I must admit I am truly lucky. This is a very good time to need a gluten free diet. It is easier than ever before to find gluten free food in ordinary supermarkets, rather than specialty shops. It is possible to dine out now, and I can even eat fast food without risking poisoning.
But (you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you?) it is a long, long hike from “easier than it was” to “easy“. It is not easy. I can’t just walk into a restaurant and assume they will be able to feed me. I estimate around 80% of restaurants and cafes still answer “um… gosh… no… sorry about that!” when I ask if they have anything gluten free.
A further 10% of places will be able to offer me a cookie. Just the one. Usually choc chip (hey, there’s an upside). True, choc chip cookies make a lovely snack, but they don’t quite cut the mustard when you’re looking for a meal. Oh, and speaking of mustard – that’s probably not gluten free, either. In those places where there are gluten free options, they are frequently massively restricted and disappointingly plain – steak without any of the sauce options, for example. No chips (due to cross contamination), and few, if any salads (dressings, croutons, more cross contamination issues). Definitely no desserts.
This is not the problem that it used to be, because there are websites all over the place offering lists of restaurants that do gluten free. If I do my research in advance, I can usually find somewhere to eat. But often I get stranded, as I did this week, somewhere where there is nothing I can eat. I spent two days this week on a university campus where there was one cafe, with one safe food option – a small packet of plain potato chips. Once again, not a winner in the “satisfying meal” stakes. At times like these I have to carry my day’s food with me, and if I get hungry, or want a little extra snack… well… oh… gosh. Sorry.
On Monday, as I unpacked my lunch, I nearly dropped it – and it dawned on me that, if I had, that would have been it. I’d have gone hungry, except for whatever sustenance I could gain from a small packet of chips (always assuming they hadn’t run out of the plain ones – the others all contain gluten). Oh, and a latte. (Not a cappucino, of course – there’s usually gluten in the chocolate powder.)
Some cafes proudly display “gluten free” cakes – on the same plate as glutenous ones. Or they’ll serve them with the same tongs. That’s enough to poison me (I won’t disturb you with the details), so I can’t risk it. My workplace has (literally) nothing I can eat in the on-site cafe. They can’t provide meals for me when they provide them for the other staff, because there is nothing on their supplier’s menu that is safe (to be fair, my food also has to be yeast free and fructose friendly, so it’s a big ask). I don’t blame my workplace for this – they have tried very hard to accommodate me, but they simply don’t have the means.
So I am used to providing my own food. And I am lucky that I can buy stocks of safe snacks and keep them at work in case I get peckish. With a little planning, it’s all good. But it does take planning. I do sometimes get grumpy and wish I could slack off and just buy my lunch once in a while.
Gluten free food is a lot more visible on the collective radar that it used to be, but it’s still painfully far from universal. So don’t tell me it’s easy. Instead, next time you decide on the spur of the moment to check out that nice little cafe you’re passing, do your own little bit for awareness raising, and ask them if they have any gluten free meals. My digestive system, and many, many others, thanks you.