I feel I should start this post with, "Stop me if you've heard this one before." Trouble is, I'm not telling an old joke. I'm telling it like it is as a coeliac (and I'll bet it's the same for someone who has allergens they need to avoid).
I was reminded how long it had been going on when I found an old diary from 2001. I was working in Australia at the time and it was Xmas so a meal out had been organised. They'd assured me there'd be gluten-free food.
The party began at the office. 3 packs of crisps had been bought and one was certified gluten-free. But before I knew it, all the crisps had been tipped into one bowl and offered round. I had no option but to refuse (because who wants a 2/3 chance they'll get the crisp with gluten in?).
But no matter. We were due at the restaurant in an hour.
It was Lebanese cuisine, which everyone was excited about. Little plates of meze came round, which included many things I'd never seen before, let alone could name.
I quizzed the waiter about what was suitable for a coeliac diet. He went to check.
Meanwhile, people noticed I wasn't eating.
"Ali! Surely you can have the dolmades?"
I explained I couldn't be sure what had gone into them.
"Isn't it just rice & vine leaves?" came the well-meant response. But I waited. Just to be sure.
And waited. The waiter was super busy and I was left for ages, by which time others had noticed I wasn't eating and asked why.
"The stuffed vine leaves would be all right, though?"
And then we were back to the same conversation as before - i.e. me having to educate people about food safety for coeliacs and it being better to go hungry than risk being glutened.
"Hummus is all right, isn't it?!" ventured someone. And then I had to say it would have been if someone hadn't already dipped their pitta bread into it.
And basically this is what it can be like for coeliacs. Constant questioning, people not understanding and being made to feel like an outsider even if you've got the nicest of people to work for (which I did).
If you google 'Lebanese Mezze' then you'll get an article entitled: Lebanese Mezze: so much more than food.
And that's what it is: the abstinence from eating out with others means so much more than not having one meal. It's about missing out on a social event. It's feeling like everyone else always gets picked for the hockey team and you're left on the sidelines. And it happens all the time. It can seem trivial but that little reminder that you're not included - it has a cumulative effect.
Things are getting better with allergen awareness. But the one thing that really helps is when people listen rather than tell you what you should be doing or how you should be eating. Then it doesn't feel like so much of a burden.
Have you had a nightmare trying to eat out as a coeliac? Do share your story below!