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  • Writer's pictureCoach Sandy Robinson

Gluten Free "Shaming."

Requesting "Gluten free" can be complicated, but it doesn't have to be.

Gluten free, bread, flour, bakery
Gluten free requests are often misunderstood by food service employees.

So, a thing happened yesterday. It’s not the first time, and I am positive it won’t be the last. I went to a well known local pizza restaurant that offers made to order personal pizzas, and I was made to feel like I was a bother, because I ordered it “gluten free.” (It’s on their main menu, and of course at a premium cost, because well, it has more costly ingredients, it’s inconvenient to make, and for people who order it, they will pay almost anything for it because it’s usually their only option on a gluten free diet.) 

I hate "special" orders.

Let me preface this by saying, I HATE having to order with “special” instructions. I don’t like being a bother to the restaurant staff. I know they don’t like having to change their gloves, and use a fresh cleaned surface and utensils just for my one order. I know it’s a pain. I don’t like having to be different.

 I also do not like that I have to eat gluten-free.  I would LOVE to eat the big fluffy pan pizza with all the oooeey goooey crust and toppings. However, I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I am on a very strict, Dr. ordered, meal plan to help fight this autoimmune disease that wreaks havoc on my body and works double time when I eat gluten. I have many food restrictions, but eating out occasionally means I compromise and order a gluten free option which still has other ingredients I shouldn’t eat, but it at least doesn’t have the worst one for me, which is gluten!

pizza, pepperoni, jalapenos, tomatoes, mozzerella, basil
Pizza with Gluten Free crust is becoming more readily available to those who need it.

Is this an allergy or just a preference?

Back to my story, I order the pizza and the first thing I am asked is “is this for an allergy, or just a preference?” Right there I know it’s going to be a bother. That question shouldn’t even happen, if they offer gluten free, then they should serve it gluten free, without me having to explain why I am ordering what is offered on their menu! I mean, if you ask for your salad without nuts at a restaurant, do they ask you why? Do they need to know why to justify if they are actually going to do what you asked? How very frustrating! I explained it’s for an allergy and she immediately passed the word to the next staff member who would handle the food so they knew to change gloves and clean the work surface so as to not cross contaminate. His back was facing me but he immediately responded with an over exaggerated shoulder shrug, head hanging, sigh of frustration.

I felt humiliated and ashamed.

This was an open counter, in front of everyone, public shaming because I have a food allergy that inconvenienced this employee. I immediately responded with, “never mind, I can go somewhere else.” I was willing to leave right then, as it was embarrassing and it didn’t seem worth it to push the issue. I always keep a protein bar in my purse for times I can’t find “safe” foods, and I was ready to eat one again to avoid further issues. The employee who was originally helping me saw him protest and she immediately apologized for his behavior and said she personally would take care of my order and to please forgive them for his rude behavior.

She was wonderful.  She made a great pizza and even asked her manager to please comp my meal as a way to make up for the error. The manager also apologized multiple times and sent the employee who protested home for the night as a response to his inappropriate behavior.

My purpose.

The purpose of sharing this story is not to just gripe about what happened, but to share perspective.

You see, I feel the employee who got frustrated was simply irritated with having to do extra work. He was likely not educated on the importance of serving others with a good attitude, even if it’s difficult. He probably thinks this “gluten free” thing is just an annoying fad, and a bother to deal with. I agree. It is a bother. It’s a bother that I deal with daily as I make a meal for my family and have to make sure I don’t contaminate my own food. It’s a bother to not be able to freely eat out. It’s a bother to not be able to trust the restaurant staff will actually prepare food gluten free as they advertise. 

I hope to change this attitude through educating others and even offering workshops at restaurants for the staff to have a better understanding of the need for being sensitive to allergy needs, and realizing when they actually prepare an allergy friendly food, they are a huge blessing to the customer and it means more to them than they could ever know. For the customer who has allergies they regularly have to work around their “special needs” and to have a restaurant they can trust and enjoy the convenience of someone else cooking a meal once in a while is huge!

I am not a victim.

I close with this. I am not a victim; I don’t need to be coddled. I just want to get what I order, and trust it is safe to eat, without being made to feel like I’m a bother. I want to help other people with food allergies to have confidence to order what they need, and not compromise when they think the staff might get annoyed with making something special. Ultimately, I am the one who lives in this body, and I shouldn’t have to suffer with illness because someone is “bothered” to do their job.

I’d love to hear your stories. Do you have food allergies? Have you experienced similar situations? What are some solutions you might have to help educate food service to do better at this?

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