Part 2 of a conversation with two celiac sufferers marking National Celiac Awareness Month in California. Find Part 1 here. – Femme de Joie
MP: Are there any restaurants or mainstream food products that cater to the gluten-free market?
Melissa: Yes, there are some wonderful companies that go above and beyond to provide items and service to the gluten-free market. My favorite chain restaurant here in Redding is Outback Steakhouse. They have an extensive gluten-free menu that is printed out and the staff members there have been trained phenomenally well in my opinion. I’ve also had positive experiences at Olive Garden and Red Robin.
As far as local establishments go, Post Office Saloon and Grill is one of my favorites. When I travel outside the Redding area, I also enjoy eating at Mimi’s and P.F. Chang’s. When grocery shopping, I’ve found that ConAgra companies tend to have very reliable labeling, as does Kraft. I also rely on Raley’s house brands, as they have very good gluten-free labeling.
Moggy: There are some gluten-free restaurants in Ottawa, Ontario, now, actually! At least two Italian restaurants cater to the gluten-free market (one completely and one has an alternate menu), two vegetarian restaurants have a huge selection of gluten-free options, and at least one Chinese place will cook gluten-free “off menu.” Boston Pizza and Pizza-Pizza, both large chains, have also started to offer gluten-free meals … and I have to tell you, there isn’t much nicer than being able to order meals from a big restaurant like a “normal person.”
MP: Have you found gluten-free substitutes (i.e. wheat-free pizza crust, rice pasta) or have your eating habits changed radically from before?
Melissa: I do have some gluten-free go-to items that are basically just a replacement for my old wheat-based favorites. Tinkyada rice pasta is the best pasta replacement I have found. I’m also partial to Udi’s breads (the sandwich bread is great and won’t disintegrate when the condiments hit it; and their cinnamon raisin bread is awesome), and Schar’s pizza crusts, crisp bread (very similar to Wasa bread), and hazelnut-chocolate wafer cookies. But I have branched out and tried many things I had never eaten before. New favorites include risotto, quinoa or millet grain salad, and polenta.
Moggy: I never liked bread all that much so the only real substitute food that I have in house is gluten-free (rice) pasta and gluten-free pancakes mixes. Every so often, I’ll make muffins or cornbread but I mainly subsist on potatoes and rice for my starches. And I’ve had to learn to cook with tofu and beans for protein, what with gluten-contaminated meat substitutes being mostly off-limits.
MP: Do you think overall your diet is healthier than before?
Moggy: Well, I do miss gluten but it’s mainly for the ease of eating out; it would be nice to be able to have a vegetarian burger at a fast-food joint or my favourite cake (black forest) for my birthday. Or onion rings. Or donuts! I miss donuts! I like to kid with my friends that it’s probably a good thing I can’t eat gluten because everything gluteny that I actually miss is also actually very bad for me. So, I guess you could say my diet is healthier than it would be otherwise?
Melissa: Yes, I do think I eat much healthier now. I’m not eating nearly as much processed food, so I know my sodium intake is much lower than it used to be. I also favor organic and minimally processed food, so I’m not ingesting nearly as many chemicals and preservatives. And since I don’t eat quite as many starchy or grain-based items, I tend to fill up on fruits and vegetables more.
MP: What’s the worst thing about having celiac?
Moggy: The most inconvenient thing is, well, the inconvenience … having to check everything before I eat it, being nervous of trying a new restaurant, and wondering if I remembered to check the ingredients on something a few bites into a meal. But the worst thing is probably the expense; the long-term consequences of celiac disease are kind of scary and the short-term consequences of gluten are awful (projectile vomiting awful) so it’s important to stick to the diet … but how people on limited incomes do this, I’ll never know. Gluten-free food runs dollars higher than regular; in some cases, almost double. $3.99 for a gluten-free version of a $1.49 package of regular noodles, $8 for a gluten-free version of $3 box of breadsticks, etc. … In Canada, I can claim a tax credit for gluten-free foods (with a letter from my doctor confirming my celiac diagnosis) but it’s a complicated and bureaucratic process and I’m sure most people don’t do it because the effort isn’t worth the pennies you get back. It’s all very frustrating.
Melissa: For me, the worst thing is not any of the ongoing health issues, or the foods I can’t eat any more and miss. The worst thing is how celiac disease can limit a person’s social life. Eating out or eating at a friend’s or family member’s place can be more stressful than relaxing, so you just skip it. Church potlucks are impossible to navigate safely, so you leave early or don’t bother to go at all. Cakes, cookies, donuts, and other goodies brought into the office by well-meaning coworkers can be a temptation hard to pass up, so you hide in your cubicle and hope the crumbs are cleaned off the table before you have to go to a meeting in that room.
I’m very blessed, with family and close friends that made the effort to learn about my dietary limitations and are willing to work with me in doing what’s safest for me – whether that’s letting me shop with them and show them safe ingredients to use; allowing me to help them prepare part or all of the meal; agreeing to go out to a restaurant that I know has a gluten-free menu I can trust; or, letting me brown-bag my own food to a gathering. I’ve made the choice not to let celiac turn me into a recluse, but I can fully appreciate how difficult that can be for others. So much of what we do socially revolves around food.
MP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Moggy: I’d like friends and family of celiacs to understand that this disease is not a dietary choice; I’ve heard of people sneaking wheat flour into baking because “otherwise the food doesn’t turn out … and so-and-so never notices!” Celiac disease isn’t like a peanut allergy; chances are you won’t see your victim get sick right in front of you. They’ll get sick later that night or the next day … it’ll be vomiting like you’ve never seen before, diarrhea, fatigue, fogginess, and more. You’ll have made the next few days or week (or longer) a misery for them. And you’ll have done internal damage! If you feed a celiac gluten, you are contributing to a future of increased cancer risks and osteoporosis and assorted other medical disasters. So just don’t do it! We like to be able to eat something at a dinner we’ve been invited to, of course, but I’m pretty sure I speak for my fellow celiacs when I say we’d rather go hungry than get poisoned. And that’s the best way to look at it: gluten is poison to a celiac, pure and simple.
Melissa: While discussing celiac and the gluten-free trend, it’s important to recognize that not everyone who chooses to eat gluten-free has celiac disease. Some people have an actual wheat allergy, some have gluten sensitivity, some have found that a gluten-free diet helps alleviate symptoms of other auto-immune disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia), and some just feel better doing it for no readily discernible reason. However, for those of us with celiac, it’s not a choice, it is a requirement, and the only option if we want to stay as healthy as possible. Celiac disease doesn’t have a cure; there is no medication we can take, no surgery we can have, nothing else we can do to fix the underlying problem. Avoidance of all gluten, from any and every source, is the only way we can manage our disease.
Melissa is a native of the Redding area, with a fascinating and action-packed career that involves staring at a computer screen for hours on end. She relaxes in her free time with vegetable gardening, cooking, and staring at her home computer screen for hours on end.
Moggy is a slightly eccentric and more than slightly geeky writer/editor/civil servant/part-time bookseller who lives in Ottawa with her comic book creator husband, Von Allan (www.vonallan.com); a very spoiled Siberian husky; and two highly opinionated cats. In her spare time, she stays up too late reading, watching old movies, playing on the Internet, knitting badly, and plotting to hitch a ride into space.
Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.