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A Disastrous Luncheon

Jennifer Arrington


This article humorously depicts a disastrous luncheon I attended. It brings home the message that living gluten-free can be challenging!

Today I went to a business women’s power lunch.  Now I am not a businesswoman and could give many examples of my failed attempts at staying-home-and-making-millions-while-I-do-the-laundry-and-change-diapers, but I had better not.  However, I attended the luncheon after a generous invitation from a successful acquaintance who thought I’d meet the right person to springboard my latest project.

There’s something I need to clarify before I continue.  Like most who probably visit the celiac.com website, I am completely gluten intolerant, which as you know, precludes me from eating any – and by any I mean not one speck – of gluten, the protein that is found in wheat, barley, rye, and consequently, all mainstream bread products.  It’s not too difficult to manage at home, but eating out is a challenge.  The trouble with ‘messing up’, is that I can spend up to three days in bed from a cascade of symptoms that are unstoppable once I have ingested the dreaded culprit.  Since three days in bed doesn’t exactly jive with mothering young children, I do everything in my power to keep my diet gluten-free.

Thus, I am apprehensive about the lunch on multiple levels.  I have been an at-home mom for so long I’m not sure I’ll remember business etiquette, I am feeling anxiety over whether I’ll be able to eat the food or not, and the sheer dilemma of arranging a babysitter on a school day for my home schooled girls is leaving me flustered.  To make matters worse, in the scramble to transfer kids and car seats into my babysitter’s Landrover, I have managed to arrive late to the luncheon.  People are already being seated and I find myself table-less and without a business name to place on my nametag for my latest project.

Finally, they open a new table and three other dangling women, a gentleman, and I are gratefully seated.  I look around for someone to chat with, but the man next to me is clattering away, shifting the place settings out of his way so he can have room to lay out all his business paraphernalia.  I finger my blank-business label name tag nervously when, out of the corner of my eye, I see the woman to the right of me tearing up her crusty baguette.  I turn my head and focus clearly, watching in horror as crumbs fly in all directions, some landing dangerously close to my water glass.

I think of the article I recently read on celiac.com, that fear of gluten contamination can be more harmful than actually ingesting a miniscule amount of gluten.  Reminding myself of this, I push away my worries and lift my glass to take a drink.  Right before my lips make contact, I look down to see not one, but two breadcrumbs floating near the top of my water.  I stop, my motion to drink frozen in place, glance around to make sure nobody is looking, and then very slowly set my water glass back down.  Being surrounded by high- powered executives, all strangers to me, I cannot summon the boldness to request a fresh glass of water.
I sit through the entire lunch and sip on the other drink placed on the table – an iced tea. Incidentally, sometimes certain brands of iced tea give me migraines, but I decide that purposefully ingesting floating breadcrumbs is more risky than taking a chance on the tea. 

The main speaker for the event is announced, and I attempt to focus on what is being said, only to realize that my neighbor is now ripping up another piece of bread.  This time, breadcrumbs land on my knife.  
My anxiety is reaching a new level.  I carefully retrieve the knife and attempt to inconspicuously clean it with my napkin.  This attempt is nullified, however, when the main course is placed before me—breaded fish.  I look down at my purse, open on the floor next to me, trying to will my stash of nuts that I left in the car back into my purse, which is where they should be for emergencies like this.  Just as well, though, because now my tablemate is cutting her breaded fish with such gusto that pieces of food are flying off the table and landing in my purse…

Two hours later, I leave the luncheon, faint with hunger and drive to a local Pollo Tropical.  (For those of you that don’t know, they serve beans and rice and I can eat their chicken “tropi-chop” fairly successfully).  Barely able, in my low-blood-sugar state, to count out the change correctly, I pay for my meal and drive off.  Only then do I realize that they never gave me a fork.  No problem, I careen down the interstate eating beans and rice with my fingers, having survived yet another day gluten-free in a gluten-filled world.  Small wonder I prefer to eat at home.  I promise myself that no matter what else I need to do in order to earn money on the side while I stay at home, I will not, for the rest of my days, attend another power luncheon without at least three gluten-free emergency snacks on hand.


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Fun article. I can completely relate! I have to attend professional luncheons all the time and they are land mines! I always bring a Lara bar with me and some crackers, because I've been like you many times - starved and unable to think due to low blood sugar! Thanks for the fun article!

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I too can relate to this. Only, it is in every aspect of my life, from people at work eating and touching anything and everything, to having to constantly remind my kids and husband, that HEY, did you just do what I saw you do?! It is especially frustrating to go to the store and be in the 'Gluten Free' area only to find that they have wheat products, i.e., flour, spilled on things. It is so bad for me, that I can not touch anything with gluten in it without getting that wonderful rash on my hands. Not to mention, watch out for the shampoos and lotions,etc. Thanks for the article, now I don't feel like such a freak!

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I enjoyed reading your article I can totally relate. Now the business networking lunches I got to they all know me and order gluten-free meal for me so many times I am told that my meal looks better than theirs. As for the bread crumbs flying in your drink I Place a business card over my glass and my utensils on my plate with my napkin over all of it. I am safe, as for your purse sorry I can not help.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the humor in your article. I have recently (yesterday) been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and have had a hard time finding my sense of humor during the last few weeks of gastro pain, migraines, fatigue, etc. etc. Your words lifted my spirits and helped me see the light side of this disease. I am not alone! Thanks for that.

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I totally agree about any catered lunches for large groups. I too can't tolerate any gluten without painful and very sick results. I have recovered from Multi-Myeloma, and my oncologist and stem-cell doctor insist I never have gluten. I was in a Gideon's dinner recently and thought I could have the mashed potatoes, but fortunately the waiter asked the chef, and found out they added wheat flour to thicken the potatoes. I had never heard of that. I just wanted to let this be known. It is tricky and time consuming to ask all details at every meal, but it is so very necessary. I thank God and many wonderful doctors to be alive and well today. Thank you or sharing. Humor is wonderful.

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Bless your heart, my husband has celiac and we have had some interesting adventures but none are described as delightfully as in your article. I am currently helping a friend who has celiac try to migrate through remedies for headaches and so I thoroughly digested your article in the Winter Journal of Gluten Sensitivity. Then I read where you did graduate work at Texas A & M and I related immediately. Both my children graduated there, Jordan Class of 98 and Heather Class of 2000. I am passionate about nutrition and even though I personally have no health problems, my husband has weathered some pretty terrific problems due to his celiac condition as well as high blood pressure. We also find that eating out is only safe when you have thoroughly researched the ingredients in dishes. My friend whom I am helping had a hysterectomy in her early 30's and is currently in her early 50's. She only started getting headaches when we started working on her adrenal fatigue. As she started getting better from that condition the headaches started. Why would that be? You found yourself in the same situation. Any help would be appreciated.

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