How love influenced my understanding of celiac disease, and the scope of a dietary card business.
Reblogged from a guest article with the Gluten Free Globetrotter.
Equal Eats! That was the eureka moment my wife and I shared after brainstorming for months for a new name for my company. For years it had been operating as “Allergy Translation”, but I knew first-hand that the importance of communicating dietary restrictions on chef cards went way beyond food allergies.
I owe much of that perspective to my wife who truly opened my eyes to the world of celiac disease. She was diagnosed at age 20 and still learning the ropes when we met in our early twenties. I quickly realized the challenges of both food allergies and celiac disease were quite similar, and we have truly grown together over the years to better advocate for ourselves, and each other.
Our Food Allergy and Celiac Story
In my little family, there’s a mom, a dad (myself) and a daughter. We deal with celiac disease multiple food allergies, asthma and eczema. Can you guess who has what?
My wife has celiac disease, I have the atopic trifecta (allergy + asthma + eczema), and miraculously, our 5-year-old can eat everything. We still marvel watching her truly enjoy food at the likes we’ve never experienced ourselves. I do experience some anxiety watching her eat my allergens, but it’s less and less as I come to grips that she didn’t inherit my immune system.
Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a distanced relationship with food, or quirk associated with my bahavior at restaurants/food events. My allergies were the reason why I was a homebody, why I felt like a burden in most restaurant settings, and perhaps it was a factor in why I connected instantly to my wife when I found out she had celiac disease.
Since our first date in 2006 until now, our comfort level dealing with each other’s’ restrictions has only grown. I remember her introducing me to home-made gluten-free pizza fresh out of a breadmaker. I remember teaching her how to use my EpiPen™, and making her aware of how I might “get weird” or downplay symptoms during an allergic reaction. I’ve never confided that with anyone, but she gets it. I’ve witnessed her challenges of chefs not taking celiac disease as seriously as my life-threatening allergies, and having to speak up that we require the same vigilance.
Getting Each Other’s Families on Board
In our dating years, we both adapted quickly and cooked wonderful dinners and desserts that were safe for both. Dining out was easier than ever as I felt like she had my back, and support me taking my sweet time asking all of my questions to the wait staff. In honesty, the toughest part was probably getting both sides of our families on board with adding a new restriction to the mix. My family ate a lot of gluten. Her family used my allergens, especially eggs and nuts in almost everything! It took time, patience, botched recipe experiments, and continued vigilance, but we both have full trust now from both sides.
Our Food Allergy + Celiac-Friendly Kitchen
These days, we are a well-oiled machine of keeping each other safe and well-fed. Yep, we do have each other’s allergens and avoidances in the house, but we have systems in place to reduce the worry and risk. For example, our color-coded cutting boards help avoid cross-contact when cutting bread (I still buy regular bread to save some money). We also have two separate toasters that sit on our counter, and have abolished wooden spoons for gluten-free uses. If she wants that famous hazelnut spread, I just ask that she eats it right out of the jar with a disposable spoon (doesn’t sound too terrible eh?).
Communicate your Comfort Level
I think this works for us because we communicate our comfort levels with each other. This was tested when our daughter was getting introduced to common allergens as infant. It was truly a team approach as we needed to reduce the risk for each other while following current guidelines for our daughter – think paper plates covered in peanut butter going straight to garbage. Our systems will not work for everyone because we all manage differently. We feel that after living with each other’s dietary restrictions for so many years, we are very well in sync.
Importance of Respecting ALL Dietary Restrictions
When I started Allergy Translation in 2006 to provide translation cards to people travelling the world, I made the faulty assumption that allergies were most important to communicate. After seeing my wife unfortunately get “glutened” on multiple occasions, I knew the importance of strict avoidance for those with food allergies and celiac disease. I also learned more about other dietary restrictions and the importance of adhering to them. In some cases, it’s medically related, in others it’s religious. I realized that all of these people are making special requests at restaurants, and I’d rather create dietary cards that control that narrative, rather than having people call it something else (e.g. lactose intolerance being called a milk allergy to be taken more seriously).
From what I’ve learned, chefs want to know exactly what condition you have, and what foods you avoid. They want to help you eat safely and well. They want to know you have celiac disease, not “wheat allergy”. Many have systems in place, but need to know exactly what they are dealing with.
Disclose Your Restrictions Early in a Relationship and Temper Expectations
I feel the same goes for relationships. You should disclose early to your partner about your condition. They might not “get it” right away, but be patient and guide them as you go. Share which foods are okay, what actions you’re not comfortable with, and what brings out your anxiety. Together you can navigate and safely co-habitate with food allergies, celiac disease, or any combination of restrictions you can fit under one roof!