Eating at a friend’s home as always been a challenge for me- even before my diagnosis. I have always been a picky eater. I don’t eat pork for religious reasons, I don’t eat fish/seafood because I don’t really like it all that much, I don’t eat duck because it tastes too fatty, I only eat white turkey and chicken meat because I don’t like dark meat and the list can go on and on. But when I was picky- it was just that I could “man up” and eat almost anything (except for pork) but with celiac disease one must be strict- no more manning up for me!
I moved to Savannah right before the Jewish high holidays knowing only my cousin and boyfriend (who was quickly becoming my ex) both of whom are not Jewish. With the holidays approaching I contacted the local Jewish community and was put in touch Young Jewish Savannah- a group for Jewish Savannians ages 22-40. I received an e-mail asking if I would like to be paired up with a Jewish family for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur- needing a place to celebrate- I quickly accepted. I received an email from a family to attend Rosh Hashanah services and an invite to eat lunch at their home after services. I dread being invited to a stranger’s home for a meal because I then have to have the “gluten” discussion and nine out of ten times they have no idea what I am talking about or understand the seriousness of the issue- no I can not have “just a little flour” or “a small bite”, yes eating out can be difficult, no I haven’t been like this my whole life, yes you would think I would be super skinny but there is still a lot to eat without wheat or gluten (mainly cheese in my case).
In the past two years whenever I have eaten at somebody else’s home it has been somebody I knew one way or another- not a complete stranger so I was usually able to be more candid. In the case of Rosh Hashanah I had never met the family before but decided to just bite the bullet and lay it out on the line by replying ,“I just want to let you know that I have many food allergies and restrictions and am not able to eat wheat or gluten so please do not be offended if I do not eat during lunch. I normally just eat before or after”. I didn’t want to overburden the hostess but for me and my personality this statement worked because it made her aware of the situation and hopefully would start a dialogue so I would be able to eat something for lunch. To my surprise my hostess replied, “No problem! My son has autism and my husband has Crohn’s disease and we have tried the gluten-free diet- so I know what you can and can not eat. I will make sure there is something there for you.” Talk about relief and shock- I could now eat safely (and I would be starving because we went to Orthodox services and they were LONG) and I wouldn’t have to go through the education of my disease to a complete stranger!
I was convinced that lightning would not strike twice as I was invited to another family’s home for Yom Kippur but approached the situation in the same fashion as I did just a week earlier. And in the case of Yom Kippur I wanted to make sure I could eat before Kol Nidre services and at the break fast because I don’t fast well. To my surprise and shock the family’s grandfather had celiac disease so they were ready with non-breaded chicken, rice crackers and other gluten-free delights for me as we feasted before and after our fasting. It was like G-d was teaching me a high holidays lesson “Go ahead and talk about your disease my child you are in good hands!” And now I do…
GF Mavens Tips for Eating at A Friend’s Home:
1) If they are already aware of your dietary restrictions inquire what they are making and what you can bring. For example, if they are having a New Year’s Eve party with heavy appetizers bring a bottle of champagne, gluten free crackers and chocolates (precisely what I did this past New Years- Cava, Mary’s Gone Crackers and Chocolate). If they are making baked or friend chicken ask if they can grill a breast separate for you or tell them you will bring your own chicken. Always bring something that is gluten-free for everybody to enjoy such as gf crackers, gf desert, vegetables, wine, etc
2) If you are invited to a stranger’s home through a family member or friend (to your husband’s coworkers home for example) contact the host yourself or through your family member/friend to mention that you can not eat gluten/wheat. Do this as soon as possible as to not put too much pressure on the hostess.
I am of the strong belief that your host/hostess would rather know that you had an allergy before you arrive and you can not eat anything. This day in age with so many people having food allergies/restrictions and dietary restrictions most host/hostesses will understand and be happy to oblige. Do as much as you can to not burden the host/hostess but also remember they invited you for a reason- they want you there and to enjoy yourself and if you can’t eat or worse get sick from something they served you both host and guest will walk away unhappy.