From Pizza Ovens to Capitol Hill: Celiac Awareness on the Move!
When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease 17 years ago (by my dog’s vet, mind you), I had to order my food from Canada or purchase products at our support group meetings. Gluten-free foods were hard to come by, unless they were naturally gluten-free (eggs, milk, meat, veggies and the like). It took me hours to shop; I wandered up and down the supermarket aisles, only to end up purchasing a few items.
Over the past several years, we at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and others have had the opportunity to work with Walmart, Wegmans, Wholefoods, Stop and Shop, ShopRite and Giant. Now, I walk up and down the aisles and just stare in amazement at the shelf tags calling out “Gluten-free!” What a hoot…so life-altering.
The same was the case at restaurants. When I was first diagnosed, you’d think I was speaking another language when I asked the waiter if he or she knew what gluten-free was. The blank stare spoke volumes.
Even 5 or 6 years ago, if a fortune teller said that I would be speaking about Gluten-Free Foodservice Opportunities at the International Pizza Show, I would have thought she had a defective crystal ball. Yet there I was, just last week.
And this time, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay there.
Our gluten-free presentation was noted in an industry article following the Pizza Expo. The article explained how offering gluten-free options can help a restaurant gain loyal customers from the celiac community. It was more proof that gluten-free has not only become mainstream, but is also here to stay.
Now, the message I really hoped to drive home during my presentation was how important it is to know what you’re doing when it comes to gluten-free preparation and serving. To all the pizza professionals and restaurateurs out there: Please do not advertise that you serve “gluten-free” unless you really practice proper protocols. Gluten-free food can be delicious, tempting, safe, and a good business opportunity – as long as it’s done right.
If that wasn’t enough action in a week, I attended the Digestive Disease National Coalition (DDNC) Policy Forum in Washington DC over the weekend. Three years ago, when I first landed in front of our nation’s representatives, their legislative assistant’s eyes glazed over at the words “celiac” and “gluten-free.” Even more upsetting, the physician on my committee didn’t even know that celiac was so prevalent!
Last year, I was grouped with the same physician, and his entire attitude had changed. At the time, he was diagnosing two patients per week and was excited to tell the celiac story.
Today – get ready for this – that same physician has his daughter on a gluten-free diet, one of the legislative assistants has celiac, and another is getting her boyfriend tested. They were interested and hungry to help. That’s progress!
What changes have you noticed that show progress in celiac and gluten-free awareness? I always love hearing success stories!