Out and about…and glutenfree

Martina, university student with celiac disease, tells us how she lives without gluten when out and about

Read the introduction to our interview with Martina… and her smart approach against gluten in our previous post


Hi Martina, tell us a bit about the difficulties a person with celiac disease encounters when eating out?

Well…compared to 10 years ago, almost everyone now has heard of celiac disease, has an idea of what it means and the risks you can run into.

Yet it still happens that the problem of gluten cross contamination is taken lightly and I have been told in Restaurants not approved by the AIC (Italian Society for the Celiac Disease)  that they don’t assume the responsibility of guaranteeing no cross contamination, and that I had to make the decision if I wanted to take the risk.

I don’t let gluten control my life, but you need to keep in mind that you can feel unwell and remain aware of how sick you can get.

Unfortunately this can sometime affect a night out with friends

In what way?

If you go to a restaurant or pub with friends you can feel a burden. It happens and can hinder you from a psychological standpoint. It all depends on the company you are with, sometimes “friends” don’t understand our limitations and can misinterpret them thinking that we want to be the centre of attention and make the decisions for the group…

How to you face the issue of cross contamination?

I have never messed up voluntarily, I don’t compromise about it at all.

Where possible, I choose restaurants selected by the AIC. Otherwise I trust when people show a good understanding and preparation about the issue. I appreciate restaurants that use colour coded or marked plates to make them stand out. I feel very safe with this method.

I believe that making the plate recognizable is very important; many people go in and out of a kitchen, not only the chefs and kitchen personnel but also the waiting staff can cross contaminate. The rush of the table service is a celiac’s worst enemy when eating out, sometimes you don’t feel taken seriously enough and I have been worried about the waiters mixing up plates.

It happened to me once that after asking three times for a dish to be checked, I was “poisoned” by a veal breaded cutlet that had been guaranteed to be gluten free. It wasn’t necessarily the waiters fault, but something went wrong in the kitchen, the plate wasn’t checked properly and when they noticed, I had already eaten half the dish.

I am not the only one this has happened  to, desserts or bread baskets are often mixed up. You have to be careful at all times and not shy away from asking for the food to be checked, more than once if necessary.

Knowledge, care and attention to detail have to be the forefront of the staff, especially considering the level of reaction a celiac can have to gluten cross-contamination. Even asymptomatic celiacs can suffer serious consequences to their body when exposed to gluten.

The word of mouth between celiacs is very important, after trying a new restaurant I let my “colleagues” know my findings and how I felt with the overall experience. Sharing recommendations has been so useful; it has helped me to avoid being ripped off!

I appreciate it when a restaurateur or manager comes over to ask my opinion after trying an appetizer or meal. I find it really important to thank who has been particularly attentive and met my needs in a professional manner, who knows, they might want use it as an incentive to join team AIC!

Report by Carlotta Corvi and Simone Eder with the kind participation of Martina Corvi