One of my favourite experiences from this year was travelling to Toronto to attend a Gluten-Free Expo (which I randomly became a last minute volunteer for)…. and I had a blast! You can read about it here.
My least favourite experience from this year? Getting “glutened” a few days later in the same city, during the same trip. Oh, the irony!
Luckily, getting glutened was totally independent of attending the Expo (…. Margaret & Ellen: if you are reading this, you can start breathing again 😉 ….. Margaret was the organizer and mastermind behind the expo and Ellen supported her remotely from BC. It was a pleasure to help them out during the event!).
Like I said, the Expo was amazing and I was very much looking forward to hanging around for a couple of extra days so that I could hang out with one of my BFF’s, Jenny, who had just returned from a trip to India.
Celiacs will go completely out of there way to go to a restaurant that has been identified as safe for Celiacs. I had consulted The Celiac Scene maps to look for a safe restaurant that had a brunch option for Jenny and I before we took on an afternoon of shopping. She had mentioned that there was a place called Mitzi’s that had gluten free options as far as she was aware. I remembered going there before I realized that gluten was making me sick and I remembered how delicious the food was so I agreed that we should definitely go there, even though Mitzi’s wasn’t showing up on The Celiac Scene. But I know that the “Scene” is only as good as those who actively contribute to it …. so if you’re in an area where there aren’t a lot of Celiacs using the Scene, then chances are you could miss out on a fantastic restaurant with safe options because there’s been no one to providing feedback to the Scene in order to get that restaurant on the list. Perhaps, I figured, this was why Mitzi’s wasn’t showing up on the list.
When we got there and I had a chance to peak at the menu, I was SOOOOOO excited to see Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes! Generally, I don’t get the luxury of having someone else make me gluten free pancakes, unless they are made by my guy in our kitchen at home. Better still, the pancake of the day was topped with an espresso cream, maple syrup, whipped cream, and pralines – HELLO DELICIOUSNESS!!
I was delighted! That is, until the waitress popped back to our table and said that the pancakes were actually made with oats. I asked if they were certified gluten-free and she said that she didn’t think so. I asked if I could see the package to have a look at the ingredient list. Turns out it was Quaker Rolled Oats and there was a “May Contain” statement for wheat.
I don’t know if I have Celiac Disease or not. It was suggested by my naturopath that I was sensitive to gluten and I immediately went on a gluten-free diet. It was amazing the difference after years of bloating and digestive discomfort. I later realized that you should be tested for Celiac Disease before going on a gluten-free diet because gluten needs to be present to cause the the inflammation in the small intestine in order to get a positive diagnosis. So, although I do not know if I have celiac disease, I have so many of the symptoms that I’m almost certain that I do. I eat as strictly as a Celiac does …. with the exception of this instant. I totally let me guard down. In hindsight, I was being absolutely naive.
When I saw the “may contain” statement, I thought “Oh, it’s probably just a liability disclaimer. It’s likely that it’s made in a totally separate area, but because they process wheat in the same building they have to list a May Contain statement” ….. I normally DO NOT eat anything with a “May Contain” statement but the idea of eating those buckwheat pancakes with the espresso cream and other delicious toppings made me let my guard down. I kept telling myself, “I’m sure it’ll be fine …. maybe just some light swelling of my belly”.
I ate the pancakes and they were DELICIOUS!! When I left, I noticed that my stomach was swollen and I felt very nauseated….. but my stomach didn’t feel like it was ripping apart like it normally does when I accidentally ingest gluten. So I thought perhaps there was very little trace of the wheat in the oats. Boy, was I wrong. At about 3:30 that afternoon all hell broken loose on my digestive system and I was back and fourth to the washroom off and on for hours afterwards. My stomach was still not 100% back to normal when I went to bed that night. I think this is a very likely sign that I do in fact have Celiac Disease.
So, it turns out that the Gluten-Free buckwheat pancakes were not actually not gluten-free at all. This is not the first time that I’ve been exposed to glutenous buckwheat breakfast items. I learned the hard way that the buckwheat crepes at Cora’s also contain wheat. In fact, first when I went gluten-free and was learning about all the things that I need to keep an eye out for it took me a while to clue in to the fact that the sausages that I was ordering contained gluten …. then I discovered that the breakfast potatoes were coated in a flour mixture. And after the third time going and coming home feeling nauseated and sick to my stomach, I decided to do a little googling. And sure enough, I found a Celiac Disease forum that stated that Cora’s buckwheat crepes actually contained wheat (despite wheat being in the name, buckwheat does not contain gluten). Every gluteneous mishap is another opportunity to learn from it. I learned a lot in the first few months of going gluten-free.
Because the food was so delicious, I wanted to provide suggestions to Mitzi’s so that they could improve their awareness of the dietary restrictions that surround Celiac Disease so that they could be a safe place for Celiacs and that we could get them added to the Scene. Here’s the suggestions (and pleas) that I emailed to them the next day:
- PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not offer them to anyone who is Celiac or gluten intolerant/sensitive until you can take measures to ensure they are gluten-free (if you have to, Tell them that you ran out off your ingredients).
- Purchase certified gluten-free oats.
- Confirm if your buckwheat is gluten-free, if not, purchase one that is certified as gluten-free.
- Ensure that any other toppings for the pancakes are gluten-free (for example, the pralines shouldn’t have a may contain statement).
- Use a separate pan and separate spatula.
- There’s a guide for food allergies available on the CRFA:http://www.crfa.ca/foodhealthyliving/#foodallergies . If you follow this link, it will take you to the guide on Restaurant Central (http://www.restaurantcentral.ca/FoodAllergiesGuide.aspx).
- If you offer Gluten-free toast, don’t use the same toaster that you use for regular bread. Even if you use a convection heater, there’s still risk of cross-contamination. I found this statement on the restaurant guide for food allergies:
Did you know: It is commonly believed that extreme heat during cooking will change the make-up of the food being prepared and remove the protein that can cause a reaction. This is not true. Cooking the food using extreme heat will not make the food safe for allergic individuals.
- To help with toaster cross-contamination, you can get Toaster Bags, such as these: http://www.amazon.com/Set-NoStick-Toast-Toaster-Bags/dp/B0012XGM92 .
- Be mindful of is crumbs in the butter and other condiment (such as mayo) containers. It’s best to use a separate container that’s designated as gluten-free and use a clean knife for cutting and spreading and a separate cutting board when slicing the bread (if it doesn’t already come sliced). I also recommend washing your hands and applying disposable gloves prior to handling the gluten-free bread.
I sent off my recommendations and feedback to the cook and the general email for the restaurant but I never did hear back from anyone. When I get a chance, I’ll call them up and see if they did implement any of my suggestions. I hope, for their sake and for mine that they do, so that I can enjoy another delicious meal when in Toronto and that we can recommend them to be added to the Scene.
I know there’s a bit of a learning curve when it come’s to gluten-free knowledge so I’m willing to give a second chance if I know that an establishment has taken the necessary measures to make positive changes. There is only one place that I have boy-cotted and that’s because I became sick for the third time after ordering a supposedly gluten-free item. Hence my adopted rule of thumb:
Gluten-me once: Shame on You. Gluten-me twice: Shame on Me. Gluten-me a third time and it’s automatic blacklist, buddy.
One thing that I’ve learned over the past year and a bit is that you can never be too safe when it comes to dining out gluten-free (or with any restriction for that matter). There’s no such thing as too many questions when it comes to your health and wellbeing. And such experiences reinforce the need (and my desire) to start Etcetera …. a safe-haven restaurant for people with food allergies and other dietary restrictions! 🙂