Tag Archives: Cross-contamination

Wholly, Holy Gfree…Really!

The church my husband and I attend offers a gluten free option during communion; it was a major selling point when we were searching for a spiritual home. Sometimes the gluten free option was Van’s Everything Crackers and sometimes we received rice circles seemingly sized for dolls with self-titled story books.

The church is part of the United Church of Christ, a progressive Christian faith whose “overarching creed is love.”

This post, however, is not about church doctrine or what and why we believe. If you want to know more about the United Church of Christ, check out www.ucc.org.

This post is about the challenges of participating in any community of faith when celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or food allergies separate you from everyone else.

This is about watching the minister tear in half the loaf of bread while proclaiming, “This is my body!” and watching, not with sacred awe, but with horror as bread bits bounce across the table. Maybe they didn’t bounce into the bowl brimming with gfree crackers, I think, only to see glutinous globs on said crackers when the minister proffers the dish moments later.

This is about graciously changing crumb culture:  making clergy cognizant of how crumbs clinging to their fingers create crumby communion crackers, contaminate once celiac-safe crackers.

This is about how I only nibbled a corner of the cracker before covering the rest with a tissue, hoping no one would see me partially partake, and getting sick anyway.

This is about finding the courage to chat with the clergy about cross-contact, about wanting to show them simple steps for celiac-safe communion, and how, strangely shame-laden, I sweet-talked my spouse into speaking in my stead…something I regret.

This is about invitations to potluck gatherings, supper clubs, and even the coffee and tea social hour after service and being unable to participate because participating might be sickening, really sickening. The kind of sickening that comes from a coffee cup proffered by a cheery congregant whose same hands composed the cookie plate so now my coffee cup has cookie crumbs clinging to where I must clasp it.  Conundrum. Can the crumbs be cleansed from my cup or my clasp before I cover my mouth to cough? If not, curses! Those crumbs now course through me. I’m contaminated…glutened.

This is about God calling the clergy to call my husband and me to serve on the Board of Deacons. After we accepted our respective calls, I emailed our minister, asking if I could help the church become more inclusive for those of us on the fringes due to serious medical conditions related to food.

This is about our senior minister then celebrating the ordination of his blessed friend, who broke gfree bread for churchwide communion because he, too, has celiac. The newly ordained to his friend explained he cannot engage with glutinous grain: no loaf, wafer, or cracker. God loves timing a revelation.

This is about our leader rethinking what it means to be inclusive and welcoming after seeing his friend celebrate communion celiac-safely. I only planned to propose plastic to cover the gfree communion crackers to prevent crumby cross-contact. Our minister—by God—went much further. When he announced the 8:30 service would serve gluten free bread for communion, not just for the gluten sensitive but for everyone, my heart heated and my eyes misted.

This is about tears tumbling freely when he tore a piece from the same gfree loaf feeding everyone else and placed it into my hand. In that moment, I felt holy. I felt wholly a part and not apart. After years of feeling separate and not equal, it was Velveteen Rabbit redemption: I suddenly was real, a one-of-Us and not a Them.

This is about the countless times I’ve “participated” in gatherings by sitting at the end of the table, huddled over my brought-from-home container of gfree food while everyone else orders from the menu, or passes around plate after plate of potluck, laughing and sharing the same feast while remarking about how sad it must be to be me, deprived of the communal bounty.

This is about someone seeing, beyond me, that separate is not equal, that a sliver of starch beside sumptuous sourdough disserves the spirit of the Last Supper set by the One whose generosity surpasses any we mortals can muster.

Gfree…you…now…like me.



Receptively GFree (No Cross-Contamination)

Finding a caterer who not only understands what gluten free means (it’s not, “just avoid the  couscous on the buffet”) but also has the knowledge and expertise to cook 100% gluten free is a challenge. Finding a caterer who can cook delicious AND affordable gluten free food–no $2 upcharge per GFree roll–sounds like an impossible task.

