This article follows on from one in week 25’s issue of SCAN titled ‘Living with Coeliac Disease on Campus’. To recap: Coeliac Disease is not some contagious illness that Freshers are prone to. It is an auto-immune condition triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK, with only 24% of sufferers officially diagnosed. The only treatment is following a lifelong gluten-free diet that completely avoids gluten-containing foods such as pastas, breads, cakes, biscuits and so on. So, with that in mind, this article will focus on how to deal with Coeliac Disease and eating gluten-free off campus.
Gluten-free food is more popular now that it has ever been, with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow touting the diet as a healthier way to eat. This is, however, both a blessing and a curse. An increase in public awareness of gluten-free food has meant that it is now possible to find a gluten-free lunch option (typically a sandwich or a wrap) in many familiar high-street cafes, such as Cafe Nero, Starbucks and Costa. But, despite the unprecedented attention that the diet is receiving, the general public seems to have no idea what ‘gluten’ actually is. This is perhaps best illustrated by an experiment conducted by the Jimmy Kimmel show. As part of the show’s ‘pedestrian question’ segment, Kimmel’s camera crew travelled to a popular exercise spot in Los Angeles and asked people there if they followed a gluten-free diet. If they answered in the affirmative they were then asked ‘what is gluten?’ The correct answer is that gluten is protein. Not a single one of them knew this and even worse, one lady suggested that it is simply something that “makes you fat”. She would probably be devastated to know that in fact, the gluten-free versions of pasta, spaghetti, bread and cake contain more salt and sugar than their ‘normal’ equivalents.
Where can you eat in town?
As mentioned above, every Cafe Nero, Costa and Starbucks up and down the country now offer a gluten-free sandwich or wrap. Gluten-free alternatives can also spring up in unexpected places: M&S’s cafe offers a sandwich. Cafe Esquire offers a number of small cakes. There is also Amy’s cafe (behind Daltons) that can do you a gluten-free breakfast and the recently opened Roots Cafe that does gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian foods. If you want to go to a restaurant, try Bella Italia, or if you want tapas check out 1725. If you fancy a Chinese, there’s a restaurant in Morecambe called The Honey Tree that can accommodate you. If you just want to get a takeaway, Domino’s can make you a gluten-free pizza!
In terms of alcohol, if you’re on a gluten-free diet you can’t consume barley: this puts ales, beers, lagers and stouts off the menu straight away. Don’t despair though because Sainsburys and other supermarkets offer gluten-free beers! Other alcohols that are gluten-free are: Spirits (vodka is included in this, as long as it is potato-based, not grain-based) liqueurs, port, sherry and wine.
Important reminder: You may find your friends buying and eating greasy foods like kebabs and chips in town at 3am that are definitely not gluten-free. Your drunken brain might tell you that it is okay for you to eat this food too, just this once, despite the fact that it will make you ill for days. You should therefore try to think through the haze and ignore this impulse. If your friends understand your condition they will hopefully try to stop you with gentle verbal rebuttals or just straight-up slap your hands away from the food.
So, while gluten-free alternatives are more readily available than ever, they are also more misunderstood than ever. With people eating gluten-free voluntarily in a misguided attempt to lose weight or improve their health, restaurants often neglect to prepare food in a way that avoid cross contamination. If you’re a Coeliac, someone who is medically intolerant to gluten, even a crumb is enough to make you unwell. If you’re a Coeliac it is therefore important to always politely stress your need for a completely gluten-free meal to your server.