Acceptable Risk

Today is the one year anniversary of my last glutening. Since I will never, ever knowingly eat gluten again, this was an accidental contamination. I was at work, and a coworker asked me to fix some settings on the computer she was using. She had been eating pizza at her desk and getting gluten all over the keyboard. I must not have washed my hands immediately after working on the machine, and 4 hours later…ugh. Three days of sheer hell.

That was one year ago. Since then, I have been able to completely avoid gluten, and have made it one year without getting zapped. I have a distinct, 3-day long reaction to gluten, so I am positive I haven’t gotten contaminated anywhere.

But it could happen. And it almost did, 2 weeks ago, and again last night.

We all take risks in our lives. Just stepping outside your front door is risky, sometimes. Some people don’t wear seat belts. Others gamble, or skydive. We all have our thresholds of what is okay and what is too much.

As for me, I sometimes eat food not produced in a dedicated, gluten-free facility. PLEASE NOTE: In no way am I recommending that you do this. But the truth is, the rice flour I prefer says very clearly on the package: “MAY CONTAIN SOYBEAN AND WHEAT.” Obviously, this is not guaranteed to be a gluten-free product. Oy! But I still use it. Because I’m crazy!!

Actually, I might be crazy (just ask David) but that isn’t why I use the stuff. For one thing, I like the texture a lot better than the certified gluten-free products. This stuff is more like actual flour and less like beach sand. But more importantly, it’s cheaper. I bake a lot. A LOT. I don’t make a lot of money, and I live in an area with a high cost of living. I’m going to be eating gluten free for, oh, about 65 more years. If I go through one 1.5 lb bag of flour a week, and it’s $3 to $5 cheaper per bag (yes, there’s that much of a difference), that’s, um, gotta get out the calculator, hold on…that’s a savings of approximately $10,000 to $17,000 over my lifetime. For me, that’s pretty damn significant.

So money isn’t everything, good health is everything, yes I know. But you know, for me, it’s worth the risk. If I ever get glutened by this product, I will look into switching. And yes, I know it’s a very real possibility, because 2 weeks ago, I did have a soy reaction from a bag of it. But in over a year of using it, going through approximately 70 bags or so, I’ve had a reaction to one bag. For me, that’s an acceptable risk. For you, if it’s not, that’s cool. I’m not recommending it.

Some celiacs eat out. I personally find that too risky for my taste, and try to avoid it as much as possible. Last night, though, David and I did go out to eat, to Bonefish Grill, which has a gluten-free menu and a well-trained staff. I had a long, thoughtful conversation with our server, who went to the kitchen 3 times to check on things for me. Together we came up with something that would be safe and delicious, yet simple: grilled salmon with the gluten-free lemon butter sauce, and a side of yellow squash. I took one look at my plate when it came out, and summoned my server: “What is this stuff sprinkled on my food? Is it safe?” No, it turns out, it wasn’t, and she whisked it away. It seems the kitchen wasn’t thinking, and even though my order said gluten-free all over it, they still sprinkled a gluten-containing garnish on it. Luckily I caught it, and the crisis was averted. And yes, when I got my food again, I enjoyed the rest of my meal, and didn’t get sick.

But for me, this is extremely risky behavior. It scares the bejeezus out of me. I’m still a little in shock this morning as I type this, at how close I came to getting sick. And yet I know celiacs that routinely eat out, and even do so in places that aren’t known for their gluten-free menus. EEEE! I’m getting chills just thinking about it!

That doesn’t mean they are wrong. It doesn’t mean I am wrong. It just means they have a different risk threshold than I do. And that’s fine. I respect their decision. Everyone needs to look at the facts, and the risks, and make an informed decision that works for their lifestyle.

Be happy!

About Li

A writer, runner, and Gluten-Free Zealot, I’ve been helping others navigate the gluten-free lifestyle for many years. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and when you’re gluten-free, it’s even better!

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