When planning my wedding, I queried a dozen independent caterers as well as in-house caterers at special events facilities in and around metro Atlanta. Several didn’t even bother to answer me. A few seemed to confuse gluten free with the Atkins diet. “We’ll do an all meat and no carbs dinner,” one offered.

Another said I could just take the rolls off my plate and they wouldn’t put gravy on my chicken breast but everyone else should have the gravy because not having the gravy would made the dish less spectacular.

Uh, no, thanks.

My favorite response was, “Well, the bride never eats at her wedding, anyway. You could just bring snacks for yourself and let us make an unforgettable banquet for your guests.”

Really? Continue reading Receptively GFree (No Cross-Contamination)

What? Sparkling Cider Is Not Gluten Free

The holidays call for festive beverages to toast the season. Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year! Weddings also call for festive beverages to toast the happy couple, the father of the bride, the DJ, and whoever else makes the party rock.

When alcohol isn’t an option, sparkling cider fits the festive bill. In our family, we break out the Knudsen sparking cherry and sparkling pear cider. It looks so lovely in my parents’ etched wine glasses. For an extra splash of special, I put a frozen cherry in the bottom of each glass. My niece and nephews have grown up tipping glasses of Knudsen Family’s sparkling cider at every holiday dinner. They look forward to it.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a large display of new Knudsen specialty flavors at Sprouts: caramel apple, green apple, cranberry, and glogg. I got really excited, especially about the glogg, which we tried for the first time last year when Crate and Barrel offered a pricey non-alcoholic, gluten free, non-sparkly version. We waited until Crate and Barrel slashed the price in half and then we guzzled eight bottles. It tasted best when served warm. Why not try this new sparkly version, which had a much more palatable price tag of $2.99 per bottle? Continue reading What? Sparkling Cider Is Not Gluten Free

Ten Lessons Sans Carols: #8 Gluten Free Food Is Good

When people find out I have celiac disease, they react either with horror or pity, and both stem from the mistaken belief that food free from wheat, barley, rye or oats can’t possibly taste good.

“Oh, you poor thing. That’s awful! I couldn’t eat like that,” they say, managing to sound both sympathetic and superior.

I like introducing them to good gluten free food.

The Friday before Christmas, to celebrate the start of the kids’ two-week holiday school break, we made cookies. We had to skip my mother’s time-honored and beloved cookie recipes because they call for copious quantities of white wheat flour and other glutinous ingredients. I won’t even try to handle white flour because that stuff has incredible hang time. Add the sifted flour to wet ingredients in an electric mixer and watch how it billows from the bowl, wafts through the air, and sticks like snow on every proximal surface, including the baker’s hair and clothes. There’s no way not to avoid contamination, unless one pops into a hazmat suit with filtered ventilator and then turns the fire hose on to clean up afterward. Continue reading Ten Lessons Sans Carols: #8 Gluten Free Food Is Good

The Ungodly Hour Feline Frenzy

Sophie bedsideSometime between eight-thirty and nine Thursday night I burrowed under the flannel sheets and red comforter and turned out the light. Maybe a minute later, Jax whomped on top of me and curled himself into a tidy ball on half of my rib cage.

Now that it’s gotten cold, the cats have gotten friendlier. During the summer they stay as far away as possible from a warm body like me, preferring to snooze flat on their backs in any place with a good breeze. Over the past week, however, on the trail of the Polar vortex pushing wintery temps way down South, the cats have morphed into heat seeking missiles. Continue reading The Ungodly Hour Feline Frenzy

Oh My God, That’s Horrible!

Not too long ago, I worked for a company in which I, well, just didn’t fit. The people were very nice and extremely good at what they did. They ran as a well-oiled machine of grant writing and money-getting efficiency. The writers could crank out wow! narrative in mere hours and their editors could detect spacing deviations between lines of text, around text in tables, from left margin to right margin, and even between your knitted brows, all in less time than a lunch break. I marveled at their prowess.  And I miserably failed at fitting in. Continue reading Oh My God, That’s Horrible!

