I Got “Glutened”!

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The term in the community is “getting glutened”. It’s what every Celiac or person with a gluten-sensitivity fears will happen to them. Somehow, someway, either through cross-contamination or mis-labeled packaging, their gluten-free food ends up not being gluten-free. Obviously, this leads to dire consequences on a varying scale for individuals such as Cam. As diligent as we are, both inside and outside of our home, Cam still gets “glutened”. When this happens (probably three times in the past nine months), we joke that the “running calendar” resets back down to zero. We liken it to factories and workplaces and their days without incident / accident signs. So proud when the number gets higher, not so much when it shows single digits.

Well, nine days into my going gluten-free, I got “glutened”. Yep, just nine days. I feel the shame that the factory worker feels when the sign shows “0 days” but what happened was in no way my fault. In fact, what happened is our greatest fear with Cam and we were lucky that this happened to me and not to him.

Cam wasn’t even with us. He was at an amusement park with his orchestra group from school. My wife, daughter and I were out doing some shopping and decided to have dinner at an establishment local to our area. Just nine days earlier (ironically), I had lunch at another one of this restaurant’s locations with some prominent members of the gluten-free community. That location passed with flying colors so I was confident that I would be able to eat safely this evening and continue with my 31 day quest for Celiac Awareness. After we were seated, I asked our server for a gluten-free menu. This was the same server who helped us the entire evening (taking our order, bringing our food) so there was no confusion as to what menu I had in front of me. I do not tell these locations what my goal is or what I’m raising awareness for. My role is that of an every day, gluten-free consumer.

You often find the same menu items on a gluten-free menu as you would the standard menu that the restaurant provides to you. These items are listed with modifications or are naturally gluten-free to begin with. The item listed on the gluten-free menu that caught my eye was the double stacked quesadillas. The double stacked quesadillas were also listed on the regular menu so I made sure to hand the server the gluten-free menu and provide her my order at the same time. Maybe this was my fault in thinking that this server would make the correlation of me asking for a gluten-free menu and me handing her the gluten-free menu while ordering with me wanting my order to be gluten-free. Chalk another one up for that saying about “assuming”.

I don’t know about you but one of the items that we have found hard to find as a gluten-free family is a good tortilla. We’ve tried several brands and while some are ok, none have the same taste/texture as the flour-based tortillas. This is what tipped me off. My quesadillas came cut into thirds and looked really good. Not only did they look good, they tasted good. I gave a bite to my wife and to my daughter and we all agreed that these were the best gluten-free tortillas that we have yet to experience. Curiosity got the best of us as we needed to know the type of tortillas that the kitchen worked with so we could buy them ourselves. I called our server over and let her know that it wasn’t a rush but when she had time, we just had to know the type of gluten-free tortillas that they used.

You know that time when something goes terribly wrong and your insides turn to liquid, you break out into a cold sweat, and all the blood rushes away from your head? I physically witnessed this happen with our server. The look on her face was one of fear, panic, and desperation rolled into one. “Did you say gluten-free?” she asked. I responded “yes” and she turned another shade of pale gray. “Ummm, those are our regular quesadillas. Did you need gluten-free?” Two things went through my mind. First, so much for finding the answer to our gluten-free tortilla dilemma. Second, was it not enough that I asked for a gluten-free menu? I placed the dots out there; did I really have to connect them too? I explained to the server that the reason that I asked for the special menu up front was because I was ordering gluten-free. I did let her off the hook a bit saying that, for me, it was a lifestyle  choice but if my son had gone through the same experience, it would have been drastic. A few minutes later the kitchen manager came out and asked if I was going to be ok. I appreciated her asking me this and also her efforts to explain how they have special treatment for every gluten-free order in their kitchen. But, what happens in the kitchen doesn’t matter if the training isn’t up front as well. She did offer to bring me some gluten-free quesadillas (as she noticed I stopped eating) but I politely told her “no”. A replacement order wouldn’t have been good enough for Cam, it wasn’t going to be good enough for me. Obviously, they thought that I had eaten enough as they charged me full price for my incorrect order. Icing on the non gluten-free cake.

I’m not here to bash a restaurant, a server, or a kitchen manager. I did my best to not mention the name of the facility in this post (but if you were on my Twitter site yesterday around 7:00 eastern time, the cat’s out of the bag). This is just another perfect example of why it is so important that Cam and others in the GF community be their own advocates. Leaving it to another person, especially one responsible for the very thing that can be harmful to you (in this case, food), takes trust. When situations like this happen, that trust level is diminished and the rebuilding starts again. We dodged a bullet. The “days without incident” counter is back to Day 1. I’m just happy that it’s my personal counter and not Cam’s.

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