I was on a group chat recently in WhatsApp when I read a conversation about restaurant choices that got my knickers in a bit of a knot. Someone had asked for recommendations for restaurants in Edinburgh, but there needed to be vegetarians options for a colleague.
An Italian restaurant was recommended, but promptly shut down by the questioner because one of the other people in her group couldn’t eat gluten. The response back was something along the lines of what a downer that was, and how it was a shame for that person and ‘everyone that had to eat with her’. Whether they were talking about the vegetarian or the coeliac, I couldn’t be sure, but it’s a sentiment I’ve faced more than once, both from family and friends.
Well, I’m sorry it’s such a ‘downer’ for everyone in the group that you need to cater to someone who has coeliac disease. What a terrible thing to have to take into consideration for five minutes when you’re selecting one of the hundreds of restaurants in Edinburgh that cater to the gluten intolerant. At least you don’t have to live with the disease. Imagine waking up one day, after years of feeling lethargic, getting sick every five minutes and being bloated for what feels like years only to be told you – a lover of baking and baked goods, of French cuisine and cooking – can no longer have the thing you love the most. That the rest of your life will be spent turning over packets to read the labels, or avoiding eating that tasty looking treat because the waiter seemed to have no clue about your gluten questions and just rolled their eye at you. Oh and then, on the one day that you’re not being hyper-viligant, you accidentally consume gluten, and end up in the toilet for hours after that.
Better yet, try travelling with friends and going into a foreign supermarket and having to use travel cards written in foreign languages to explain your disease and what you can eat, only to be told that there isn’t anything in the store to suit you – either because the staff are too lazy or don’t understand what you’re trying to get. So whilst your friends feast on cheese and crackers and pates, and all the delicious local cuisine, your only option is to subsist on some fruits and vegetables and cook your meat separately. Oh, and then your friends, very well-meaningfully tell you to bring your own food with you next time to avoid things like that. So half my carry on suitcase is now packed with loaves of gluten free bread and biscuits in my suitcase, just in case.
People with coeliac disease, we the gluten intolerant of the world, do not choose this ‘lifestyle’. It is not a ‘fad’. It is not something that we do to make ourselves stand out, or to be an inconvenience. We don’t take pleasure in checking the back of every packet and learning all the ingredients that are safe to eat, or making sure that that bold allergen label doesn’t say ‘gluten’ or ‘produced in a facility that handles gluten’. Veganism and vegetarianism is a choice, whether religious or ethical. Being a coeliac is not. And honestly, I’m mighty tired of being apologetic for something I can’t control any more than a peanut allergy.
Not all coeliac have the same level of reaction, either, so I’m tired of being told that ‘oh, you’re just intolerant then…you can have some gluten’. Just because I won’t end up in hospital, doesn’t mean I won’t end up seriously sick with gut-wrenching cramps, or on the toilet for the rest of the evening. Try being on a date with your new boyfriend, and accidentally consuming gluten. That takes the relationship to a whole new level, fast especially when you end up bloated like mother-chucker. Romance, here I come.
The gluten intolerants and coeliacs of the world aren’t being ‘picky’ by choice. And please, don’t make it out to be such a big challenge that you need to find a restaurant that caters to us. There are still dozens of things on the menu that you can eat at every restaurant, including Italian restaurants because most do in fact cater to gluten free needs. Is it really such an issue to find a restaurant with at least two options that I can consume without ending up bloated to look like a woman in her last trimester?