Should people with allergens eat out?
If the recent high profile allergen cases in the media are anything to go by, it seems everyone has an opinion on medically necessary diets and how people should handle them.
So here are some of my own experiences of eating out as a coeliac. Although it doesn't mean an allergic reaction, it is a medical condition that means totally avoiding gluten (& "cereals containing gluten" is one of the 14 listed allergens). I'm hoping this post will help people who have someone in their life who doesn't know what it's like (but has strong views regardless). Forward them this blog post. Please. And then talk to them about it.
Cafes & restaurants sometimes get it wrong
I've lost count of the number of times I've been told what I can and can't have, only to discover the person serving me has got it wrong. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to realise their mistake before I've eaten anything. Other times...well, let's just say I end up needing my own bathroom.
It's therefore a wonder I eat out at all.
But not eating out would make life really complicated. It'd mean missing out on special occasions, going round to a friend's for a meal, or eating off the cuff when, thanks to a traffic jam, a meeting that's gone on twice as long as it should or another everyday occurrence, I find myself out and hungry when I wasn't expecting to be.
Eating out as a family can be hard
Admittedly, it was a lot easier when I was in my twenties and single. I only had myself to think about. But when you have a young family, you have other priorities. Life isn't as simple and if they're hungry, it's really important to get their needs taken care of. So we might go to a café to eat, which means I've got to trust the café can make gluten-free food.
There have been times when I've been to a place, only to discover their gluten-free claim is simply for brownies, not a meal, or that they can't provide gluten-free and I'll have to go elsewhere. One time, I went to a restaurant because it specifically advertised gluten-free. Then they went through their GF marked menu, dismissed most of it because it might be cross-contaminated and told me I could only have a salad!
My search for gluten-free food can therefore turn into a small trek, sometimes resulting in me going hungry just so everyone else can satiate their appetites.
Carrying my own food
I always carry a snack but it's never a full meal replacement. And what would I do with it if it were a full meal - take it out at a restaurant? I don't think so! (I did this once when I was desperate - I'd brought a gluten-free sandwich - but I checked with the staff first to make sure it was okay, and then felt really embarrassed. I wouldn't want to make a habit of it.)
So what's the answer? Eat nothing and go hungry whilst watching others tuck into delicious food? Or insist everyone goes home to eat and therefore make them wait (whilst hungry)? Or never go out at all (and basically miss out on life itself).
There isn't a good answer, really. You can phone ahead, check the internet, cross examine chefs and generally put a lot of energy into making sure you'll be able to eat, but the bottom line is you can never know if a food will absolutely definitely be okay for you. You just have to do everything you can to try and avoid the food that makes you ill. That and hope that eating establishments (as well as your friends and family) will be sympathetic.
What are your experiences of eating out as a coeliac/someone with a medical condition that means they must avoid a particular type of food? Please share your experiences below!