The Serious Challenge of Getting Gluten Free at the Pharmacy

Gluten can hide anywhere, even in pills and syrups. Yes, gluten can contaminate the pills and the liquids we take for everything from sniffles to sinusitis, diabetes to depression, asthma to ankylosing spondylitis. I remember reading this early post-diagnosis and feeling overwhelmed. How on earth would I figure out if the manufacturer used wheat starch instead of corn starch as an excipient (bulking agent or ingredient needed to create a pill or capsule form) in yet another round of antibiotics for yet another respiratory infection? Continue reading The Serious Challenge of Getting Gluten Free at the Pharmacy

What’s On Your Restaurant Table?

It’s the day before the endoscopic exam and I’m nervous. Did I cram enough to pass–or fail–depending on your perspective?  I sure crammed some gluten into me and boy was it painful!

I ate a gluten free cookie from a non-gluten free bakery. I had candy from the same bag into which my nephew plunged his grubby, cookie crumby hands. I let my furniece Abbey lick me after she ate her Cheerios. In short, I allowed myself to get glutened numerous times in the last month with the goal of causing just enough damage to my small intestine that it will get me “randomized,” that is, randomly placed into one of four groups: placebo or one of three different dosages of the medication being tested for efficacy and safety.

I visited a local coffee shop five times to get a soy latte with a shot of sugar free hazelnut because I knew they wouldn’t wash their hands after grabbing a bakery treat from the front case for some gluten-loving customer and before grabbing my cup for making my latte. I knew it would sicken me, and it did.

I think it might sicken you, too, to realize how many times people in food service handle foods and food or beverage serveware without washing their hands or changing/using gloves. It’s also disconcerting to look down at your table and see how much of the previous occupants’ food and drink remain on the surface or in the cracks. I don’t think they ever clean the tables during the day at places like Starbucks and Einstein’s and Ye Nearby Coffee Emporium.

Then we have the restaurants and coffee shops that “clean” the tables with that one rag that sits in a bucket of murky water with a hint of soap suds studding the surface. The same single rag gets wrung out by a clean up person or server who likely didn’t wash his or her hands after finishing whatever they were doing before wiping down the table. After a weak or firm wringing, said cloth gets sploshed across the tabletop a few times. Where do you think the crumbs and spills it just “cleaned” from (or smeared across) the tabletop go? Right into that bucket of wash water! That means the next time the rag gets used to clean a table, it brings those crumbs and spills with it and they get smeared across and commingled with the crumbs and smears on the next table. This could be problematic if you put your fork and knife on the table while waiting for the server to bring your food. Now all that stuff on the table can transfer to your fork and you’re not just eating what’s on your plate, you’re eating what was on other people’s plates, too. Ugh. Gag me with a spoon.

That’s why I always ask for extra napkins and I put my utensils on one of the napkins instead of the table. I also often carry with me sanitizing wipes so I can clean the table myself. If I don’t have wipes, I sometimes put an unfolded napkin on the table to serve as a place mat. What I really want to do is bring my own disposable place mat so I have a clean surface from which to dine. Sure, people would look at me like I’m Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, but I’d rather have strangers stare at me and judge me than be in bed sick for three days. I haven’t taken any of those precautions in the last month because I wanted to get contaminated and the frequency of contamination tells me those tables are not clean and I really need to take those precautions once I’m back on strict GF vigilance.

It also points out why this investigational drug is so important. Even on a strict gluten free diet it can be challenging to stay gluten free in a dirty gluteny world. Having the medication would keep us from getting so sick and so damaged when we inevitably get cross-contaminated. I would love to have that safety, that protection. The effects of getting even tiny amounts of gluten into my body are very painful for days, and it increases my risk of cancer, malnutrition, and other complications.

So, next time you sit down at the table of a coffee shop or casual eatery, look and see: what’s on your table?