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Living the gluten-free good life in D.C.

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Why the mystery when eating out?

December 1st, 2009 by Brandi

I love to eat. I really love eating out. But, I really don’t love being forced to eat on the road. For gluties, every new restaurant is a risk and every uninformed server is a serious source of frustration.

Over the past several months, I’ve been traveling quite a bit in both my personal and professional lives. So much so, I’ve eaten at McDonald’s twice! While I hate to admit caving to the temptation of the fast food pit stop, I have to admit it’s often easy dining for those of us living the gluten-free lifestyle. 

Despite all of it’s flaws when examined through the lens of sustainability, McDonald’s is incredibly gluten friendly. The recipes don’t change from restaurant to restaurant and the corporation is vigilant when it comes to sharing ingredients. When you’re starving, you know you can count on a Micky D’s burger, hold the bun*.  That standard of consistency is not true of all fast food chains, and certainly can’t be said for most diners, drive-ins or dives. Why can’t these restaurants be more transparent, though? Why not list allergens alongside food items on menus? It would certainly reduce the likelihood of making a patron sick and would take some of the pressure off of restaurants that aren’t always familiar with the nuances of hidden allergens and cross contamination.

When you consider the success New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has had implementing public health initiatives geared towards the food service industry, I’m left wondering why gluten free/allergen free standards can’t be applied. New York City restaurants are no longer allowed by law to include trans fat in their foods and restaurants must include nutrition information on their menus. Mayor Bloomberg was on a mission to improve health and reduce obesity. The food service industry at large said no way will it pass – it will cost too much and hinder small business. The dark horse won – and 16 other cities have followed suit. But he missed one (very important) detail: all of those freshly reprinted menus failed to include allergen information.

The advent of the FDA’s Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 improved the lives of many people living with food allergies, and in 2008, the FDA set out to add gluten to the list of allergens, creating a universal definition for gluten free. This glutie thinks that the information we’re privy to at the grocery store should be apparent on food menus as well. It would certainly help every allergy sufferer and gluten free patron make informed food choices, even when the waitstaff isn’t.

*McDonald’s French Fries were formerly listed as gluten free, but upon further review, it appears their ingredient list includes wheat gluten in the fry (and hash brown) flavoring.

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