15 December 2013

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 December 15, 2013
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If the holidays are upon us than it must mean it is time for entertaining and socializing.  As a Celiac and food-allergic host and guest this can sometimes seem daunting – but if you have ever been to one of my parties you know that I have overcome any challenges by leaps and bounds.  Yet, hosted parties are one thing – going to office events and visiting friends is definitely another.  Over the years I have thrown many a gluten-free do ranging from small get-togethers to what is perhaps my crowning gluten-free achievement (try throwing a bash when you are unable to taste the chef tastings – but I even managed to overcome that).

I am very lucky to have friends and family who go above and beyond when it comes to accommodating my needs and take it very seriously.  I am also beyond thankful that my company always goes above and beyond to make sure that my dietary needs are always met – and it doesn’t matter if it is an office lunch or get together or a major office event.

So let’s start with the work environment.  At one major office event held off-site our office planners worked with the venue and ultimately offered to let one of my favorite gluten-free restaurants cater my meal – which the venue (who was feeding hundreds of others via their own kitchen) took care of ordering and took the time and effort to plate it for me so I would not feel any different.  How did they know my requirements?  Well, over the years my colleagues have taken the time to really understand what Celiac is and what having a shellfish allergy truly entails.  Did this just magically happen?  Absolutely not.  I took the time to educate my colleagues about both Celiac and my food allergy.  Did it happen overnight…nope…but the important thing is that it did and I know that at any office function (at the office or elsewhere) that I will not have to worry about going hungry or more importantly feel left-out or get sick.

Just a couple of days ago it was someone’s birthday which of course naturally translates into cupcakes and the organizer stopped by my office to see if I was coming because they picked me up a gluten-free cupcake to enjoy with everyone else – and it wasn’t even my birthday.  I have also been to black-tie industry events and conferences where all I needed to do was inform the wait staff that I had Celiac disease and a shellfish allergy and viola, safe options were on offer.  If it as a venue unfamiliar to me I reach out to the event staff to confirm that options will be available and if advanced notice is required.  It never hurts to double- and triple-check.

Being social on a personal-level can sometimes take a bit more legwork – even when it comes to family.  Many Celiacs were diagnosed later in life.  I had twenty-plus years of misdiagnoses before finally finding a doctor who knew what was going on – which a fun little biopsy would confirm.  I had Celiac disease.  What?  I had never heard of Celiac disease nor did I know what it would mean from a 360-degree turn that my life would soon have to take in order to live a healthy life as a Celiac.  The Internet was in its infancy (think AOL) and resources were not readily available.  Yes, my doctor was great and walked me through the basics but it was a LOT of trial and error (often painful) to really get the lay of the gluten-free land.  Oh, and the other nice thing was there was maybe three types of gluten-free bread (often only one) that I could fine and they were absolutely awful and actually put me off bread for a few years.  Thank goodness things have gotten so much better from a product availability standpoint.  But I digress…

My point is that just as I had to learn a new way of living and guess what, so did my family.  They had known me as a glutenavore for the majority of my natural life.  Just like I had a huge learning curve so did they.  There is a reason they say that patience is a virtue people.  Years, yes years, later my family is a bunch of gluten-free experts and really go out of their way to make sure I will always have a safe experience.  My 70-something year old mother is a now label reading, question asking, separate utensil wielding force to be reckoned with and does it out of unconditional love for her son – but that too took time.

So whether it is work, social, or family there are a few key tips that can help make holiday socializing a bit easier:

  1. Educate: Take the time to educate the people around you about what being Celiac actually means.  You’d be surprised how many people still have no idea what it really means.  A little education goes a long way.
  2. Patience: There is a reason they say it is a virtue.  Not everyone in your life (personal- or work-related) is going to get it right away or, in some cases, at all.  It takes time for people to understand something as complex as Celiac disease – and it is complex – remember it’s not just about wheat.
  3. Prepare: I was never a Boy Scout (I know, mind-boggling) but Celiac disease has led me to steal their mantra of always be prepared.  If you know in advance that there is going to be a social occasion on the horizon ask your host about what will be on the menu.  When at-home I always put out cocktail plates and dedicated serving utensils for dips and the like (a great way to prevent someone double-dipping with an item that might not be GF).  There is also nothing wrong with explaining the lay of the land to your guests don’t inadvertently cross-contaminate if hosting is a mixed environment (as I often do).  Always remember there is no shame in bringing your own items to a get-together to ensure you’ll not go hungry or feel left out.
  4. Flexibility: Will every situation yield exactly what you are looking for from a food and beverage perspective?  Nope – it rarely does when we are out and about – but there will be options (if you do a bit of legwork before).
  5. D.B.A.: Oh, and perhaps the cardinal rule for successfully navigating any social situation – Don’t be an asshole about having Celiac disease.

 

Okay, so number five may seen a bit harsh – but it is very true.  As much as I personally sometimes like to believe the world revolves around me (come on, we all do) I simply go with the gluten-free flow in social situations and do not make a huge deal if something doesn’t go to plan or if someone makes a misstep (as long as they don’t shove a roll down your throat) – most get-togethers can be easily navigated.

Remember, the holidays come and go and quite frankly seasonal get-togethers are about the people (and in my case the booze) so focus on what is really important and enjoy your time with friends and family.

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