Archive | July 2014

My Celiac Shame

When I come home and there is a fresh batch of blueberry muffins sitting on the stove cooling off, please make them gluten free. You can’t understand the food isolation I feel when you make this awesome-great smelling batch of food that I can’t eat. Watch everyone else just enjoy your homemade food. Really, it’s not any harder to get gluten free muffin mix and make that instead, or you know what? You could have made a batch of each. One regular and one GF.

It seems like an easy thing to do when you’re the person who has to stand on the outside and watch. Kind of like watching a sports game and being able to do what they do, or see what they can do to win a game, or make a better puck pass. Having home cooked food in the house shouldn’t make me feel so out of place. I shouldn’t feel bad when you make regular wheat flour based food and then ask me if they smell good. What is that? It’s disrespect.

When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease I did a lot of eating at home before going out and bringing my own food places, and really felt out of place. Like a food hermit. No one really cared about it, but I knew what I was doing and sometimes I felt ashamed because of it. I know now there is no reason for me to feel that way. Celiac was new to me, and to a lot of people around me. Sometimes the shame still gets me.

Head in Hands

Being offered a beer by a kind stranger as I do some lawn work for him. I have to decline because I can’t drink his beer. While it’s an opportunity to educate someone about my Celiac Disease, I’m just to ashamed to do it.

Being a little different by having Celiac Disease isn’t a big deal at all. I own it like a boss, but sometimes that feeling just gets a hold and I feel bad for myself because I don’t open my mouth or speak up about where we’re going to eat, or that you could have been a little more compassionate about the muffins.

I’ve been diagnosed with Celiac since 2008, and sometimes it’s still a struggle.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.


The Gluten-Free Epidemic

Is it because I am so immersed in the Celiac community that everywhere I turn someone is talking about being gluten free or something remotely related to gluten? While as little as three years ago a lot of people didn’t know what the hell gluten was, now, the mechanic at the garage down the road was talking about gluten. Is gluten free an epidemic?

Seems that going gluten free is the cure all for everything: ADD, skin afflictions, weight loss, brain fog, hang nails. A never ending list of things that can all be fixed by eliminating gluten. Who has the patent on gluten free? Because I have to invest in it. By now we’re all aware that gluten-free is here to stay, but I keep coming back to if it’s for the right reasons? I kinda want it to go back to when I couldn’t find gluten-free food. At least then you didn’t feel like a dick when you had a shopping cart filled with GF bread. Now you show up at check out with so many different items and you get the sense that you’re a fad dieter, Celiac Disease lost in the fray, that’s why it’s important to educate about Celiac. If we don’t, us 1 out of 133 people become the douche bag. We’re the ones who miss out on having a unique disease. We’re the ones who become the fad dieters in the eyes of everyone else.

Especially the people who throw Celiac Disease in as a made up disease or an allergy of some kind.

Wire Shopping Cart 160L 45 degree view_large

Celiac Disease, intolerances, NCGS, allergies, fake allergies, fad dieting, psycho-active medication (I don’t know what that is, I made that up) the gluten free way of life is becoming an epidemic to where I feel vegetarians might revolt. The classic vegetarian option in restaurants and just sidebars in a standard menu, while Gluten Free gets it’s own laminated one (or gluten friendly or gluten safe or gluten whatever). Gluten Free is everywhere.

The gluten free epidemic is a good thing. Now when I do go and buy a shopping cart filled with GF bread and cookies and cakes and microwavable pizza the cashier asks why, and I get to tell them about Celiac Disease. The gluten free epidemic is a bad thing because as a diagnosed Celiac, my own fight gets lost in the publics opinion of what being gluten free actually is.

The gluten free epidemic isn’t an epidemic, it really is a new way of life for everyone to enjoy.

My inside’s couldn’t be happier.

Canada’s Wonderland does Gluten Free

Here’s something you didn’t know, Canada has it’s own prestigious amusement park right in your back yard called Canada’s Wonderland (you can check out this park by going to their site HERE) and it’s everything you’d expect it to be. Roller coasters, 4D interactive rides, carnival like games with barkers and big assed stuffed animals and of course food.

