Have You Experienced the Gluten-Free Bait and Switch?

If you are gluten free, have friends and family and a desire to socialize with them in public, then you have probably been seduced by restaurant websites and menus that promise a gluten-free meal. If so, then you can probably relate to this story, posted not by a celiac, but the husband of a celiac:

Gluten Free Salad.“I hate it when restaurants claim to have a gluten-free menu. You call ahead to check and make sure that your Celiac can eat there. And when you arrive, there are three items listed. Two of which are a salad and the other one is stripped of all the delicious add-ons. And the side for salad is a salad because everything is cross contaminated in the kitchen. It makes me want to scream!”

Josh Anderson is a Recently Married Man of a Recently Diagnosed Wife with Celiac Disease. They live in the suburbs of Chicago but their story could and does take place just about anywhere. What I love second about Josh is that he freely admits, “The following account is my fault; and I take full responsibility for it.” How to win a woman’s heart.

What I love first about Josh is that he is fighting the good fight for the woman he loves, learning like so many of us have had to do first hand; that gluten-free dining can be a whole lot of bait and switch.

“There is a saying that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  I received an email about a week ago from a local restaurant inviting me to a Bacon and Beer event at their establishment.  If you as much as whisper the word “bacon” in front of my wife, she is like a moth to a flame. She even has jars of bacon grease to “cook with.” It’s insane.
bacon festMy wife and I were best friends before we starting dating. I like to call it my long-con.  I was very patient waiting to wife her up!  One of our first ‘non-dates’ as just friends was to an event in Chicago called Bacon Fest.  I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into.  I couldn’t wrap my head around spending a good chunk of change to eat all the things with bacon in them.  I was very naive; so very naive. (Bacon alcohol, bacon cheese, bacon pancakes, bacon butter, bacon t-shirts, bacon and ice cream, bacon bread, bacon anything you can possibly think of…bacon).

We had to pass on the event this past year for two reasons.  One, it was right before our wedding and she was afraid of not fitting in her dress.  Second, we didn’t want to risk her getting glutened.  Without knowing all the ingredients in the items being presented, it was just too risky.

So, this leads me all back to that emailed invite I received.  I was super curious because the menu appeared to be gluten free, but ya never know.  I responded to the email, explaining that my wife had Celiac Disease and could have no wheat.  I got an email back very quickly stating that most of this special menu was gluten free.  PERFECT!

My wife’s excitement was intense. She sent me a message earlier today in all caps about how excited she was (and this was even after having pizza for lunch).

How did everything go wrong, you ask?  Good question.
I felt like I had done my due diligence, but I clearly hadn’t done enough.

We are under the impression that we are attending an ‘event’ as I had to RSVP. I had been informed that the cook had been notified to make sure we get a gluten free option.  We realized pretty quickly that something was off. No one had a clue about a special event, but they did have bacon theme options for a limited time. No one had even seen the email we had received. So, did we just get hustled by some clever social marketing???  Maybe, but let’s try to make the best of this.

gluten free tator totsMy wife was first really excited about the bacon wrapped tater tots. Right behind bacon lies tater tots on her favorites list. Her first question was the smoking gun, “Are you tater tots made in a universal fryer?”

Our poor waitress just looked back at her with a blank stare. Unless you need to know to know what it is, you probably have never heard of one. So, let me introduce you to a universal fryer and what it means to The Celiac.

A universal fryer means that everything is fried in the same fryers.  Most things fried have a batter to them, of course! Your delicious chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers– all covered in the toxic gluten!  Or to us normal folk…wheat.  These will all be fried with tater tots and french fries.

Many of you may now be thinking, well, potatoes are gluten free so what does it matter?  Doesn’t the crazy hot oil the food is fried in just fry out the gluten?!  As my wife so loving said tonight, “Gluten isn’t a bacteria!”

So if a restaurant uses the same fryer for everything, all the prior gluten-filled breaded items that were put in that oil and fryer before hand are still lingering around, waiting to pounce!  Your  naturally gluten free potato is now not gluten free. As little as 50mg of gluten can cause serious issues to the small intestine of a celiac.

Shared deep fryerAfter her momentary blank stares, our waitress informed us that yes, they utilize a universal fryer. Our red flags started to go up. So the bacon wrapped tater tots are out. I could pretty much hear my wife’s heart drop to the floor.

But what about the mini bacon burgers? The restaurant claimed to have gluten free buns.  These are made on a mini pretzel bun, but we can substitute that out for a gluten free bun right…right?!  I mean, why do you offer gluten free buns if they are not an option. This is a no brainer and all will be right with the world…right? RIGHT?!?

“No, I’m sorry. For this particular special we can’t substitute that. But you can have one of our regular burgers which are on a special today.”  We did not come in here for a regular burger. We came in here for a BACON WRAPPED BURGER!!!!!  Ok, I may not have yelled that; but the little voice inside me was screaming! bacon wrapped burger

The Celiac then politely adjusted her order and  accepted her non-bacon fate…defeated.

What happened next is the source of my frustration and heartache with Celiac Disease. I looked up after our order was placed, and I could tell my wife was holding back tears. She just wanted the bacon covered tots. That’s all.

gluten free menuUnfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen while we are out.  She’s said on many occasions, “I just want to eat like a normal person.” It can be difficult to accept that any meal she doesn’t cook herself could be contaminated.  My wife is an amazing cook; but like anyone else, she doesn’t always like to cook.  The emotional struggle is real, and is something that is often overlooked when we discuss this disease.

All in all, she was able to enjoy a regular burger (on a gluten free bun that cost an extra $1) with a fracking side salad with no croutons on it, and a cider.  I managed to choke down those mini-bacon burgers… It was for science!!   I know…I’m an a-hole but The Celiac said it was okay. I’ve learned not to ask twice.”

Excerpted with gratitude from, When Your “Gluten Free” is NOT My Gluten Free…
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Has anyone else had to work through explaining celiac disease and how important food prep and a dedicated fryer is?


Where celiacs eat on Vancouver Island

Victoria • BlanshardCook-FairfieldDouglas StreetFernwoodFort StreetGovernment StreetHillsideInner HarbourJames BayOak BayQuadraRoyal Oak – BroadmeadUVic

Or NEARBY in • Brentwood BayColwoodEsquimaltLangfordMetchosinSidneyView Royal

On VANCOUVER ISLAND • Campbell RiverChemainusCobble HillComoxCoombsCourtenayCowichan BayDuncanLadysmithLake CowichanMill BayNanaimoNanoose BayParksvilleQualicum BeachPort RenfrewShawnigan LakeSookeTofinoUcluelet

On the GULF ISLANDS • Cortes IslandGabriola IslandHornby IslandSalt Spring Island