...oh gluten, you devil
I'll be the first one to admit the gluten-free uprising is annoying. That's an obvious statement. To my knowledge, there aren't any allergic reactions or intolerances, in general, that are awesome. No one with an allergy to shellfish eats it and suddenly sprouts wings and is blessed with the ability to fly. Typically, it's a bad time.
And it's understandably not just annoying for those who suffer from these issues. Going out to eat with someone who has any kind of dietary restrictions can be just as annoying for those with whom you are dining.
It's also trying for anyone who is nice enough to cook for you. Those who don't understand food allergies often say, "Oh, it just has a little bit of flour in it - that won't hurt." Oh, but yes it will.
I'm lucky enough to have people in my life who are kind enough to thoroughly inform me what they used while cooking when I'm invited for dinner. It's a luxury I appreciate more than they will ever know because it spares me the line of questioning that is typically involved when anyone other than myself cooks for me.
There are those with legitimate issues with certain ingredients they cannot ingest because it will pretty much ruin their day. People also give certain foods up for health reasons with no allergy or intolerance to cite, and that's fine, too. Last time I checked, we're allowed to pick and choose what we put in our bodies.
For whatever reason, science hasn't even nailed what has caused the sudden rise in Celiac's disease and gluten intolerance, so it's understandably a hard concept for the masses to grasp. Some blame it on genetically modified ingredients, some blame it on the trend of "whole wheat everything," some may even blame Obama, but it's out there and those who suffer will assure you, it's real.
As a result, gluten-free products and menus are becoming increasingly popular. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions of what gluten actually is and what being gluten-free entails.
Without going into great debate on whether or not gluten-free is legitimate or merely hype, I'll share some things I've come across in my personal experience in an attempt to help others and those who deal with others who face the same issues get on the same page.
No, it's not the same as the Atkins diet
Although gluten is generally carb-centric, it doesn't follow the same rule as the Atkin's diet.
Recently, I went out to eat at the beach and requested a gluten-free menu because I had read online the particular restaurant at which I was dining could provide one. While the waitress went to hunt one down, the manager came over and asked if everything was OK to which we responded, "Sure, we were just waiting on a gluten-free menu." The manager, who was a nice guy and very eager to please, went on to inform me they had gluten-free menus, but they weren't laminated or something, so they got wet and were destroyed.
Nevertheless, he assured me, they easily could make any of the menu items gluten-free. He went on with a few examples including, "You can get the grilled chicken topped with crabmeat, just don't get the potatoes or the rice." While I appreciated his accommodating attitude, he was way off. Potatoes and rice, unless laced with other ingredients, do not contain gluten - never have, never will.
Because both "diets" center around avoiding carbs, it's a common misconception they play by the same rules, which is not the case.
The manager seemed to dismiss me as not knowing what I am talking about - I've been gluten-free well over three years now; trust me, I'm seasoned - but I found my way around the menu anyway and safely ordered a delicious meal. It just worries me someone will get really sick because of his misunderstanding of what gluten really is.
Just a little bit won't hurt
Yes. Yes it will. I recently ingested "just a little bit" of gluten completely by accident and believe me, it hurt. There may be those who can tolerate that type of thing - maybe their symptoms aren't severe - but for most people, it ruins the better part of a day. Slipping up once in a while, for me, is not an option. I avoid it 100 percent.
Well, you can drink wine coolers, right?
I can almost not talk about how sad it makes me that beer contains gluten. As someone who was never overly excited about pasta or bread, beer was, by far, the biggest blow in finding out gluten and I had to break up.
Big ingredient red flags are wheat, rye, barley and malt. Wine coolers, hard lemonades, apple ales all contain malt.
Those who like to toss a few back once in a while are very limited in what they can partake in. Beer is almost always out of the question, aside from a few pretty expensive gluten-free beers which have surfaced in recent years. Hard liquor is more often than not gluten-free, but there are few curve balls out there when it comes to those as well, making it difficult to order safely. Hard ciders, which have become increasing popular as of late, are a safe bet and, thank the Lord for wine, because that's, as far as I know, the safest bet.
Mentioning pizza, perogies or potato cakes, makes me want to cry
Pizza comes in a close second on the sadness scale of things I can't just up and enjoy anymore. This area has a lot to offer in the pizza department. There are a variety of really good options, all unique in their own way.
Sadly, none that I know of (not counting Domino's, which I don't consider local) offer a gluten-free crust.
Growing up in Elysburg as a kid, it was pretty much ritual if my dad was "cooking" we were ordering Picarelli's pizza. Even the thought of it makes me nostalgic. It was some of the best pizza of its kind I can remember eating.
If we happened to be out and about, we'd hit up James' or Duke's (now Tower of Pizza) for some square-cut slices. I've also always had a penchant for Hollywood Pizza in Mount Carmel and Marone's in Girardville.
I'm still kind of in mourning I can't enjoy any of them anymore.
And don't get me started on block party food. It's pretty much torture to have to opt for a hot dog with no bun and french fries when there are perfectly awesome perogies and potato cakes in sight.
You wouldn't die
Lastly, a common reaction when someone finds out what I can't eat is, "I would die if I couldn't have (enter gluten-containing food item)."
It's certainly inconvenient, but hardly the end of the world. I've switched to an approach where I even have fun with it. Finding ways to make some of the things I enjoy gluten-free is sometimes challenging, but allows me to be creative in the kitchen which is always something I've enjoyed.
It's honestly not that bad.
(Jenna Wasakoski is an assistant editor at The News-Item. Her column appears weekly.)