Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tips For Building Your Bridge Over Troubled Water

This past week derailed my positivity train, but I am getting back on track. As I've mentioned before, sometimes living with a gluten allergy is fine and other times it isn't. This past week was one of those stretches when it wasn't. I had 3 dissatisfying meals last week outside my home, and by the time I finished eating the third "meal," I felt pretty stabby about the restaurant industry. I was, however, thankful that I navigated the week without getting gluten-poisoned. 

Not-so-quick frustrating meal recap:
(1) Gluten-free menu items often revolve around meat. Which is great if you're a carnivore, but if you're not, sometimes there isn't much to choose from. While I ended up having some really delicious food, I was somewhat frustrated from a lack of vegetarian options. It was an expensive meal, and I left really hungry. Typically I'm grateful for a gluten-free menu, period. But sometimes I want to see something other than meat and seafood on it. Get creative, people. 
(2) A company catered lunch at work. They assured the person coordinating the meal that there would be food for me to eat. Turns out their idea of a lunch and my idea of a lunch are not the same. They brought me baby spinach with sliced strawberries with some olive oil and balsalmic vinegar. For whatever reason, I couldn't even put the nuts on my salad. Yea, I guess this is a meal. But everyone else was eating sandwiches and meat and dairy and real vegetables, and little hors d'oeuvres, and a shitload of desserts. Hard not to feel cheated staring over my pile of leaves at mounds of hot food on everyone else's plates. What was most annoying is that this place has catered us before and brought gluten-free cupcakes. Why no cupcakes this time, a-holes?
(3) All-you-can eat, fill-your-own-bowl, Mongolian-style BBQ places are always tricky to navigate due to shared cooking space and the reliance on meat as the basis of the meal. On top of that, many bulk sauces come chock full o' fillers. They had special cooking surfaces in back for dealing with allergies (yay!), but my meal ended up being a pile of naked veggies and tofu since I don't like plain meat. I paid full price, but left hungry. I rage-walked all the way home. 

So what do you do to get out of a frustrated tailspin? Here are some tips for building bridges over the troubled waters of dining out with a food allergy:
(1) Always travel with a snack. Always. You can eat your snack on your way home. Or if you're desperate/angry, you can eat it in public. 
(2) Keep your house stocked with ingredients for one of your favorite meals. This is even better if your favorite meal is something easy to make. I always have stuff on hand for poor-itos and spaghetti. You can quickly make a meal that will fill you up before/after your disappointing dining experience. Then you will be full, which may not ease the rage/sadness/isolation, but at least you won't be hungry anymore. 
(3) Talk to the waitstaff or the managers. Just because one person may not be helpful doesn't mean that they all won't be. If a waiter isn't comfortable making a substitution, ask to talk to a manager about it. 
(4) Talk to your allies, or get allies if you don't have them. I am lucky that I can vent to my mom, who is also a glutard. While she can't bake me gluten-free cookies from 1200 miles away, sometimes it feels better to talk to someone who understands. Your allies don't have to be limited to other glutards. My boyfriend and Kathleen are not only supportive, but can also make food that I can and want to eat. After a bunch of frustrating dining experiences, having meals with people who will cook delicious, satisfying meals for you can go a long way to restoring your faith in humanity. 
(5) Read some gluten-free blogs. Reminding yourself that you're part of a growing community can help you to feel less isolated. 
(6) Write Yelp reviews to let others know about which places are good to you and which aren't. Talk to restaurant managers about what you'd like to see on a gluten-free menu. Talk talk talk. Get the word out. By increasing awareness, you increase the chances that people will improve menu offerings. 

I'm pretty busy, so you're getting this post a tad earlier than usual. I wish you all healthy and happy meals!

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