Okay, so Madonna might have been living in a material world but we celiacs are living in a world of gluten.
By now you have probably picked up on my mantra of Living Well Gluten Free. Well, I will be the first to say it is not always an easy task, particularly when dining out though the tide is changing slowly to accommodate Celiacs. But I say why wait? I mean yes, in a perfect world all restaurants would have clearly labeled GF options and recommendations for us but in the real world it is up to us to navigate the gluten-filled world that surrounds us.
When I go into a restaurant, chain (gasp) or otherwise the first words out of my mouth are Do you have a gluten free menu? Sometimes I am met with blank stares but other times I am simply amazed that yes Virginia, GF menus or at least recommendations do sometimes pop-up. I was in a very well known Asian restaurant (Tao) with some friends here in NYC one afternoon for lunch. Now this is a double whammy for me because not only of the gluten but the shellfish allergy I have which is really life and death matter. Well, with my Epi-Pen in my pocket we sat down and I explained to the server my sophisticated mélange of allergies and she was simply terrific. Apparently this restaurant has a secret book that lists every item on their menu and servers can look up, by allergy, what is safe for their diners. When I had questions, the server relayed them to the chef for clarification. Now, I was able to eat basically a couple of items but it was nice to be able to mainstream it with my friends and know that 1) I would not be glutenized and 2) would not die from shellfish contamination. The point here being while I had a limited choice I was able to go where my friends wanted and have a safe and enjoyable meal without having to worry.
The lesson learned is that you need to speak up whatever your dietary restrictions are. I have been to restaurants where I felt the server did not realize the importance of my restrictions so I simply would ask (in a very nice way) the manager for assistance. Remember, it is not just about the ingredients in a dish, but how it is prepared and where it is prepared. I am particularly sensitive to cross-contamination given my shellfish allergy but if you are eating something that is fried, ask if there is a dedicated fryer. I am seeing more and more restaurants, particularly here in the city, offering either dedicated GF menus of at least educating their staff to be sensitive of diners needs.
It is your allergy so it is up to you to be responsible and ask the questions you need to feel comfortable. Do be shy, there are increasingly more of us out there and we have evolved from becoming a mere niche to a force that is really shaping the way mainstream food is evolving. So get out there with friends, ask the right questions, and live fabulously my fellow Celiacs.