That’s where I come in.

See. Me. This is where I come in.

See. Me. This is where I come in.

I was invited to come to the park to witness the awesome spectacle that is the amazing stride in dietary restrictions, and for my purposes and in my case that is having Celiac Disease and needing to be 100% gluten free, that Canada’s Wonderland has made. All under the guidance of Chef Shane Cristoffer and it is quite the sight to be held. When I first met Shane he told me, that if you even call up that park and explain that you need to eat gluten free, the park will in fact pass that info around to all the restaurants and food carts around the park, and if you can send a picture of yourself the better. It’s a pretty amazing and personal touch to a company that you’d never expect.

The park has been around since 1981, only a year younger than me, and I actually haven’t visited the park in close to twelve years and I can tell you, a lot of stuff has changed. Not just with Canada’s Wonderland, but with myself. Celiac Disease and all.

When you visit Canada’a Wonderland you’re already hit in the face with the sounds of children playing and adults laughing. It’s a beautiful view of Wonder Mountain as you enter the park, but when you get further in and realize that all the french fries are gluten free. Any establishment that serves french fries has it’s own fryer and therefore makes a mean gluten free french fry. A staple of theme parks are chicken fingers and fries, if you ever had a memory of eating food at a plastic/metal at an amusement park, I bet it include chicken fingers and fries. Well guess what? You can get that at Canada’s Wonderland, and it’s pretty awesome. Fries you can’t screw up, but gluten free chicken fingers you could totally, I have to tell you, there chicken fingers were the greatest. I would frequently just keep talking while eating, professional courtesy was not being given when those chicken fingers were in front of me.

BAM! Gluten free chicken fingers and fries.

BAM! Gluten free chicken fingers and fries.

A chef will personally make your food in the back and bring it out to you when you ask for gluten free. When the food is being made in the front with the other park attendants, the food is made and served my one employee, start to finish who changes their gloves and uses a separate surface on the regular cutting board or wrap making shelf. I witnessed them make a gluten free wrap for a young woman when I entered the Backlot Cafe and these practices, the practices of eliminated cross contamination go well above what you’d expect of an amusement park.

Sure they still don’t have gluten free funnel cake, but I know they’re working on it (I’m so on the inside yo).

At the Backlot Cafe you can get gluten free hamburgers on GF buns, wraps, pizza (which is a pesto pizza and comes served to you in a special cardboard box that makes you feel so safe by way of cross contamination that it’s awesome) and muffins. The emphasis on the gluten free food at Wonderland isn’t just an alternative food source, it’s to have everyone feel happy. It’s for everyone to come to the park and enjoy their day. Just because a person diagnosed with Celiac can’t eat something that the guy next door can don’t meat that he (read me) can’t have a great day at Canada’s Wonderland, and Chef Shane and Jill Aitchison (digital community and events specialist for the park) made it perfectly clear in out afternoon together that the main goal is to make each park goer happy and feel wanted.

I felt that way.

I can't find glutens in this pizza. Ha ha. I'm smelling it.

I can’t find glutens in this pizza. Ha ha. I’m smelling it.

At The Marketplace, the international buffet they serve regular pizza and since you paid for a buffet ticket, you can request a gluten free pizza. Guess what? They’ll just keep making them because it’s a damn buffet. A buffet where the soup is gluten free and the brownies come wrapped with a certified Canadian Celiac Association sticker right on the cover. Outstanding.

This place really was my heaven: Gluten free food, Roller coasters and french fries.

That's a tasty gluten free burger

That’s a tasty gluten free burger

An average of 20,000 come to Canada’s Wonderland daily over the course of the summer, and if you can figure out how many of those people have Celiac Disease, the number is still low and humble compared to 20,000 and it’s epic for a large amusement park to cater to those people, no matter the low number. Yes there are the fad dieters and the NCGS peeps, and their numbers outrank the diagnosed Celiacs, but our specific group is targeted to have a good time at Canada’s Wonderland, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about that. I can’t give the park’s commitment to gluten free food and emphasis on cross contamination more thumbs up that I have. It’s an all fingers kind of positivity.

