Sherpa’s Colon: Celiac

Yeah, so that’s weird. Sherpa’s colon. Talking about the colon is probably not among the things you do on a daily basis. But in our house, we talk about Sherpa’s belly pretty much daily. And it usually goes like this:

Me: “How is your belly?”

Sherpa: “Bad.”

Me: “WHY?”

Sherpa: “I don’t know.”

For some reason I take personal offense to this sometimes. I know it sounds crazy. I think it has to do with how concerned I am for his health and how hard we both work to make sure he doesn’t get glutened. I am constantly reminding him to ask restaurant servers about the way they prepare their food. We even set up a system for using the toaster so that his gluten-free bread doesn’t touch the shelf where I toast english muffins. But I wish I could do more to make sure he isn’t miserable all the time.

You probably have noticed a lot of gluten-free menu items popping up at restaurants lately. You might think this is a good thing, but take this story into consideration:

Recently our favorite local restaurant started offering gluten-free pasta. Huzzah! we thought, and Sherpa ordered gluten-free spaghetti and ate it with gusto – that is, until his fork unearthed a piece of regular penne. We asked the restaurant manager if they boiled ALL of the pasta in the same water, and it turned out that they did – they just hadn’t thought that made a difference. And this happens all the time.

The fact that there are a lot  of people embracing a gluten-free diet just because they don’t WANT to eat gluten is a blessing and a curse to the Sherpa. Just the other day someone emailed me a coupon for a restaurant who was launching gluten-free pizzas. I sent it to Sherpa, and the first thing he did was call the restaurant to ask how they bake the pizza. Then he told me that their response was that they “brush off” the racks in the oven before putting the gluten-free pizzas in. They just don’t know that for people with serious Celiac disease, that won’t work.

Sherpa and I have talked about how to respectfully communicate with restaurants about offering truly gluten-free foods. He put together a letter that I want to share here in case it is ever helpful to anyone out there wanting to write to a restaurant with some information. Here is the email he wrote to that pizza joint:

I just spoke with one of your employees about your new gluten-free pizza offerings. Thank you for making the effort to offer gluten-free products. I do have a concern about the way in which they are prepared. I was told that your pizzas are cooked on the same surface as regular pizzas after the oven had been brushed off. For those of us who have serious allergies to gluten, this will still cause an adverse reaction. I realize that gluten-free preparation is a new concept for most restaurants as I run into issues with accidental mistakes quite a bit. Actually, I was just at a restaurant that offered gluten free pasta and they were cooking it in the same water as regular pasta simply because they didn’t realize that would cause a problem. There are a ton of little “gotchas” that most people would not even think to ask about preparation of gluten-free meals and I’m sure those issues are magnified in a commercial setting. There is a great online course for restaurants that teaches about gluten-free preparation in a commercial environment: http://www.celiaccentral.org/kitchens/
I do recommend that you advise people ordering the gluten-free pizza that it is prepared on the same surface as regular pizza. I have talked with a lot of restaurants about gluten-free preparation in an admittedly selfish attempt to be able to eat at more restaurants. If you have any questions, feel free to email or call me and I’d be happy to talk with you.

And while we’re at it, here’s a Google blog search result page for “gluten free.”

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