively straight forward process. You often know what you’re getting in your food and a simple note to the server can take care of the problem. Some people with food allergies can handle eating small amounts of the offending foods and they deal with the consequences later. For instance, I’m allergic to corn. My worst symptoms are joint pain and gastric distress, so sometimes I make the dumb decision to eat corn anyway and deal with the nearly-immediate consequences. I don’t complain to anyone but myself, but it can’t kill me, nor does it cause any psychological distress or severe, life-threatening symptoms.
Other people aren’t so lucky, if you can call it luck.
People with severe peanut allergies can’t even inhale the peanut dust that occurs when a package of peanuts are opened. People with Celiac Disease have to be careful to the tune of 20ppm – twenty parts per MILLION. That means a single breadcrumb could wreak havoc on the intestines of a person with Celiac Disease. Celiac is associated with nearly 300 symptoms, and it is a different disease for various different people. Some people with Celiac disease are asymptomatic. Some people with Celiac Disease don’t begin presenting severe symptoms until adulthood.
Some children begin presenting symptoms seemingly all of a sudden at the age of one, but people ignore those symptoms until the child’s butthole literally falls out.
Pointing at myself & Grady here.
So to tell someone, “Well, that wasn’t a problem for you last year” means absolutely NOTHING. Actually, you should just completely remove that phrase from your vocabulary. Allergies can develop at any time and an Autoimmune Disorder could have been picking slowly away at your body until it finally breaks the dam and a full blown autoimmune disorder rears its really ugly head.
It is with the knowledge that gluten hides in many, many ingredients; that kitchen staff do not switch gloves out between dipping their hand in croutons for one salad, and then mixing a crouton-less salad with those same hands moments later; that gluten-containing spices are grilled on the same grill as items prepared for someone with Celiac Disease; that we eat out. We have been fortunate for the past few months when we have eaten out. I make it a point to tell the server that our son has Celiac Disease, and Kyle has adopted a strict gluten free diet after finding out that not only does our son have Celiac, but Kyle’s dad also has it.
I shouldn’t have to defend our son’s health when we eat out, but I do because I don’t want him to be accidentally glutened.
So we are careful about where we eat out and we make a point to let our server know. I used to work at Bonefish Grill and right about the time I left there, the whole Celiac and gluten-free started becoming a thing. We were trained, not on what gluten was or why people didn’t eat it, but which of our foods contained it. Now that Celiac is our life, I know that wasn’t enough training, but . . .
. . . I trusted Bonefish Grill. Until Sunday.
Grady got the grilled fish, rice, and fruit from the kid’s menu. We were told it was all gluten free. I told the server Grady had Celiac. He said he’d make a note to tell the kitchen.
Kyle ordered a grilled steak and a crouton-less Caesar Salad. We were told it was all gluten free, and again that the server would make a note to tell the kitchen.
Well, somewhere along the way, something got messed up because partway through the meal, Grady said he didn’t feel so well. He’s only 3 and he has had a cold so we just kind of thought that the cold was making him tired. It didn’t help that our meal took TWO HOURS from start to finish, and this wasn’t during a rush. We got there at 5:30.
When we got home, we realized that “Mommy, I don’t feel good” meant “my stomach is killing me.” As soon as we walked in the door, Grady puked his brains out. He was in a lot of pain and wouldn’t go to sleep so I cuddled him on the sofa and he kept farting the stinkiest farts. His nickname is “Stinky” because he used to smell AWFUL, but since his diagnosis and our strict gluten-free diet started, he has smelled like a normal person. Not Sunday night. No, Sunday night he smelled so bad that I was gagging. I was so near tears but I thought the worst of it would pass through the night and we would get on with our gluten free lives while completely marking Bonefish off our list of safe restaurants.
Except that wasn’t the end of it, because Monday night, Grady had a bout of rectal prolapse. Luckily, he knew to get off of the toilet before it got too bad and it ended up sucking itself back inside.
But it happened. He had rectal prolapse. Again.
Because of some careless restaurant worker. And I’m PISSED.
I’m so pissed that Grady has to deal with this. I’m so pissed we didn’t find out that direct relatives were diagnosed with Celiac Disease over two years ago until after Grady’s diagnosis. I’m so pissed that I thought I had done all I could to keep him protected when we went out to eat and he consumed gluten anyway. I’m so pissed that people continue to brush it off as not a big deal or try to blame it on another food that was consumed that night. I’m so pissed that people, educated people, act baffled and make me feel like I’m a hypochondriac when I tell them we have to read labels and do research on various companies and their packaging processes because of cross contamination. I’m pissed that I went out of my way to let the server know that Grady has Celiac Disease and somewhere along the way it was dismissed, ignored, or forgotten.
This is NOT OK.
People with Celiac Disease and other food allergies shouldn’t be made to feel like they can’t eat out. Food service workers should be trained heavily on things like Celiac Disease and serious food allergies. They should be trained to understand the gravity of the phrase, “My son has Celiac Disease” or “My daughter has a peanut allergy”.
Do you have a family member with Celiac Disease or a severe food allergy who has had a negative experience at a restaurant? We want to hear about it and publish your stories. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org People need to know and they need to hear. This isn’t a joke, this isn’t a psychosomatic illness, this is serious, this is real, and it needs to be treated as such.