Recently I was out of town, had worked about 10 hours after a 4 hour flight seated beside a nervous flyer and a one hour drive in an unfamiliar place. It had been a super long day, but I needed to grab dinner before crashing for the night.
I found myself in a Chipotle parking lot with my favorite fella. I was exhausted, beyond hangry, and started whining about how I didn’t want to go into a restaurant crowded with late night customers and explain my dietary “stuff.” I was worn out, my gumption had gone missing for the night. Mind you, Chipotle staff have always been super duper helpful and go out of their way to make sure I get a gluten-free and cow dairy-free meal. They are my go-to all over the country when I need a quick, safe meal. But I just didn’t have it in me that night to explain one more time that I needed a bit of extra help with my meal, someone needed to change their gloves and be the only one to handle my meal.
My fella was patient and encouraging (I’m seriously blessed by this man and his attitude about my food and health concerns). He offered to go in for me, even though he had worked just as long as me and had also had a long day of travel. I pulled myself together though, I went in and I ordered my meal.
And guess what happened? I asked the guy behind the counter, whose hands were resting on a pile of flour tortillas, if he could help me with my gluten-free order. Not only could he help me, he was excited to and dashed off to wash his hands, change his gloves. He shared that they are one of the Chipotles with a second line, a backup line of food waiting to fill the front line when containers are empty. (Some have told me this second line is also used for fax and internet orders.) That evening, the containers had not been served from at all, so the food had very limited risk of any cross contamination, perfect for someone like me who gets sick from a tiny bit of gluten. I had a terrific gluten-free meal and no one at Chipotle, not a single person I worked with or traveled with, made me apologize for taking care of my health. Yet it’s there, lingering in mind, this reluctance to always ask for a bit of help, wanting to avoid being a pain or an inconvenience, wanting to avoid explaining it one more time or draw any attention to this thing I have that makes me not quite normal.
The next day I was talking to my sweet friend Katy, who has created a dynamic social learning center for kiddos who struggle with traditional social models. She and her husband Rob are even building an incredible day school on a beautiful farm on Boston’s South Shore where students will benefit from a hands-on education that respects their intelligence while supporting their need for comprehensive social and executive functioning support in a project-based environment. I tell you this because she works with families who also sometimes need a little extra support, maybe need a little extra help when they dine out or shop or go to school or just live.
Katy said something that is so BIG to me. She stated so simply, “It’s ok to stop apologizing for existing.” Boy, does she know about this! Working with kids who some might call “the weird kid” and others who are on the spectrum, their parents are often apologizing, apologizing for things that are truly out of their control or apologizing for their request of a necessity that varies from the norm. And just like me, they are often reluctant to ask for what is essential. We’re apologizing for existing.
I’ve sat with this for a month, thinking often about what Katy said, thinking about how I will stop apologizing for existing.
Then a post written by Michael Ruhlman made the rounds in the gluten-free community this week. (I’m not linking to it, Google it if you must.) His books occupy a fair bit of bookshelf real estate here. I credit his Ratio for much of my prowess with baking and cooking based on food science as it helped me get a grasp on modifying gluten-full recipes to gluten-free based on ingredient ratios. I’ve been a fan, I recommend his books often. The post he shared this week is titled Gluten-Free Malarkey.
Included in his post is a quote from Carol Blymire who is Vice Chairman of the board of directors of the Celiac Disease Foundation. Here’s the quote: “…the attention-seeking, me-me-me-ness of people (with celiac and not) has gotten way out of hand when it comes to wanting/needing gluten-free food in restaurants.” It is because of this that I apologize for existing. (Ironically, later in the week Carol Blymire tweeted a link to an article from Eater detailing the willingness of restaurants to accommodate many dietary allergies and intolerances.)
This article made me angry, then I was sad, perhaps a bit puzzled. I’ve dined out with other gluten-free folks all over the country. I’ve sat down at the table beside friends who have a written-out list of their food allergies to share with the server and kitchen staff. Sometimes they have called ahead, often they have studied the on-line menu as though there would be an exam. They’ve always handled their order politely, without drawing unnecessary attention. With less-than-attentive dinner mates, I’ve seen some pull it off without being noticed at all. Surely these are not the people behind the Gluten-Free Malarkey?
Something has got to change, y’all. I’ve got a plan. I’m not going to apologize any more. To be clear, nothing about apologizing for existing is “me-me-me-ness” or “attention seeking.” I’m going to make each dining out experience an adventure, an opportunity to educate if necessary while enjoying delicious food. I’m going to be kind to the servers, to the staff, each and every one of them. I’m going to politely ask for what I need to eat safely. If they can’t handle it, I’ll go somewhere else. If they do handle it well, I’m going to leave a generous tip and tell my friends and readers about the amazing meal I enjoyed. This is no different than how I have always eaten out gluten-free, it’s just that I am no longer going to apologize for having a disease, an intolerance or an allergy. I’m not going to feel like I’m this huge inconvenience for anyone, because I’m not. I’m finding the world is full of restauranteurs and chefs who want to feed me, who understand that gluten-free isn’t malarkey to people with Celiac disease or NCGS.
You wanna join me? Let’s stop apologizing for existing and just get on with living. It’s not going to be easy or immediate, changing this internal dialogue of apology, but I’m gonna do it! There’s a whole world out there to explore and I’m absolutely certain it includes meals that are safe for me and you to eat without apologizing for something outside of our control. Today, let’s stop apologizing for existing.