Pushing thirty years ago my Grandmother was very unwell. Already suffering from hip problems, the onset of osteoporosis (take note), emphysema and a few other points of discomfort she started losing weight and eventually was hospitalised. It took a little while but eventually she was diagnosed as coeliac. At the time this was a pretty unfamiliar condition and correspondingly hard to stick to the required diet. Prescription bread and a little book (depressingly thin) detailing what could be eaten without further issue was largely the extent of it. Back then the needs of the Coeliac weren’t as well met as now.
Midway through this decade and the pendulum has swung the other way. Possibly too far. Intolerances and allergies are everywhere and markets have risen up admirably to supply them, but perhaps to the impedance of more serious sufferers.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten that causes the body to damage the small intestine. This is markedly different to an intolerance. Without wishing to minimise the discomfort an intolerance can cause, it’s an entirely different beast.
On a personal level I’ve seen my gran and great uncle diagnosed and inconvenienced before my mother received the same diagnosis about 13 years ago. It’s worth noting too that my personal engagement in this is pushed along by the increased probability of diagnosis with so many close relatives impacted. For the record, I’ve been tested more than once and no, I’m fine so far.
Thanks to the increased awareness of allergies, reactions and intolerances the market for coeliac friendly food is now utterly transformed from a couple of decades, or even years, ago. Every mainstream supermarket now has a superb selection of gluten free foods at sensible prices. Coeliac beer is now much more commonly available but my concern is that this is diluting the concern that should be shown when preparing food for a coeliac sufferer.
If one suffers from coeliac disease and escapes diagnosis long term the potential for serious health problems is significant. Short term there’s bloating, fatigue, diarrhoea and weight loss to cope with. After that there’s the potential for osteoporosis (related in the case of my gran?), malnutrition and all manner of other issues that raise concerns of secondary issues.
Thankfully my gran received, and my mother continues to receive, good advice on how to meet the needs of the Coeliac. There’s not really anything to be done other than avoiding gluten but with the increased awareness of the condition this has become proportionately easier as the years go by. But there’re still very pressing and real points to bear in mind.
Food when one is coeliac MUST NOT be polluted in any way. Extreme attention to detail is required to ensure that bread knives, toasters, grill pans, frying pans, knives, surfaces and hands must absolutely not be used at cross purposes. I’m comfortable with this now when preparing food but my concern is that a proliferation in those suffering from food allergies has diluted understanding of this more serious condition and led to a blasé approach when marketing food as suitable for coeliacs.
Many restaurants now offer gluten free menus or the offer to accommodate those requiring a gluten free diet, but in my experience this is not backed up by the proper understanding. Reading this you clearly know that I like eating out in York and that I love to force recommendations on people. The problem here is that with an issue like this close to home, I don’t know where to send people. El Piano is the only utterly safe place in York for a coeliac to my knowledge, the Bistro in The Dean Court has been reliable to date as have Loch Fyne and Pizza Express, but without inspecting their kitchens I can’t comment on if this is down to procedure or luck. Indeed, several other establishments in which I otherwise have the greatest confidence have either presented dishes that represented unpleasant after effects or initiated said effects without visual warning.
So please. York restaurateurs, understand how to meet the needs of the Coeliac, don’t make promises you can’t meet and just be honest about the whole thing. I don’t believe there’s any insincerity in the service I’ve received from any of you but it really would be lovely to be able to take my Mum out for dinner without worrying about poisoning her.