Monday, July 31, 2023

The time has come to legislate gluten-free food

"I'm gluten free…"

That's how my 15-year-old starts his order at every restaurant. He has Celiac disease and gets very ill anytime he eats gluten.

For the uninformed, Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract when gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — is ingested. When someone with Celiac disease eats gluten, the lining of the small intestine is damaged. In Donovan's case he gets serious gastrointestinal symptoms, sometimes for days.

Thus, Donovan is very particular in what he eats and how he orders, as was the case last week at the Fargo Bar & Grill, a dinnertime stop we made while visiting family on the Finger Lakes last weekend.

Donovan continued with his order. "I'll have the gluten-free buffalo wings." We carefully scoped out the local restaurants and decided that the Fargo was a good choice since their menu clearly lists the wings as "gluten free."

"I'm sorry," the waitress responded. "Despite what the menu says the wings aren't actually 'gluten free' since they are cooked in a shared fryer."

Not cool. People with Celiac disease not only get sick from ingesting gluten, but also from ingesting otherwise gluten-free foods that have become cross-contaminated by coming into contact with gluten or with uncleaned items that have been used with gluten (such as a deep fryer). Indeed, according to a recent research study, there exists a 25% chance of gluten-free food becoming cross-contaminated when cooked in a fryer that had also fried foods containing gluten.

Something needs to change. There should be a law that: 1.) prohibits restaurants from labeling a menu item "gluten free" when it isn't, and 2.) further requires restaurants to maintain at least one gluten-free fryer when they have more than one in their kitchen. So consider this me planting my flag for the Gluten-Free Cross-Contamination Act of 2023. Neither of my asks are difficult or burdensome. The one percent of the population with Celiac disease deserves to know that the food they are eating in restaurants has been properly labeled and is safe for consumption.

As for the Fargo, we canceled our drink order and left, hungry. We went back to our niece's house for homemade tacos, which we knew for a fact were gluten-free (and were delicious).