How to Eat Gluten-Free at Chipotle

When you have food allergies, dining out can be extremely difficult which is why I created my Gluten-Free Spotlight series. It’s a way that I can share with all of you great gluten-free destinations in the Bay Area and beyond. Usually the places I highlight are specialty restaurants and bakeries that only have one location. Today, however, I wanted to share with you a great gluten-free option that has locations all across the country, and abroad! Due to the many locations, Chipotle is perfect for when you are traveling and might not have access to many safe gluten-free restaurants. If you have never been to a Chipotle, it is fast Mexican food that is delicious! You order at the counter and are able to pick and choose everything that goes into your burrito bowl or tacos. This is a gluten-free guy or gal’s dream because you don’t have to worry about what is happening back in the kitchen, but can actually see it for yourself. It has taken me a little while to figure out how to order safely and avoid cross-contamination at Chipotle and I wanted to share with you my tips.

Chipotle GGGF2

5 Tips for Eating Gluten-Free at Chipotle

1. Tell the person making your meal that you have a severe gluten allergy and ask them to please wash their hands and change their gloves. Most Chipotle employees are familiar with this and are happy to do it. (Word to the wise: After they change their gloves, watch that they don’t put their hands back on the tortillas… It seems like this wouldn’t happen but sometimes it does.)

2. Request that the person who has recently changed their gloves be the only one who makes your meal.

3. If you like to put lettuce or cheese on your burrito bowl or tacos, request that they use a fresh container of lettuce or cheese. (If they use an existing one, then their gloves continuously touch the tortillas and then the lettuce/cheese, therefore, contaminating it.)

4. If you are concerned about the utensils that touch the flour tortillas touching your meal, they are often happy to change those out as well.

5. Watch the process carefully to ensure that all safe practices are followed and thank the person making your meal for enabling you to eat at Chipotle safely!

Chipotle GGGF1

And then enjoy your delicious Chipotle meal! If you can eat corn, then you can also have the crispy corn tacos or add-on some corn chips to round out your meal! (I can no longer have them, but Chipotle chips are absolutely delicious!) If you have other food allergies, check out this link to the Chipotle site where there is a great chart. Also, if you are Paleo, you can still eat at Chipotle too! I order a large bed of the shredded lettuce with chicken and topped with medium salsa! You could also go for a variety of their other meat options and add the fajita veggies too, simply skipping the rice and beans!

Question:

-What’s your favorite Chipotle (or other Mexican restaurant) order?

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Real Talk: When Jokes Have Consequences

The month of May is Celiac Disease Awareness month and is supposed to be a time of education and support. However, lately I’ve been noticing that comedians have selected a new victim to pick on: people that follow gluten-free diets. One of Jimmy Kimmel’s recent Man on the Street style interviews asked people who followed gluten-free diets what gluten is. A simple enough question in theory and yet almost no one was able to answer it. The fact that these people weren’t able to answer what gluten really is, doesn’t bother me, different people have various reasons for avoiding gluten and some might not have done their research. It was Jimmy’s comments that did, like, “maybe gluten just doesn’t exist” and “some people can’t eat gluten because of medical reasons, which I get- it annoys me– but I get it.”

Look, I get it, Jimmy. A joke is just a joke, right? It’s all in the name of fun. Or is it? My problem isn’t that comedians have chosen to focus on making fun of people on gluten-free diets. I wouldn’t choose it, but I also wouldn’t like them to poke ‘fun’ at any group of people. My issue is with the public perception of it. The more people that see these segments (and Jimmy’s alone has 2.5 million views), the more people start to think that being gluten-free isn’t serious. And for some people, I realize that it’s not. I know it’s “trendy” now and the latest health food fad and that’s ok. But for those of us with Celiac disease, it’s something entirely different.

In the past seven months, I’ve been glutenized twice at restaurants. The first time was at Whole Foods, supposedly the mecca of healthy eating. I purchased a soup that said it was gluten-free, read the ingredients list three times and left the store. I specifically chose the soup because I thought it had the least chance of cross-contamination as they have only one ladle per soup. I ate my soup on the way to a movie and within minutes, was throwing up in the bathroom. Tears were streaming down my face and I was screaming from the excruciating pain. I was on the floor of the lobby of the theater and basically had to be carried out to the car and rushed to the Emergency Room. At the ER, it took doctors three doses of very strong medicines to stop the pain. I was dreadfully sick for about a week and almost missed Christmas. But here’s the part that people don’t realize. It took me months for my body to recover. For people with Celiac disease, gluten doesn’t just cause outward symptoms, it’s actually damaging the villi in the small intestine which allows for absorption in the body. Finally, months later, my body slowly started to recover. Then a little while ago it happened again. I am so careful about what I eat and there are very few restaurants that I trust, but there is one Italian restaurant that has a gluten-free menu that has always been safe for me. I ordered plain grilled chicken and vegetables and explained Celiac disease at length to my waitress and told her how extremely sensitive I am to gluten. She said that she understood and would hate for me to get sick on her watch and said she would tell the kitchen.

20-minutes after I ate, I was screaming and crying in pain again.

Now the common thread in both instances was that the meals I purchased did not have gluten in the ingredients. So both reactions were from cross-contamination. If you are new the world of a Celiac, you might not know, but it only takes 1 crumb to make someone with Celiac horribly sick… one single crumb!

And yet if the cooks in the kitchen had watched Jimmy Kimmel or watched and read other numerous comics and jokes on the topic, they might think that someone is making this illness up. That the person they are serving can’t really be that sensitive and it won’t matter if they use the same work area as where the bread was sitting, or use a spoon that was touching wheat noodles to stir a soup or use the same pans that the pasta was just cooked in. It is all really that easy to cross-contaminate and has dire consequences. Every time someone with Celiac disease eats at a restaurant, they’re putting their lives in the hands of the cook. And it’s really scary. It makes it extremely difficult to enjoy a meal without being nervous, both for myself, and as I recently found out, my family too. Everyone just kind of holds their breath and you hope that they took your order seriously. I understand that some people may wonder why people with Celiac go out to eat at all if it’s such a big risk. It’s just that so much of our culture and getting together is meeting for meals that to eliminate that really bars you off from something you used to enjoy. Plus, as much as I enjoy cooking, it’s also really nice to have someone else prepare a meal too.

I can take a joke, but I draw the line when it could be the very thing that compromises someone’s health. Let’s face it, what people hear infiltrates their thoughts and they might find themselves at a party, contaminating the one gluten-free item or in a kitchen rolling their eyes at the thought of taking special care to make sure a dish doesn’t come into contact with gluten. I think that there are far funnier subjects that we can be discussing, rather than someone’s serious illness. Let’s change the conversation.

*This isn’t to say that all restaurants and bakeries don’t take it seriously and I will being doing spotlight posts on some great establishments that do!