I was always the person at a restaurant who ordered with what I like to call "flair." I realize the server dreaded people like me; those who never order what is on the menu, but rather a variation of it. I was never the kid who longed for the burger with the special sauce, or the pickles, or the onions, or even ketchup with my French fries. I was the one who asked for no mayonnaise, sauces on the side, and hold any condiments that are runny or fragrant in any way.
Yes, I was a child who adults would refer to as "picky." I was the daughter who refused to eat meatloaf because of the way my Mom mashed it together with her hands. The dinner date that chose to pass on the salad because mayonnaise-based dressings were as unappetizing as the venison my Dad hunted in the mountains. Over the years I became adept at specifying how I wanted my meals cooked at restaurants, and sending it back when it was wrong. This is why I’ve thought that Karma has come back to haunt me. Many times, I even resorted to telling restaurant employees that I was allergic to mayonnaise, so that they would give me a new bun rather than just scraping off the original. I am not proud of my fib, yet it did prepare me for life with Celiac Disease. Anyone with gluten intolerance who has eaten at a restaurant, either by themselves or with a child or a spouse, has received a blank stare when they alert servers that they are allergic to gluten. I call it, “the deer in the headlights look”—it is that confused wide-eyed gaze that is occasionally followed by, “What?”
My immediate response is to inform them that I am unable to eat wheat, and cannot have anything with it touch my plate, or be cross-contaminated by it, on any cooking surface. I have sent salads back when a stray crouton has been found next to my sliced tomatoes. I’ve been chuckled at by teenagers who are unaware of how serious my condition is, and whose immediate response to something they don’t know is confused giggling. I have left a dinner party starving because the only item that was gluten-free was the carrot sticks. Like I said, it just might be Karma, coming back to haunt me.
Who would have thought that one day I would be wishing for just one of those hamburger buns that made my stomach churn upon seeing it slathered with ketchup? I never dreamed the day would arrive when I would be a difficult diner out of necessity, rather than motivated by sheer dislikes. I am now the woman who has to ensure that her French fries are not cooked in the same oil as breaded products, a traveler who carries along her own toaster so that her frozen waffles can be toasted without intestine-sacrificing bread crumbs...a mom who tells her children that they should try each thing on their plate, just because they are able to.
What have I learned since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease? Primarily, that eating is just plain difficult, and there is absolutely no way to get around the added worry, cost, and inconvenience of gluten intolerance. Yes, it is easier and more reassuring to eat at home where I can control exactly what foods I am consuming, but is that always feasible? With children in after-school activities, there are nights when we are forced to eat on the run. When we travel there are times that we must eat at restaurants. Then there are the evenings when my husband and I are lucky enough to hire a babysitter and go out for a nice dinner and have our meal prepared and our dishes cleaned for us.
Before eating out, I go online and do research, to ensure that I am only eating gluten-free foods. We choose restaurants where there is a specified gluten-free menu, which oftentimes is limited to a very few number of selections. When cooking at home, I attempt to stick to the basics; consuming primarily meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. I praise whole food markets and grocery chains who have embraced a greater understanding of food intolerance and allergies, and offer alternative ingredients for cooking. Likewise, I have also found that by shopping gluten-free, I can easily double our family’s grocery bill for the month.
Do I really believe that Karma has come back to haunt me? No, not really. With the number of young children diagnosed with Celiac Disease, combined with all of the non-picky eaters out there, I suppose it is just a case of genetics, along with bad luck. I do look forward to the day when there will be more stores carrying gluten-free choices. As awareness increases, so do the chances of eating at a restaurant, and having an unlimited amount of dishes to choose from, as well as staff trained on food intolerance issues. I long for a day when a bag of gluten-free flour does not cost four times that of its wheat counterpart. When that day arrives, I know, Karma or not, that we have made it.