I have only great things to say about the way food is handled at Canada’s Wonderland. Only positive things to say about the staff that tends to my needs as diagnosed Celiac. Only wonderful things to say about an Greater Toronto Area institution of family fun. The attention paid to Celiacs is truly a blessing and a welcome treat from every one at Canada’s Wonderland.

Plus, all the popcorn is gluten free and that’s just awesome.

I get excited when I talk about gluten free food.

I get excited when I talk about gluten free food.

Make sure you head over to Canada’s Wonderland dietary needs webpage, just click HERE.

This is where I found out that all the popcorn was gluten free. I should look more excited. Trust me, I'm shitting bricks inside.

This is where I found out that all the popcorn was gluten free. I should look more excited. Trust me, I’m popping wheelies inside.

Thanks to Katrina Middlebrook of Mad Hatter Media for the pictures.

Never Trust Leftovers

I was out of the house for a day. I had to work while the rest of the family was off. It was a glorious day to work, sun was shining and the heat was scorching. The whole time I was doing my thing, the family was making a special breakfast. I wasn’t worried nor did I care really. Why would I? I was working.

There was peameal bacon, regular bacon, an egg soufflé of some kind, french toast and pancakes. It was a hearty meal for a huge family. Of course I’m a huge fan of breakfast food, and if you know anything about me, I love me some gluten free pancakes. So was all this food made gluten free? No, the french toast was in fact made with wheat bread. Again, I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t there.

When I came home from work there were leftovers. Guaranteed if I was around to eat that food there’d be nothing left, but the plate covered in plastic wrap was all laid out in the fridge. I could see all the uneaten food. No one even finished off the gluten free pancakes. How is that possible? Of course the first thing I did was open that plate and start eating. I pushed aside the french toast to get some bacon and lifted up the egg soufflé to get that last gluten free pancake.

That's a big plate of leftovers

That’s a big plate of leftovers

That’s good food. Breakfast food is good no matter what time of day. And it’s super good when I come home to the leftovers of what I can assume was an epic holiday breakfast. So epic in fact, I went back to get some more of that cold bacon in the later afternoon. I lifted the… what the hell?

I could have done two things when I came home, asked if all the food was gluten free and opened my god damned eyes. Because the piece of french toast I was shuffling around like a deck of cards was in fact a thick sliced piece of wheat based white bread. I was diving in, assuming that anyone who made this plate separated the goods. GF and non-GF, an easy task.  I also could have looked first, looked more intently to see if there was food that could harm me. I did none of that, so I’m the tool.

The toast in question. I didn't notice because bacon.

The toast in question. I didn’t notice because bacon.

Having Celiac isn’t easy. I’ve been diagnosed since 2008 and still think somedays that people will just help a brother out. With Celiac Disease individuals are constantly learning. Based on this experience alone I know. When it comes down to the brass balls of it all, you’re the only one responsible for your disease, never expect anyone to just know. As much as us Celiacateers make mistakes, the people around us make the same food related mistakes to. We just have to educate them a little bit more, while still being responsible for ourselves.

Get a Gluten Free Toaster

I live in a shared food household. As in, I am the only one who eats gluten-free. It’s really no different than a lot of households that also have a diagnosed Celiac living in them. The thing is, there is only one toaster. Now if you don’t know, the toaster is a terrible source of cross contamination. Those bastard wheat crumbs hide in there and are just waiting to latch on to your gluten free bread and make you sicker than the day is long.

I’ve lived with a solitary toaster for a good few years. The one toaster that is used for wheat based bread. WOAH WOAH WOAH, keep in mind that I haven’t had toast for a long time. I haven’t been using the toaster, it’s just that it’s there. I usually just heat up my bread in the microwave and slap some butter on it (really, who just heats up bread? Boy I got a lot of problems)

POW! My own toaster.

