A career in the food industry coupled with a passion for eating out and always eating whatever is put in front of me, was thrown into chaos after diagnosis with coeliac disease. Working in the commercial food industry as a product developer – meetings stuffed with tastings and talking about food – quickly became an issue and is not a long term career option when you can’t eat wheat. As most people diagnosed with any dietary condition will know, the news can throw you into a frenzy of questioning who you are, what you eat, and in my case what I did for a living.
After spending 10 years of my life investing in a passion for food, I decided to use the diagnosis as a positive… to learn even more about food, just ones that were gluten free. It remains a challenging disposition but I have so much to learn and just 18 months on I have barely scratched the surface. I am fascinated by the cooking opportunities presented by many of the under utilised naturally gluten free grains. A recent disaster with amaranth while interesting, proved I have masses to learn and understand, but all this is done –mostly – with a positive approach.
In my experience, the food industry and catering world see special diets as an inconvenience. Faced with my own dietary requirements that impact on my long term health, I wanted to prove that we aren’t just “fussy eaters”, a reputation that can be stressful to deal with and often ruin a meal out. I believe its all in the approach and here’s how I personally chose to go about it:
Keep eating out! – Even though it can be stressful, I refuse to miss out on one of life’s pleasures and continue to eat out. Restaurateurs must be challenged to accommodate their diner’s needs if they are going to remain competitive. The more people that raise the profile of dietary requirements, the easier it will become for all of us.
Be organised – Let’s face it, food spontaneity is reduced when you have special dietary concerns. I always struggle with breakfast on the move so try to have snacks with you, or know where you can always get something.
Book a table – Let the restaurant know of your condition beforehand when you book the table – it prevents putting the chef in a panic.
Research restaurants – I am always on the look out for places that I think will accommodate me and add them to my list of places to try.
Study the menu– Just looking at the menu will give you insight into whether the place is suitable for you. If there are lots of fried foods on the menu for example it probably won’t be the best option. I find places that use simply cooked seasonal ingredients are the best bet – it shows confidence in the kitchen.
Talk to staff – I always have a quiet word with the waiter to explain my condition and the importance of safe food. Take a deep breath – I do every time – and make sure you eat safe food. I find being positive, smiley and patient makes the experience pleasant for all involved. Remember we are often educators and ambassadors.
Say thank you – If the meal was a good experience, they treated you well and the food was good and safe, let them know. I often tell them the reaction I get at other restaurants, and say that I will be adding them to my list of trusted places.
Must try harder – Likewise let them know if there are improvements to make – in a charming way of course. With chain restaurants I often get the head office address to share my experiences.
Too much? – If all this seems like too much work and effort, eat out less! In all honesty that’s what I had to do. We used to eat out a couple of times a week – now it’s only twice a month. But the best bit is we eat at much nicer restaurants who are charming and accommodate me effortlessly.
Kim has a great blog following her new gluten-free life and adventures, it’s very interesting reading, so make sure you have a look.