by Cheri Henderson
cupboards are stocked with every known variety of gluten-free
flours and binding agents. Your appliances and countertops
are continually detoxed. You have designated gluten-free zones
that are randomly monitored with a gluten meter. Your guests
are put through a decontamination chamber and are immediately
instructed in food safety.
Everything is great as long as you are home.
Its ironic, isnt it? We try
all our lives to be popular and then, with the diagnosis of
celiac disease, we suddenly want to become wallflowers. Those
once longed-for dinner invitations into the homes of family
and friends have been reduced to tactical maneuvers in enemy
territory. You know the enemy: gluten. But do you have the
right weapons to deflect the well-intentioned ignorance, mutual
frustration and inherent dangers of venturing beyond the gluten-free
comforts of home?
Lets knock down the walls of your
protected world. (Before we start, you may want to don some
You get that call that goes something like,
"A few of us are getting together for dinner at our house
this Saturday. Are you free?"
First, we recommend you resist the temptation
to respond, "No, Im not free! I am a prisoner of
gluten contamination, and you are a conspirator!" We
do, however, recommend a little levity.
Step 1: Humor. Why humor?
Because it defuses and disarms. The reality is people may
be intimidated at first by your food issues, and humor will
put them more at ease. You may respond, "Are you sure
youre ready for this? I mean, Im a celiac, so
I cant eat wheat, rye or barley, and legally you have
to go through celiac awareness training before I even set
foot in your house. What are you doing at 9 oclock Friday
Once the caller realizes youre joking,
the truth wont seem quite so bad. But you have to have
a game plan.
"One of the first things people need
to understand is that they need to let people know. Most people
are quite receptive," suggests Ruth Hanson, R.D.L.D.,
a dietician and fellow celiac with Florida Hospital in Orlando,
Fla. "You say, You know, there are certain things
I dont eat. What do you plan to have on the menu?"
Step 2: Communication. That means communication should
be your next step. Communication can be the biggest hurdle
because Celiacs may fear inconveniencing others. But for your
own sake and the sake of your relationships with family and
friends, honesty truly is the best policy.
Your host may take the initiative by asking
what foods are verboten. Spare him a history of your doom,
despair and agony, and just stick to the facts. Then move
the focus from what you cant eat to what you can eat.
Step 3: Education. This moves
into the area of education. When people ask what it is to
be celiac, consider yourself a goodwill ambassador for the
celiac community - sparing people gory details and focusing
on the positive. If heaven forbid your friends
or family members become celiac, you dont want him to
think that life, as he knows it, is over. (Anyone who has
made of meal of our baked potato soup, cheese sticks and chocolate
chip cake will know this is definitely not the case.) You
also want to put a positive spin on your illness so your portrait
does not appear on the 10 Least Wanted posters of dinner organizers
Step 4: Cooperation. Cooperation
is key to making your get-together a positive experience for
all involved. Once you have put your host through Gluten-Free
Dining 101, its time to bring something to the table,
"You can take an entree if youre
going to someones house. If theyre having spaghetti,
bring your own," she recommends.
Depending on what is on the menu, you may
want to offer to bring a salad that could pinch-hit for you
as an entree, a pan of fresh focaccia or a German chocolate
cake. Your contribution does double duty by providing you
with guaranteed sustenance and proving to the unenlightened
that gluten-free doesnt mean taste-free.
Step 5: Anticipation. Finally,
you arrive at your hosts home, covered dish in hand
and brimming with anticipation. Anticipation, our last step,
denotes expectation and preparation. Youve prepared
well, but dont let your guard down. Your fellow diners
are not as attuned to your dietary needs as your gut demands
you must be. Watch for flying crumbs and contaminated serving
utensils. But be gracious, not phobic, and dont be hypersensitive
because you believe others arent being sensitive enough
to your needs.
Venturing into the homes of others doesnt
have to be a source of deadly dread. Youll gain confidence
with each experience, and your friends and family will learn
you are not the pariah you feared you would be. Your world
will expand, and you know what? So will theirs.