“Is that for a gluten allergy?”

Continuing my little brain rant on food and dietary restrictions, I’m finding the question, “is that for a gluten allergy?” a bit….off putting. And in some ways a bit annoying.

This isn’t to say that it’s not an important question for food-service workers to ask of their customers, but perhaps my annoyance at the question is more revealing of my own assumptions of who asks for gluten-free menus, and requests “bunless” options at places like Shake Shack.

i.e. people who ask for such specialized requests do so out of legitimate health reasons like not balling into a fetal position from massive pain and discomfort. Or not dying.

Pho, New Ca Mau Vietnamese Restaurant

Pho – the GF-friendly alternative to delicious ramen.
Yuichi Sakuraba|Flickr

Whenever I’m asked, “is this for a gluten allergy?” after placing a food order, I can’t help but feel this tinge of embarrassment and, possibly, shame about my food intolerance. And it’s not because I feel bad about the fact that gluten-containing foods makes me feel sick. It’s the immediate pop-cultural associations that come to my mind—of celebrities and regular people who have turned it into some tiring, annoying fad food choice.

I have not had the pleasure of encountering an annoyed wait staff at a restaurant when requesting gluten-free menus or leaving some wheat/rye/barley-based item off the dish. This may be because M and I have this rule when we go out that I always choose the food venue. This way, we’re less likely that we go to a place that doesn’t serve gluten-free fare. (So far, this has worked remarkably well.)

And even if gluten-free options are (becoming) the norm, I can’t help but wonder if it’s some weird thorn in every food business’ side (at least the ones that aren’t primarily GF), to have to cater to “us” special-food people.

I also find that asking if something is for a gluten allergy simplifies the complexity of the celiac/non-celiac issue, and my own nitpicky semantics of something that’s an allergy versus an intolerance.

I don’t have celiacs disease. And I don’t have a gluten allergy, meaning, when I (accidentally) ingest gluten-containing foods, I don’t flare up in hives or endure other allergy-related reactions. I have an intolerance. I get bloated, my joints hurt, I get gassy, and sometimes nauseous. Just all around sick.

So while I don’t need my food to be placed in its own cardboard box, on a separate food tray, I find that I can’t just say “no, it’s not for a gluten allergy.” Or can I?

Because if I say “no,” I’ll be misconstrued for one of those people who are gluten-free for trend reasons and not health reasons. But if I say yes, all this trouble is undergone to separate my food, which, I noticed, creates a lot more waste.

The conundrums. What are your thoughts on this gluten free “allergy” question? What reactions do you get when you request GF menus or GF alterations to your food at restaurants?

Random question: why is it that “gluten free” is almost always associated with baked goods, too? Case in point: a Flickr image search

🍩 🍕 🍔



  1. In response to your random question: I imagine that most people automatically think of baked goods because those are the things that are not naturally gluten free and must be made gluten free. Things like meats, vegetables, fruits, rice, etc are USUALLY gluten free unless something is done to it, so no one thinks of a “gluten free steak” because most steaks are just naturally gluten free. However, MOST baked goods are not gluten free, so it’s a big deal when they are made gluten free.

    I am in a slightly different situation than you because I do have Celiac’s Disease. While Celiac’s Disease is still not an “allergy” and it’s more like an intolerance with an autoimmune response, what restaurant worker wants to take the time to understand all of that? The fact of the matter is, contamination does affect me and it can make me very ill for several days following, even if I don’t swell up in hives or go into anaphylactic shock. What I’ve noticed is that restaurant workers, especially in fast food restaurants, do not take the words “intolerance” as seriously as an allergy. Even when I have very clearly explained that I cannot have something because it has touched the bread and it will make me very sick, they will just pull the bread off and hand it back to me (Really? I’m not lazy, I can pull a bun off of a hamburger by myself). However, when I say the word “allergy” everyone gets this sudden image of having to call 911 for their customer going into anaphylactic shock in the middle of their restaurant and they are suddenly oh-so-careful with your food! So, while it tears up my nerves to have to inaccurately portray my Celiac’s Disease, I have learned to just go ahead and say “allergy,” because people really do not care about contamination unless you say the trigger word “allergy!”


  2. I hear you! I always answer with an emphatic “yes” and let the server assume that if they mess up my order, I’ll have to be hospitalised – which is not the case 🙂 Don’t you also hate it when you’ve had “the conversation” and then they still mess up your meal? Can you forgive and forget?

    Also, re your random question, when supermarkets starting introducing GF products in the UK, they were all pretty much cakes and biscuits (or revolting pasta that disintegrated upon contact with hot water). I couldn’t understand why food manufacturers thought that what GF people needed was cake, rather than sauces, or cereals. Just something useful! At least we have more choice now, especially in Australia.


    1. I can’t recall a time when my order was messed up, though I did have times when they would give me my bf’s plate by mistake. Luckily he’s pretty quick to spot potential food problems and he always asks if it “looks right.” But one of my underlying fears when eating out—after having requested nothing of the glutenated kind on my plae—is that some jerk behind the kitchen ignores the food request out of convenience. eek! Re your post (thanks for sharing btw), I think I’ll be able to forgive, though forgetting may be tougher. Visiting that one place that messed up your order will always bring back those memories. Haha

      The supermarket food fare is the craziest, I think, and the funniest part about all that is how “easy” the un-learned folks think being GF is. I was once told that it must be nice to have all those GF things at the grocery now! I’m pretty sure my response was a very curt, “yeah, if I want to get diabetes and gain an extra 200 pounds.” gut punch.


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