Celiac, in its most rudimentary, stripped-down definition, is very simple: don’t eat gluten. We love when we can narrow something down to just three words. It makes us feel as if the thing is easy, or somehow more manageable, condensing it into a little gluten-free bite-sized package.
But anybody who has celiac knows that “don’t eat gluten” defines the disease just about as well as a gluten-free label makes a dish safe in a buffet. When you start explaining the nuances of cross contamination, the 200 different symptoms, the potential long-term complications, and the other celiac-related, non-gluten food sensitivities, only then do the complexities of the disease begin to show themselves. Celiac is a lifestyle change with physical, emotional and, yes, social obstacles that require us to become #celiacwarriors almost every day.
Enter the Holiday Party.
I currently work in LMU’s Career and Professional Development office as a Peer Advisor, part of a team of really incredible people. Every single one of my coworkers, the student and professional staff alike, are some of the most kindhearted and caring people I have ever met. I was excited for our holiday party, but to be honest, I was not particularly excited for yet another social situation surrounded by food.
A year ago when I was first diagnosed with celiac, I had an insane amount of fear and anxiety about parties like this. The holidays crept up with an inescapable dread, plagued by insecurity about my involuntary gluten-free life. I still vividly remember going to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving last year, hugging my grandpop and thanking him for having me, to which my loving yet wise-guy grandpa responded with, “I don’t know why you’re thanking me. It’s not like I can feed you anyway.” *Sigh*
But that was last year and since then, I have grown immensely. I now embrace celiac and put myself out there, equipped with the power of my Nima. Some of those anxious feelings still linger, but luckily in my office, I have some great people on my side. My wonderful boss makes every effort to ensure that I can eat safely at work events. She truly goes above and beyond for my complicated little celiac self, speaking with me many times so that she understands the proper gluten-free protocol needed when ordering my food (changing gloves, using separate utensils, separate ovens, etc.). She has successfully ordered a few Nima-approved meals for me in the past, so I was excited to try what she had catered this time.
When the gluten-free pasta and chicken dish arrived, she made sure I was the first person to ladle from it to avoid any cross contamination from the buffet. I brought my plate to a table with my friends and began filling my Nima capsule. We all anxiously awaited the result… and a bit of an awkward air fell about the table when Nima displayed “Gluten Found.” Oh man.
If I was at a restaurant, the obligatory and often super uncomfortable conversation with the waiter and manager would have ensued: “Hey, I was told this dish would be free of gluten but it looks like there might have been some in it. Can we try to figure out what might have went wrong…”
But in a case like this one, no harm, no foul. It’s a party, my boss did the best she can, and that’s just all we can do. I ate the snack I brought for myself and thanked my lucky stars that I had my Nima, otherwise I would have been sick right before finals.