Nine Ways to Help Gluten-Free Folk Enjoy the Holidays Safely
For people who follow a gluten-free lifestyle, the holiday season is the most challenging the time of year for food safety. Around the holidays we attend dinner parties and other mixed food-centric functions, unceartain of the ingredients, how the food was prepared, or if it’s been cross-contaminated.
Many people still don’t understand the demands of a gluten-free foodstyle. Whether you are attending, bringing a dish, or hosting a holiday extravaganza, here are nine points to help gluten lovers understand the needs of gluten-intolerants:
Eating gluten-free isn’t a diet, it’s a requirement.
In our culture the term “diet” conjures thoughts of a temporary weightloss-centric feeding-style synonymous with the word “cheat.” It’s assumed when we say we’re gluten-free that we will and want to deviate from that model. Gluten-free people can’t eat gluten-laden foods without severe and usually lasting consequences. Don’t seek to derail. You wouldn’t offer an alcoholic beer or a diabetic sugar, so don’t encourage fruitcake or your super-secret recipe homemade sugar cookies on gluten-phobes. It’s hard enough to forage for supportive food without being pressured with the harmful stuff.
There is no such thing as all in moderation.
This assumption drives most of us around the bend. To suggest moderation as a control or cure for the mal-reaction to ingesting gluten implies that it’s our fault that we suffer consequences after eating it. Gluten doesn’t make our butts look big. Choosing to live the gluten-free lifestyle isn’t the result of an inability to control self or food choices. It’s not the inability to control the quantity of food eaten. It is the choice to eat food supportive of a gluten-free, thus symptom-free lifestyle. Moderation is not a factor.
Eating even a tiny bit of gluten still makes us sick.
There persists in the wheatie world the idea that if we eat a little gluten we won’t react at all, or that if we eat a teensy bit on a regular basis we won’t react as badly as we did when it was a core component of our diets. That’s like saying, “If I put my finger a little ways into the light socket, I’ll only get a little electrocuted.” If the body has deemed gluten harmful, so it is in any amount. This is not homeopathy or a mild food allergy. It’s a full-blown intolerance, in which the body cannot digest gluten-containing foods. In minute or gross amounts, the concern isn’t that the body will respond, it’s how severely it will do so. Recall that chemical components of food stay in our bodies for weeks. Reactions to gluten can range from immediate to delayed, from short-lived to long-term.
Because we are not ingesting a core component of your diet doesn’t mean that our diet is unhealthy.
So often wheat-eaters insist that omitting gluten from the diet is unhealthy, as if in its absence a vital nutrient is lacking. Not so. Wheat isn’t a required building-block of wellbeing, despite that the industry-supplied food group pyramid charts from third grade had us believe otherwise. Not only do our bodies perform poorly from ingesting gluten, they function fantastically without it. On the Internet is a wealth of new information on how to eat healthily, regardless of dietary needs. Do a bit of research to learn what a balanced diet is, and how to work within it to satisfy the needs of those with food intolerances.
Inquire about food intolerances.
Asking if anyone on your holiday party guest list is gluten-intolerant isn’t rude. In fact, it will be greatly appreciated. Even if you can’t fully comply with the requirements of a totally gluten-free spread, you can at least become aware of how you prepare and serve holiday treats so that you can inform guests of ingredients accordingly.
Just removing an ingredient from a dish doesn’t suddenly make it gluten-free.
Safe food has to also have been prepared in a contaminant-free environment. This means using gluten-free ingredients, thoroughly cleaned cookware and utensils, clean hands and surfaces, and technically, separate appliances from those used to prepare wheat dishes. Likewise, just removing the bun from the sliders doesn’t make them suddenly safe for us to eat. Gluten must be omitted from inception to presentation.
Don’t double dip.
We’re not being picky. There are plenty of health reasons that going for that second schmeer of humus on your pita bite is a poor choice. Bread and cracker crumbs in the butter, cream cheese, or dip can make us sick. Also, please think before you dip utensils that have touched crackers, bread, etc, back into condiment containers. Use the serving utensils only for their designated dishes. Don’t interchange them. Cross-contamination can make us just as sick as eating the item, itself.
If you’re feeding a gluten-free person, don’t use ingredients containing gluten.
I can’t tell you how often people have prepared food for me and insisted, “It has only a little bit,” or “It’s only on this one corner.” Gluten-free people can’t have any. Responsible care and feeding of gluten-phobes means understanding the ingredients you are using as well as how they are processed. Often ingredients are gluten-free but are processed in plants that also host wheat, barley, oats, or rye.
I know, it’s finely tuned and ridiculously detailed. This is what we deal with every day, every mouthful. If you’re not sure about an ingredient, ask or research it. It is a lifestyle of responsibility and education. And if there’s any doubt, we’re not fussed about bringing our own food to affairs, so don’t be insulted when we do. Which leads me to…
At mixed gatherings, don’t eat all of our food.
Sure, we love to share as much as anyone, especially to show how delicious gluten-free food is. The fact remains that at holiday gatherings our food is still largely the minority. Oddly, when I bring custom dishes to such occasions they vanish, often leaving me with no other menu options. When you are attending a food fete with gluten-phobes, remember that you have the privilege of eating from all options present. Gluten-free folk usually have one, or at least significantly fewer. Don’t take their options from them, or if you do sample their food, make sure you leave plenty for them.