The danger of “selective” food intolerances : from the perspective of a medically diagnosed sufferer

I once knew a woman who was very proud of her gluten and lactose free diet commitment. She was always a really straight shooter when it came to ordering meals and was very self righteous about her gluten and lactose free requirement – unless you put a meal in front of her that she couldn’t resist, gluten and lactose free or not.

She liked to eat regular, run of the mill pizza – you know the one with a wheat flour base and topped with lashings of  lactose filled cheese.  She would scream at the kitchen staff for gluten free bread and then eat a regular cupcake for afternoon tea.

Whilst I’m all for making your own food choices the problem I have with this kind of practice is that it can make it really difficult for the rest of us who have genuine food allergies and intolerances.  You see, I used to share a lot of meals with this woman, we were served by the same people, our meals prepared by the same cooks and for me, this is where the problem lay. Time after time there was confusion. The waitstaff and cooks were continually adamant that I could eat whatever she was eating because she was “gluten-free too”. I knew though that she was not truly gluten free so I could not simply follow suit. In a way I guess she was setting a precedent. By selectively choosing gluten free, when she felt like it, and eaten gluten the rest of the time she managed to downgrade the importance of the gluten free diet for those of use who must stick to it.

Having been medically diagnosed with Coeliac disease, I have to eat gluten free. For me eating gluten free is not a choice or a fad, if I do accidentally eat gluten, even the smallest amount, I will be writhing in pain within the hour and continue to suffer health deficits for for a number of weeks.  Other Coeliacs have told me that they suffer in the same manner. Take it from me, this is not fun.

A few months back I was enjoying a meal with my family in a cafe. I had specified that I needed a gluten free meal and was thrilled when they said “no problem”.  I was most particularly enjoy the side of chips that came with my meal, a rare treat. After having downed a dozen chips or so, the waitress came up to me and said “those chips aren’t gluten free by the way”. I nearly choked. She was most apologetic and went on to tell me that they had only a small amount of gluten in them and most people who ordered gluten free chose to eat the chips. Clearly, most people ordering gluten free in that cafe are not Coeliacs.

So if I eat a small amount of gluten, I will get sick, no big deal some may say. But, if I had a nut allergy and ate a small amount of nut product, I could die within minutes.  It suddenly gets a whole lot more serious now doesn’t it?

Like I’ve said before, I’m all for people making their own food choices and deciding what is right for them, though this should not come at the cost of the health and potentially lives of others . Perhaps, if you’re an occasional gluten free eater or occasional whatever eater, don’t proclaim that you must not, but that you choose not to eat whatever it is that you are avoiding. That may just make things a little safer for the rest of us.