POW! My own toaster.

I finally, finally decided to go out and buy my own toaster. A cheap double slice, black countertop model. I tell you, toast is awesome. Even though gluten free bread exists, I can’t tell you how much I like toast. I like a lot of food and could go on and on about why I like certain foods for specific reasons, but toast is really good. Gluten free bread usually tastes better when it’s toasted, so having my own, brand new separate and strictly gluten free toaster is the bee’s knees (I can’t believe I just said that). Ever tired butter and jam? Awesome.

In your own home, if you have Celiac Disease take a look around and see what could be a leading cause of cross contamination. Just by looking in my own home, the answers could surprise you. The toaster is a big one, wooden spoons are a terrible no no for shared food house holds. I even just recently heard that strainers for pasta can contribute to cross contamination. I’m not a perfect Celiacateer, and it just never occurred to me. Sharing food is a no go, and cross contamination needs to be avoided. Sometimes we just can’t help it, sometimes it happens, shit happens, but if we start at home and see where we can cross out cross contamination, we might just be okay.

Celiac Disease vs. The Old Italian

Letting people in on the not-so secret of Celiac Disease can be a daunting task. Explaining it to them. Describing it to them. All the pros and woes that come with a strict gluten free diet. Advocating and educating about Celiac Disease has it’s ups and downs. It all comes down to the person you’re trying to relay the advocation to.

Every holiday is the same with family members calling, texting or e-mailing you wether or not you can have certain foods or ingredients. That’s always a given, they sorta/kinda get the idea of Celiac and what it means to be gluten free. Their education is always ongoing, like I said, every holiday. What about the people outside the family? The general public who have no clue about it?

Most of my work comes from personal experience and today is no different, the old italian lady I used to cut grass for. An 84 year old barely speaking English woman who was two feet shorter than me and only wanted her lawn to be immaculate when it was cut each week. A kind enough woman who’s every other word was an italian word because she couldn’t string it together in an english sentence for me to understand.

On a hot day I was cutting grass and she offered me a homemade Biscotti. Oh shit, this is where I was in a conundrum. My first thoughts were ‘I can’t eat this’ but the old Italian lady stood there and watched me. Urging me to eat it. It was one of those moments where you kind of look like a deer in the headlights. I know I couldn’t eat it. I don’t think that I could explain Celiac Disease to this lovely and kind woman because in my heart I don’t think she would get it. She once told me she doesn’t drink Canadian coffee, only espresso, so how could I convince her of my disease?

Deer in headlights. How do you explain Celiac Disease to the elderly?

Deer in headlights. How do you explain Celiac Disease to the elderly?

I was stuck in a place where the stereotype of old world Italians eating wheat pasta was swirling in my head and this woman just wouldn’t understand and in a world where I need to stand up and tell her about my Celiac Disease and that her homemade biscotti would just destroy me. Could I tell her? I finished my grass cutting and tried to avoid her for the duration of the work.

As I was leaving she asked me where the biscotti was or if I had eaten it. Truth was, I tossed it into the truck not even caring where it landed because I knew I wasn’t going to eat it. I knew that this old italian woman was probably going to ask about it again, so what did I tell her?

In the end, I told her I was going to eat it later.

I couldn’t bring myself to explain to her about Celiac Disease. I felt that maybe she wouldn’t understand, not just because of the language barrier, her poor understanding and command of english and my own misunderstanding of her throwing in italian words in each sentence, but because I didn’t think she’d grasp the concept of Celiac Disease. A person who can’t eat wheat, rye or barley. A person who couldn’t eat homemade biscotti because it was wheat based. I have a feeling it would have been a long afternoon of attempting to explain.

I could have brought awareness to a kind lady, but I didn’t. It was a culture clash that I felt would have gotten in the way. As much as raising awareness of Celiac Disease is important, I don’t think the old Italian woman would have understood.

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