Why I walked out of a restaurant and why you should too: advocating for safer food through your dollars

I've talked before about how becoming spiritually aware leads one to see things more clearly, both positive and negative, in the world. This dawning of awareness is not always easy to sustain without comment. This extends to the ways businesses conduct themselves, especially after you see how other business are able to handle the same situation. I recently had one such experience.

While, today I'm talking about my wheat allergy, this could easily apply to nuts, dairy, fish, or any food allergy that interferes with a person's ability to order straight off of a restaurant  menu.

We are traveling and stopped at a chain restaurant for dinner. I have celiac disease along with other autoimmune diseases, and after being seated we asked for a gluten free menu as we always do. Usually, at most establishments, there are at least a dozen options of modifications. I am really easy going when it comes to finding something to eat. On this visit, however we were surprised to find only 5 options: chicken, steak, Asian salad, salmon, and barbecue ribs with no barbecue sauce; the only side dish available was steamed veggies. When we asked about the risk factors for the other normally safe items (burger without bun, house salad without croutons, baked potato, etc.), ie. cross contamination or seasonings, we were told that their seasoning had wheat in them and everything was pre-prepared so there was no way to get a burger, a baked potato, or even fries because they are all made in the morning with the seasoning.

We left, even though we had just been seated, because none of the options were appetizing to me, especially at the high prices at which they were listed. (Note that the items listed were the typically high dollar items on a menu, not normal family dinner fare).

Now, I try to be reasonable and understanding. I try to remember that I am the one asking for accommodation and be accommodating in return. But, it seems unreasonable to me, in this day and age, with the knowledge we have about allergies and, both their commonality and danger, that a kitchen does not have the ability to make fries, baked potatoes, hamburgers, or a garden salad, even, without a seasoning with wheat/gluten (which by the way has no added nutritional value and only serves as cost preserving filler). The lack of care and concern for customers, much less the lack of rationality is ludicrous and disappointing.

Contrast this with a business trip we just returned from in Las Vegas, NV. I had to eat out every meal, and I was gluten/wheat-safe the whole time, I didn't have one exposure, I made it through those six days safer than I am at home. Every single restaurant I encountered there, over the course of our stay, answered my gluten question with, "we accommodate all allergies!" Is it financially beneficial to the businesses of Las Vegas to ensure that patrons can come there, stay as long as they wish, and not get sick? Yes! But it is also proof that it is possible! Otherwise they wouldn't be able to pull it off.

I constantly hear, at restaurants at home, that the kitchen isn't a "gluten free kitchen" so they can't guarantee gluten safety of food, so how is it then, that the Las Vegas kitchens do? Do they have better safe handling practices? Do they have separate kitchens? Do they have safer kitchens? In my opinion, it is a lack of trying on the part of restaurants who don't rise to the challenge. There is utterly no excuse anymore, there are ways to make kitchens safe, when companies choose to do so responsibly by cutting extraneous fillers from their food and being conscious of their food prep.

Thankfully, we drove a mere block away to another restaurant with a two-paged gluten free menu, full of reasonable choices. I ordered easily, ate without wheat exposure and went on with my day.

I look forward to the day that businesses and society wake up and start making conscious decisions that make sense and aren't all about expediency and cost efficiency, but actually take the health of their customers into account. I guess the fact is that they are already waking up, slowly. Traditional fast food restaurants are failing. Environmentally sustainable companies are flourishing. Health conscious grocers are popping up every where, and even the discounters like Aldi and Trader Joe's have gotten so heavily into the organic and gluten free market that they are driving health-food market prices down. I believe we are seeing a food revolution, but it takes time. Our voices are being heard as hydrogenated oils and high fructose syrups (HFCs) are being eliminated, and more and more chemicals are disappearing from our foods. But there is so much more to do, including increasing awareness, tolerance, and  availability of allergy safe foods in public. Until then, will you join me in reminding the suppliers that they are accountable to the consumer for their poor choices? We have to vote with our dollars, spend them on socially, environmentally, and allergy-aware companies.

I sent an email to the company with poor choices; I commit to doing so whenever I encounter unreasonable, unhealthy, or unsafe food choices. Will you do the same?


Emily A. Filmore is the author of the With My Child series of children's books about family bonding. Withmychildseries.com. She is the co-author of Conversations with God for Parents with Neale Donald Walsch and Laurie Lankins Farley. (Rainbow Ridge, 2015). And the author of The Marvelous Transformation: Living Well with Autoimmune Disease about her experiences with chronic illness. (Central Recovery Press 2015).