The Struggle of Eating Out With Celiac Disease

As science has evolved there are more and more explanations for why our bodies react in a certain way to certain foods. A study from the National Library of Medicine reported that out of 40,443 adults in the U.S., 10.8% had food allergies. It was found that the most common allergies are shellfish, finfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and milk, but these are not the only foods that cause reactions when consumed.

Celiac disease is commonly undiagnosed with 1 in 141 U.S. citizens having it but being unaware. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases describes celiac disease as a “chronic digestive and immune disorder that damages the small intestine.” This can lead to many issues and those that deal with Celiac disease find it difficult to eat out without having a reaction.

“Having other people make my food for me on a daily basis and going out to eat can be hard, like with friends and with other people.” said sophomore Emily Kirk. “And when there’s not a lot of options, especially in Lawrence, it doesn’t seem like there’s a ton of places.”

Kirk was diagnosed with Celiac disease as a sophomore in high school and has had trouble finding restaurants she can eat at since moving to Lawrence for college.

“It depends, like, what city,” said Kirk. “Lawrence, there are not as many, but in Omaha back home, I think that there’s more. But there’s definitely just more like a select few that I just frequent a lot.”

Oftentimes the efforts of the restaurants matter to those with diseases such as celiac. Emily Peterson, owner of Merchants Pub & Plate on Massachusetts street, makes effort in training her staff to accommodate these guests.

“We make sure that we are clearly communicating with guests, that we’re asking questions,” said Peterson. “You know, there’s a lot of people that might sit down and say, I want that burger, no cheese. Oh, is that just a preference? Or do you have a dairy allergy? So we do quite a bit to communicate and focus on the details with our guests to make sure that anything that is ordered for dietary restriction.”

The national institute explains that Celiac is often triggered by eating foods that contain gluten and can prevent the body from absorbing nutrients while causing long-lasting digestive problems. This means that it’s important to be cautious as ingesting even the slightest bit of gluten can cause damage and completely erases any progress made in healing the small intestine.

Unfortunately, not all restaurants have the tools to be as accommodating as Merchants. Erica, a manager at Johnny’s Tavern, explained the struggles they have to accommodate Celiac guests.

“We tell everybody that we, like, say that we cannot guarantee that it’s going to be gluten-free,” said Erica. “but we uh we’re gluten friendly so we have like the ingredients for it but we cook everything in the same space because our kitchen is too small.”

Many restaurants do not have a good idea of what Celiac is and what it entails, this means that options can be limited if proper education is not limited. When asked how many gluten-free options Johnny’s Tavern has Erica, reported maybe three or four. This is not uncommon and can lead to frustration in those with restrictions.

“I think, it might be when something is advertised as having gluten-free options and there’s really not anything besides salads or very basic,” said Kirk. “You could get a hamburger with no bun and like you can’t eat French fries there. So it’s like they really don’t have anything, but they make it seem like they do. And it kind of sucks when you’re already there and there’s not anything, or just when they try to assure you everything will be fine and It is not. And they didn’t make it right.”

Celiac is often confused with simply being on a gluten-free diet. This leads to celiac not being taken as seriously as it should be, many have struggled with this issue and the difficulty it causes with eating out.

“I guess that while you know, it may not seem as serious as an allergy, some people are asymptomatic or just don’t have crazy reactions,” said Kirk. “It does cause actual organ damage even if you’re not feeling it. So I think that it’s important to know that it does have to be taken seriously, like all the time, even if you don’t feel anything.”