In most public settings, they wouldn’t cause a second look. But at a local restaurant, any restaurant, their meals could cause a second glance … possibly even a third.
They are “celiacs” — those afflicted with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks the small intestine due to the presence of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale.
Until recently, I’d never met a “celiac.” In fact, I had no idea such a thing existed. But apparently it not only afflicts a good number of people, but it’s recently set off a dietary plan for folks who are not “celiacs,” because some believe there are health benefits to a gluten-free diet.
The closest thing to a dietary concern I have ever had to deal with was my grandfather’s lactose intolerance. Trips to the grocery store would often lag in the dairy section, as we carefully scanned the cartons of milk for the lactose-free brands. And usually, things like yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy products were left out of the cart altogether.
But lactose intolerance has nothing on what “celiacs” are forced to go through just to plan a meal.
Just for a moment, imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t eat bread. Want a sandwich? Forget it. Feel the urge for a tortilla wrap? Nope. Fried dough? Uh-uh. Stuffing at Thanksgiving? Nada. Hot dog or cheeseburger? Not a chance if you want the bun. How about pizza? Um, no. Pancakes? Ha!
It goes even further. Fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken-fried steak or fried candybar? Sorry, they all have breading and are off-limits.
While there are many gluten-free recipes available on the Internet, try finding the gluten-free ingredients at your local grocery store. If you don’t mind a wild goose chase, go for it. But the fact of the matter is this: Employees in a majority of stores that carry food items will look at you like you have three heads if you ask where their gluten-free items are. And even if you find some, if the cost doesn’t make you sick, the word bland hardly captures their taste — unless they’ve been heavily fortified with sugars, etc.
All restaurants — from the fast-food variety right on through to the upscale types — vary from totally clueless of gluten-free options to mostly absent of them. So asking a “celiac” where they would like to have dinner is a far more difficult decision to make than it is for the rest of us.
And usually, a trip to Taco Bell means a burrito or taco without the shell; a trip to McDonald’s’s means a double cheeseburger without the bun; a trip to Giorgio’s means a spaghetti with meatballs minus the pasta. Oh, and just as important for the “celiac” to consider is whether there might be any cross-contamination. That means, if breaded fried chicken is fried in a vat of oil, then chicken without breading cannot be fried in that same oil.
Could you imagine anything tougher?
How about this: “Celiacs” also have to be concerned with anything they put ON their body, and not only with what goes IN their body. For instance, things like soaps, lotions, shampoos and women’s makeup contain some form of glutens that can get absorbed through the skin and cause havoc.
It’s hard to understand exactly what a “celiac” must go through each and every day in order to avoid the distressing affects of allowing glutens to find a way into their body (I’m told those affects aren’t pretty at all), but it should make the rest of us enjoy that gluten-filled meal all the more.
— W. Curt Vincent is general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.