Tag Archives: activism

Gluten Free Sandwich…from a Deli!

13 Feb

I have a hard time trusting non-gluten free restaurants, specifically pizza and sandwich places, that try and serve gluten free foods.  The risk of cross-contamination is so great that the uncertainty drives me nuts.  Not only is there an excessive amount of gluten ingredients floating around but also, I can’t watch the kitchen staff handle my order.  Honestly, it feels like a sick form of gambling, a Celiac version of Russian roulette, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort that restaurants are making to provide food to GF customers, but I feel that they are targeting the gluten intolerant as opposed to Celiacs, which can be confusing and dangerous for consumers.

Despite my hesitations, I recently dined at a sandwich shop that offered gluten free bread.  Luckily, the sandwiches at this establishment are assembled within view of the customers so I had the opportunity to watch how they handled making a gluten free sandwich amongst a sea of gluten sandwiches!

As a UC Berkeley Bear, it is much to my dismay that my fabulous experience at the sandwich shop happened at Stanford University’s CoHo Cafe.  Here is what I observed:

First, when I ordered the sandwich, I told the cashier that my reaction to gluten is severe and that my sandwich “could not come into contact with any utensils or products that have been touching wheat.”  Similarly to how I sometimes describe a Celiac as being “functionally allergic to gluten,” I did not use the phrase “cross-contamination” so as to avoid confusion over jargon.

You should always remind waitstaff and/or chefs at restaurants offering GF products about cross-contamination.  Some places start offering GF products before they do the necessary research about safe kitchen practices.

After placing my order I watched as the person constructing the sandwiches read my order.  She promptly removed her gloves and took a few knives and a cutting board to a sink to wash them with soap and water. Next, she put on a new pair of gloves and grabbed a package of Udi’s bread from a cabinet.  Interestingly, these were the largest slices of Udi’s bread I have ever seen, they must have been special ordered.

The woman toasted the bread in a designated panini press.  While they were toasting, she went into a back room and brought out a small assortment of condiments that had never been used on wheat products.  She assembled the sandwich on the clean cutting board and cut it in half with the newly washed knife.

It was so great to watch such efficient and proper protocol!  I think Subway could learn a lot from this tiny sandwich shop!  Check out this youtube video of a gluten free customer at Subway checking for cross-contamination.  I also think that college campuses should try to catch up with Stanford’s quality service (I am cringing while typing this).  I had  a meal plan at UC Berkeley for a year and the sandwich station in the dining hall was 100% off limits for me.  Not only was there an unreliable supply of gluten free bread but the staff was simply unaware about cross-contamination and how to avoid it. You know someone has fantastic service when a Bear is willing to compliment the actions of anyone or anything even remotely related to Stanford, let alone a Cafe on their campus.

My sandwich was delicious.  Since my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I have been craving a deli-made sandwich.  I don’t know why, but there is something special about a sandwich made by a deli…for some reason my sandwiches at home simply aren’t the same.

It is important that restaurants offering GF meals are aware about cross contamination!  Next time you dine out, try talking to your server or the chef about how the food is prepared. California Pizza Kitchen had trouble with cross contamination when they tried to offer  a GF pizza crust. How did they figure out there was a problem?  A pro-active Celiac spoke up.  Now, CPK is working with GIG to develop safe kitchen protocol for their GF products.

Cross-contamination is a serious issue.  You do not have to be an expert, you simply need to advocate for yourself, in order to help a restaurant improve their GF service.

-CC

Friends or Foes?

16 Jan

“We have to be careful that [the diet’s growing popularity] doesn’t negate the seriousness of the situation for people with celiac disease.”

Carol Shilson, executive director of the Celiac Disease Research Center at the University of Chicago

People who follow the gluten free diet but are not gluten intolerant, gluten sensitive or Celiac are a double edged swords when it comes to awareness.  As a Celiac, I both greatly appreciate and yet resent the people who jumped on the gluten free fad diet band wagon.  So, gluten free fad dieters…friends or foes?

Friends

Despite great improvements in the past ten years, awareness efforts have a long way to go.  Nonprofits have a natural audience consisting of Celiac patients and the medical community but do not have easy access to the general population.  Typically, people are not interested in things that do not specifically concern them.  Why would the average Joe care about an autoimmune disease that he did not have?  Awareness efforts are challenged by the fact that a substantial amount of people do not relate to the issue at hand: gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease.

Fortunately, the gluten free diet eventually caught the attention of health experts and dieters across the nation, sparking a new “fad diet.”  Consumers started asking more and more about gluten free options.  The word “gluten,” usually missing from the vocabulary of your average diner, is now becoming quite common.

When experts and dietitians started remarking about the health benefits of the gluten free diet, it made the gluten free diet relatable and relevant to the general population. The unintended consequence was a huge increase in the level of awareness in the general population, maybe not about Celiac Disease, but certainly about what gluten is.

Foes

Although the fad dieters made “gluten” a much more common utterance in restaurants, they have also morphed the reputation of gluten free people.  I tell people at restaurants to think of my gluten free diet like a nut allergy: even a trace will be terrible for my health.  I want people to group Celiacs with the anaphylactic allergies because, despite their physiological and definitional differences, it is a way for chefs and waiters to understand the seriousness of cross-contamination and double checking ingredients.

Now many people think of being gluten free  as simply a dietary preference or fad diet which changes the perception people have of those on a GF diet.  This means that chefs at restaurants are way less likely to avoid cross-contamination because they think of the GF diner as someone on Atkins or Weight Watchers.

I am grateful that so many people now know what gluten is but I am also very frustrated that the gluten free diet is being viewed as a weight loss tool or dietary preference instead of a medical treatment plan.

Implications?

I went to the Farmers Market in Santa Monica last weekend and witnessed the difference between catering to a gluten free dieter and catering to a Celiac.  One food stand advertised that they made “Buttermilk Pancakes” and “Buckwheat Pancakes.”  They did not say “gluten free” anywhere on the menu or on their stand’s sign.  The Buckwheat pancake ingredients are gluten free but they are cooked on the same griddle as the buttermilk pancakes.  They were catering to people who wanted gluten free food but did not need to be gluten free.

There is a difference between following a gluten free diet and being gluten free.

The stand adjacent to this one advertised breakfast burritos with etiher a whole wheat tortilla or a “Gluten-Free Brown Rice Wrap.”  Despite using the phrase “gluten free,” the wraps were heated and cut on the same surfaces as the whole wheat tortillas.  The cross-contamination was blatantly apparent!  I asked the cook if he used the same knives and cutting board for the GF option and he said “Ya..why?”

**I have already written a letter to this restaurant company explaining the problem with calling their menu item “gluten free.”  Check out the importance of letters and how you can make a difference!

Despite the knowledge of gluten in food, issues like cross-contamination still remain a barrier to health for people with Celiacs.  Make sure you are ever diligent in restaurants.  Ask your questions!  Just because a menu says “gluten free” doesn’t mean it is safe. There may cross-contamination issues that can be easily averted if you make sure to speak up for yourself while ordering.

While I appreciate the way gluten free dieters have contributed to the widespread promotion of information about  what gluten is, I am disappointed that the nuances of Celiac Disease and the gluten free diet have been muddled.  The point is…let go of any resentment you may feel towards people who consider the GF diet a fad and simply be grateful that they know what gluten is.  It isn’t perfect and it isn’t our desired endpoint but it is a step in the right direction. I hope that a deeper understanding of its importance will accompany the ever-growing popularity of the gluten free diet.

-CC

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