Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Special Diet Backlash?

I knew this day was coming.  Special diet backlash has reared its head. 

New York Times Sunday Style’s section had an article entitled, “The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner.”  Gluten-free, in my opinion, was portrayed in that article as the worst offender in terms of requesting Paleo, dairy free, sugar free, low fat, vegan or whatever!  For some reason, folks that ask for gluten-free meals were really slammed as “picky eaters.”     

I recall interviewing a chef for the magazine and I asked if professional chefs were getting a little tired of special food requests.  It’s not the server’s or the chef’s job to make judgments on who really needs a gluten-free meal, but what happens when a patron goes through the hoops of making sure his meal is gluten free…because he is trying on the diet…and then the server sees him noshing from the bread basket?  Perhaps that is worthy of an eye-roll from the server, but hopefully it doesn’t send the chef into anger mode for the next person requesting a gluten-free meal.

What happens as more and more people try on the diet because it’s the latest craze to lower inflammation, or to speed recovery, or those folks requesting gluten-free meals who still mistakenly think it’s a weight loss diet?  What happens to those of us who are celiac?  Did anyone in this article stop and think that more and more people are being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance and thus there will be more requests for gluten-free options?  When I see quotes in the New York Times article from anonymous readers from a Portland reader forum expressing opinions like, “You probably don’t have celiac disease anyway.  Self diagnosis on WebMD doesn’t count.”  Dude, really?  Since when did anonymous opinions from some reader forum become quotation worthy in the eyes of the New York Times writers?

Or another quote from the article from Chef Josh Ozersky, the founder of Meatopia, who says “like a lot of chefs, I’m convinced that these diets are not always the results of the compromised immune systems of American diners, but their growing infantilism and narcissism.”  And this is coming from a guy whose event is all about meat consumption, like he's got an expert opinion on compromised immunity?

Uh-oh.  All of the work that has gone into restaurant awareness!  What if people start rolling their eyes when I ask if something is prepared with flour?  Or if I could have the turkey burger with no bun?

Another line in the article says, “Today’s restricted eaters are prone to identity-driven pronouncements along the lines of ‘I’m gluten free.’”  I have used that identifier in restaurants before because I don’t really like to identify myself as diseased, is that really a problem for chefs?   

I have never once gone to a dinner party and made demands.  I have always graciously worked with my server and chef at a restaurant.  Last week at a business meeting, I did not call up the company executives and demand gluten-free options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I brought some stuff and worked around the rest. 

Hey, everyone out there, please don’t blow this for people who really and truly need to be choosy, not picky, about what they eat for serious and medically diagnosed reasons.  And to those people who expressed what I consider unintelligent opinions, try walking a mile in my shoes.  

Kendall Egan

1 comment:

WagnerJB said...

I too am appalled by the lack of insight presented in this article. The article makes celiac (and other) food related requests a fad or flavor of the month type of issue. What a load of crap. These attitudes serve to further alienate Celiac sufferers from enjoying a social outing at a restaurant or a friend's home. My 18-year old daughter is so overwhelmed by the idea of asking for anything special that she almost never eats out for fear of bringing attention to herself and her disease. She struggles daily in social settings at college and usually goes without eating instead of bringing attention to herself. She is slowly learning to have her own food with her so she doesn't starve. I encourage everyone who suffers to contact the NYT to voice your displeasure.