Once I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, I was pretty pissed off. Coeliac Australia says that people can feel a mix of emotions following diagnosis ranging from great relief to despair and grief. I was mostly angry peppered with occasional regret.
I was angry because I felt cheated by my own body. After years of delicious gluten filled food, it was off the table. Maybe if I hadn’t grown up eating freshly baked bread, pastry and pasta, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing out on and I wouldn’t have felt so annoyed that I couldn’t have these things ever again.
I also felt a bit of guilt because although my husband could eat gluten, he wanted to have a gluten free kitchen at home because he did most of our cooking. Instead of risking cross contamination and taking more time cooking separate meals, the household went gluten free.
Lastly I found myself irritated with people who chose a gluten free diet ‘for health reasons’ when they weren’t coeliac. There seems to be this idea that because something is gluten free, it’s healthy. This isn’t true. Gluten free or not, chocolate and biscuits are still pretty bad for you. In fact a lot of gluten free foods are worse for you as they have to add more sugar and salt to make them taste good! However the silver lining to the demand for gluten free food by non-coeliacs is that restaurants have more gluten free options for me!
As Michael and I learnt more about our options with gluten free food we were able to modify recipes and find alternatives to the foods I loved eating. Cooking at home became easier as we replaced certain foods with their gluten free alternative. We’re able to cook the foods we liked, modified slightly – gluten free soy sauce, polenta and rice crumbs instead of breadcrumbs, quinoa instead of couscous. Eating out was another matter though.
At first eating gluten free at a restaurant was terrifying (sometimes it still is) because if I accidently have gluten, I have a severe reaction. Before I eat at a restaurant, I have to be completely comfortable that the staff understand coeliac disease and prepare all food in a gluten free space to avoid cross contamination. When I go to restaurants, I have to go through the standard spiel – Hello, I am coeliac, I cannot eat barley, rye, oats or wheat, I have to have food prepared away from food which contains gluten so that my food is not contaminated.
Going through my gluten spiel was embarrassing the first few times. I felt like I was that customer, the difficult one making unrealistic demands on hardworking kitchen staff. I don’t often feel like this anymore although it does still happen when the wait staff look confused when I say I’m coeliac or are flippant about my requests. If I ask about an item on the menu and the wait staff look bored and say it should be gluten free, I just won’t eat there. My health is too important.
What makes this worse though is the anxiety that came after eating. Every so often halfway through a meal, I’d found something on the plate that looked like breadcrumbs or I’d have a mouthful of something that had been pickled. At one restaurant, I was given a dessert that had crushed biscuit on the plate despite telling the staff three times I was coeliac! These are the incidents that leave me filled with the dread and anticipation that I might be sick because they did not understand what I was requesting.
Over time I found some staple restaurants and cafes where I felt completely comfortable eating. However, two and a half years since my diagnosis, I’m starting to get a little bored with visiting the same handful places. And so Get Behind Me Gluten was born!
I want to find more places to eat out and that cook the food I want to eat. This idea that gluten free is healthy means too many pumpkin salads, Buddha bowls and raw foods. This is not what I’m looking for because my diet is generally pretty healthy already. Sometimes I want to eat food that’s bad for me, I want pies, chips and cakes! But I want to eat food that uses alternatives to gluten-filled ingredients and tastes good.