I’m late writing about this, so it’s likely old news to at least some of the readers out there. But it’s been on my mind, so I’m going to write about it anyway. Kendall Egan’s post on Special Diet Backlash? pointed me to this New York Times article on The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner.
Given that two of my kids and I have celiac disease, it’s worrisome when people start to think of “gluten free” as some sort of fad if it means they won’t take us seriously. We do appreciate it when restaurants take the time and care to provide safe food and make it easier to order. We tend to go to a relatively small list of places that have proven to us they are safe.
When we go to a party or other event by an organization, friends, or family we tend to bring food we know is safe, check in advance if safe options will be available (which usually requires a fairly extensive set of questions), or even eat beforehand and just have a beverage of some sort at the event. We try not to impose, but at the same time we have to know at all times exactly what we are eating before we eat it. We have no “tolerance” or room for error.
However, unlike someone with a severe food allergy (like a peanut allergy), we won’t immediately react nor will we tend to react in highly visible ways. Unlike an allergy, though, when an immune response is triggered, the antibodies and inflammation can linger for weeks from a single exposure. So we are particular vulnerable to those who think, for whatever reason, that it’s okay to lie to us or hide something from us. Fortunately, that’s not a common occurrence today, but if a backlash against those on a special diet grows, it could become more common.
And that worries me. All posts like the one in the Times tend to make a comment about celiac disease before proceeding on with their rant. But celiac disease is not only more common than many such writers seem to understand, it also doesn’t have any visible markers. There’s no way to look at someone with celiac disease and tell that they have it. It’s a largely invisible disease.
And that’s without even discussing the increasing numbers of people who are being medically diagnosed (not by WebMD) with non-celiac gluten intolerance or sensitivity. They may have more tolerance for exposure and cross-contamination than those of us with celiac disease and the consequences of exposure may not be as severe as the celiac autoimmune response, but they still have a real, if not thoroughly understood medical condition. They don’t deserve to be ridiculed or dismissed either.
My advice to those hosting dinners, parties, or events? Decide up front whether you care about the dietary restrictions, voluntary or otherwise, of those you are inviting before you invite them. And be clear about whether or not you are willing or interested in special diet requests or needs. If you aren’t, that’s fine. If if you just aren’t sure how to handle such needs, just be up front about it. If someone actually cares, we’re always prepared to discuss it. Perhaps we can cook and bring something safe so we can blend in to some extent. But if you find such things a bother or imposition don’t be surprised if we decide we would rather not attend.