Restaurant Servers: “Your Gluten Allergy Is Fake and I Hate You”
This week has been very controvesial for the gluten-free food craze that has been sweeping our grocery stores and restaurants over the last few years.
A recent study by the original scientist who claimed to have discovered the gluten intolerance (not to be confused with Celiac disease which is a proven and very serious disorder involving gluten) to exist is now saying that in fact it is not gluten intolerance that is the problem (but another type of enzyme all together) and that it really is more or less a culinary fad.
Many of us who work in the restaurant business have had an experience or two where a difficult customer has requested a gluten-free option only for us to discover that they really aren't allergic and just "prefer" to not want to eat bread - a far different situation then what someone with a real allergy has to deal with.
In light of this recent news, which really just confirmed what many of us have always known (that gluten intolerance is a fad and a "diet", not an allergy that really makes you sick), we stumbled upon this epic rant by a restaurant server posted in the "Tales from the Server" thread over on Reddit.
Your Gluten Allergy Is Fake and I Hate You
A server will never say this to your face but we all know your gluten allergy is fake. You are not allergic to gluten. You are just on a gluten-free diet and want attention. There are plenty of people who are truly allergic to gluten, or sensitive, or intolerant, and you are not one of them. We can tell. You’re on nothing more than a high-powered Atkins diet, and while it’s great that you’re feeling healthier, it’s not great that you blame the discrepancy between your previous and current state of health on a fictional allergy.
Feel free to adopt a gluten free diet, but don’t throw the word ‘allergy’ around like you have a medical problem. Especially in a restaurant, the word ‘allergy’ means that the whole restaurant is going to need to do extra work and take special care to keep you safe, healthy, and happy. If your ‘allergy’ is really just a diet with no medical basis, you are being a selfish ass. The world does not revolve around you, the restaurant does not revolve around you, and we all know your allergy is fake.
Your gluten allergy is fake because you discuss it at parties. Your gluten allergy is fake because it ‘comes and goes.’ Your gluten allergy is fake because you will eat at an Italian restaurant but walk away fine because you ordered the gluten free pasta. Your gluten allergy is fake because after reminding your server ten times that you’re highly allergic, you complain to a manager that you were never brought a basket of bread. Your gluten allergy is fake because you asked your server for gluten free biscuits, but extra gravy, please.
Your gluten allergy is fake because you didn’t spend months or years in crippling pain and constant digestive distress before cutting gluten from your diet. Your gluten allergy is fake because you only realized you had the allergy after spending a day sick watching daytime television and hearing about the allergy on The View, shrieked at you by a dozen airheaded harpies who have latched on to gluten as the current ‘Number One Threat to Americans and Their Children.’
If you’re sure your gluten allergy is real because you cut out gluten and suddenly felt better, congratulations, you’re on a diet. Improved diet usually results in feeling refreshed and renewed. If you’re the kind of talk-show health nut that takes medical advice from Dr. Oz or Oprah, then don’t be surprised when you cut out pasta, processed bread products, and most desserts and are rewarded with a feeling of better health. You’re not dealing with an allergy, you’re on a diet. The Atkins and Paleo diet are both nearly gluten-free, and both are great diet options for people with weight and health issues.
However, a change in health doesn’t mean there was an allergy involved. Real gluten allergies and Celiac disease cause vomiting, migraines, and crippling pain, not a vague malaise otherwise known as being a daytime TV couch potato with nothing to live for besides keeping up with the Kardashians and complaining about the woman next door who is clearly an unfit mother, just look at what her kids are wearing to school these days. Saying ‘I cut gluten from my diet, now I feel better, I was allergic to gluten!’ is like saying ‘I stopped watching television sixteen hours a day, I don’t have headaches anymore, I was allergic to television!’ It’s a casual way of trivializing the actual issues of those who physically cannot watch television due to brain tumors or chronic migraines. It’s fine to cut television from your life, just like it’s fine to cut gluten from your diet, but it’s very important to know where ‘lifestyle change’ ends and ‘medical condition’ begins.
If you have a real gluten allergy, you won’t just “feel better” after cutting out gluten, you will be in almost constant discomfort before you figure out what’s wrong. Gluten conditions affect approximately five percent of people, and range from a slight sensitivity to a severe allergy, and both can be controlled by limiting, and sometimes completely cutting out gluten intake. Some gluten sensitivities are so negligible that they might go completely unnoticed; some are so severe that even a few crumbs can cause serious discomfort for weeks. The most severe gluten-related condition is Celiac disease.
The condition affects less than one percent of people, and while there is no cure, can be controlled by a strictly gluten-free diet and strict sanitation protocols to prevent cross-contamination. Living with Celiac disease is time and labor intensive, and no one suffering from the condition would be happy to hear about other faking the same symptoms. There’s nothing fun or trendy about having a medical condition that severely limits your diet. Tracie, a friend of mine living with a gluten intolerance, told me that she couldn’t “understand why anyone would think this is fun, or cool. It’s miserable. I would trade out in a second, and they all want to trade in?” No one would claim a peanut allergy just for fun, yet so many are describing their new diets in terms of allergies. While people with real gluten-related conditions exist, they number perhaps one in a hundred people, yet up to one in ten will claim to have the condition to some extent.
