May is National Celiac Awareness Month and it is now the 3rd week of “Chef to Plate”, a gluten-free restaurant awareness campaign. According to the US National Library of Medicine, celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats. The condition is thought to affect between 1 in 1,750 and 1 in 105 people in the US [National Institute of Health]. There is no medical treatment for people diagnosed with celiac disease. The only option they have is to follow a strict gluten free diet.
You will be amazed to discover how many products of everyday life contain gluten, even pickles can have gluten! Traveling with celiac disease is not easy at all and eating out can be a nerve wracking experience: you are basically trusting complete strangers and your trip can be totally ruined by what you eat. Eating out for celiac people is not a pleasure, most of the times they have to choose what they can eat and not what they like to eat from the menu if they are lucky enough to have a gluten free menu in front of them. They can give to their waiter every possible recommendations. However, if the restaurant does not pay any attention or underestimates cross-contamination, the risk of being glutened becomes high. It is not enough to say that something is gluten free. It is not gluten free anymore if it is cooked together with ingredients that contain gluten or in pans shared in the kitchen. This is a hard concept to understand for all the places that are embracing the gluten free hype nowadays. It is not a trend for celiac people, it is a health issue.
I am not celiac, but I often travel with a friend with celiac disease. She has a very high intolerance to gluten. We visited the Hudson River Valley a few weeks ago. Before leaving, we did lots of research to find some reliable places where to eat and saw that Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, NY was trained by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG). This reassured her. The staff was very welcoming and knowledgeable. They made her feel at ease.We ordered a salad and a skizza (skinny piazza – pictured above) for dinner. The next day we wanted to visit their marketplace in Red Hook, but the hotel messed up with the wake up call and we could not visited it.
Gigi Trattoria really made the difference in my friend’s travel experience, and mine too (I have seen how badly she gets sick from gluten). I wish more restaurants would take celiac disease seriously. A good start would be not to improvise gluten free dishes and menus and contact the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) to have a serious understanding of what the implications are. Celiac people are not following any trend, they are just trying to lead a normal life and not to get sick.
Categories : Food & Wine Travel