Having a gluten allergy is just another item on the list of trendy and socially acceptable disorders and diseases such as OCD and bipolar disorder. It’s common to see Facebook status updates along the lines of ‘cleaned my room today, my ocd is so bad lol’ or ‘I woke up in such a good mood but now I’m mad, why am i so bipolar.’ This “trend” of being proud of chemical imbalances and collecting them like Pokemon cards has resulted in a wave of misinformation and inaccurate self-diagnoses that both invalidate the troubles of those with actual problems and make it more difficult for those with real medical problems to get treatment and be respected, especially in a restaurant.
People with true gluten allergies or Celiac disease don’t go to an Italian restaurant and order the fettuccine alfredo with gluten free pasta, because those with real allergies can’t take such a risk of cross-contamination. If someone has a severe allergy, ordering the salad without croutons won’t always solve the problem. Every knife, every plate, every surface their food comes in contact with will need to be sanitized, and in a gluten-heavy environment, it’s impossible to guarantee such sterilization on a moment’s notice. Those with severe medical issues are acutely aware of how difficult it is to keep food sterile, and won’t take the chance. Those with sensitivities or tolerances might have no issue ordering a gluten-free version of a dish, because cutting out 95% of the gluten puts it within their realms of comfort.
Even so, unless specifically advertised as gluten-, peanut-, or shellfish-free, no restaurant is capable of maintaining a cross-contamination-free kitchen. It would take an hour to make a single burger if that were so, and there would have to be ten dishwashers working around the clock just to keep up. All restaurants have some basic cross-contamination, but this doesn’t mean restaurant kitchens are dirty. Restaurant kitchens are cleaner than residential kitchens. Restaurant kitchens follow a lot of strict guidelines and constantly seek to maintain an ‘A’ health code rating. Even the cleanest residential kitchen might merit a C at best. However, even at the height of hygiene in any restaurant, knives get used for more than one task, cutting boards get washed periodically, not constantly, and cookware isn’t scoured and deep cleaned every few minutes. Commercial kitchens crank out hundreds of meals in a few hours, and it is impossible to devote an entire freshly cleaned facility to one meal.
So while a restaurant kitchen can certainly guarantee that they will not put any egg in a salad, they can’t guarantee that every single ingredient and prep surface never touched an egg for any period of time. You’ll never see someone with a severe peanut allergy in a Thai restaurant. It’s not worth the risk. Those with severe peanut allergies take care to personally steer clear of risky situations.
However, in the age of the helicopter mom and worldwide safety zone, entire grade schools are now peanut-free to protect the one child on campus with a moderate peanut allergy, teaching him that the entire world revolves around his little need, and he has no personal obligation to educate himself on and avoid one of the world’s most popular agricultural products, being produced in excess of 30 million tons per year. And when that boy’s mother orders in a restaurant, she doesn’t take a moment to consider the menu, the venue, or any degree of reason when selecting her entree. She orders whatever she likes, and if it doesn’t fit within her dietary restrictions, she just asks for it to be modified. ‘Biscuits and gravy MOD: GLUTEN FREE’ printing out of the ticket printer can send the most seasoned chef into conniptions. Every ingredient in biscuits and gravy contains gluten, and unless specifically advertised as available, should not be considered within the realm of reasonable gluten modifications.
Feel free to order a burger without a bun, or replace the garlic bread with a cup of soup, but remember that if you’re not in a gluten free restaurant, gluten-related requests shouldn’t compromise every ingredient of a dish to the point of being utterly unrecognizable. If you want something that isn’t on the menu, eat somewhere else.
Allergies are taken very seriously to ensure the safety of customers, and the protocols involved in creating an allergen-free dish are not to be taken lightly, or bandied about by fools merely seeking special attention. Having an allergy means that you must constantly guard yourself, all day every day, and one slip-up might cause discomfort, severe pain, or hospitalization. In the case of a genuine allergy, most kitchens are willing to work very hard to ensure your safety.
Wasting that much time and effort of an entire restaurant’s staff might seem unthinkable, but some customers think nothing of it as they announce their allergy to their server within the first thirty seconds of being seated. Dealing with an allergy throws an entire kitchen out of its rhythm, requiring fresh gloves, fresh knives, fresh dishes, fresh prep bins, fresh cutting boards, and fresh cookware, all to meet the needs of one self-entitled attention whore whose dietary needs are dictated to her by a panel of vapid, aging, moronic twats whose optimistically described “talk show” contains a smaller proportion of genuine content than each hosts’ facial structure.