The Business Lunch, Gluten-Free

gluten-free corporateIf you have special eating needs, how do you navigate the business lunch, as well as other noshing and networking events? What are the best tips and practices for enjoying a gluten-free business lunch? Today’s guest poster, Valerie from City|Life|Eats, tackles this very issue. Valerie is an old friend to Corporette, having posted here before about makeup and a favorite shirt. Enjoy! – Kat

It can be difficult to manage dietary restrictions with the demands on being a professional woman.  Learning that certain foods are off-limits, whether because of Celiac disease, other autoimmune conditions, food allergies, food intolerances or sensitivities, means a lifestyle change that takes adjustment.  When I learned I could not eat gluten, dairy, eggs and a host of other foods, I was concerned about how to manage these new restrictions, particularly with regards to my professional life.   As an associate at a law firm in Washington, DC, I was acutely aware that business entertaining was only going to be a larger part of my life moving forward, as would business travel and conferences.  It has been a couple of years now, and along the way it has gotten a lot easier. I do not hide the requirements of my restrictions, but manage them in such a way that the way I eat does not become a focal point of interacting with me either.  

The Big Picture

I have an abnormal immune reaction to eating gluten, which means I must avoid all forms of wheat, barley and rye.  When eating out, this means both avoiding foods containing gluten and exposure to gluten through cross-contamination.  Anything less than 100% compliance with avoiding gluten is not an option, nor is eating other foods I should avoid.  My goal is always to minimize the number of opportunities of being exposed to foods that would cause a reaction but also not let that get in the way of business situations that require dining out.

The Business Lunch

The key with business meals for me is being able to order a meal without my dietary restrictions turning into a conversation piece that detracts from business at hand.  I have a short list of restaurants that I know from past visits have procedures in place where they can feed gluten-free diners safely.  I always call ahead to go over my dietary restrictions and, if I am not going to a go-to place, ask questions about cross-contamination.  I also remind the host when I arrive at the restaurant to let the wait staff know.  Setting expectations repeatedly and going to the same restaurants has generally worked, though I am lucky to generally have at least a day’s notice for such meals.

Another option is to order “off-camera” – this is helpful at restaurants without gluten-free menus where I need to order a dish with several substitutions/modifications.  When I call ahead, I essentially place my order, such that by the time I am actually sitting at the restaurant, all I have to do is reconfirm with the waiter/waitress what I am ordering, rather than go through it from scratch.  This is also a good strategy if you foresee the lunch being time-constrained for any reason.  I also encourage you to check out these good tips on eating out when following a gluten-free diet, or these for dairy-free dining out.

Other Business Obligations That Involve Food

Business lunches and dinners are generally the setting where I have had to manage my dietary restrictions.  There are of course many other settings, such as:

  • Socializing with Colleagues: My office does not have a culture of lunch with colleagues, so I generally I bring a lunchbox which includes a meal and snacks every day I am at the office. However, there are a couple of lunch places within a few blocks of work where I can eat a gluten-free meal also suited to my other food restrictions, which also comes in handy for the occasional lunch with colleagues.
  • Networking Events/Receptions: I usually stick to not eating in these situations, but make sure that I have something to drink so that my hands do not look obviously empty.
  • Conferences: At conference luncheons, I tend to just ask for a plain salad without dressing and/or steamed vegetables and supplement those with nuts and other snacks that I bring with me.
  • Business Travel: I have not had to travel much for work, so am including these links on traveling to a conference, business travel and Celiac disease, and a gluten-free blogger’s resort experience.

Valerie is an associate at a law firm in Washington, DC and intent on thriving in all aspects of life – professional and personal.  She balances the demands of her work and long hours with her interests in food, healthy and mindful living, and a love for lists and planning, all of which you can find at her blog, City|Life|EatsYou can subscribe to City|Life|Eats via RSS or email or connect with Valerie via Twitter or Facebook.

Pictured: Gluten free aisle, originally uploaded to Flickr by Whatshername.


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  1. anon for this :

    I’m a vegetarian, so my restrictions aren’t quite as onerous, but these are all definitely good strategies that I’m going to borrow!

    Sorry for the early threadjack, but I can’t get this off my mind and need some support. My OBGYN just gave me a diagnosis of poly-cystic ovary syndrome (or however you spell that). She said I’m on the “milder” end of the spectrum and didn’t sound too concerned about the effect on my fertility. But of course I started Googling and freaked myself out. I’m only in my late 20s but DH just turned 40, so we don’t have the luxury of a ton of time, nor do we have a lot of money to throw at infertility treatments. Someone please tell me a success story about having children with a PCOS diagnosis…….

    • Anonymous :

      got the posting too quickly message (although, I honestly can’t remember the last time I commented).

      My sister was told that her PCOS meant she couldn’t have any more children. A couple years later, she had my nephew. (fwiw, she wasn’t trying in the interim, or when she conceived)

      • anonymous :

        I don’t have PCOS, but I did go through infertility (the “go directly to IVF, do not try tracking cycles, do not try IUI” type — which has pluses and minuses). I do have some general advice about facing a possible infertility diagnosis though.

        Start tracking your cycles now. Get an idea if you are ovulating regularly. If you are, then chances of natural conception go way up.

        I would also recommend having a serious heart-to-heart with your husband. Talk about your priorities, what you think your tolerance for treatment might be, what price tag you are willing to put on conceiving, what your next steps would be, etc. All of the answers to these questions might change down the line, but from experience, I will say that it is extremely helpful to have a baseline “rational” conversation to refer back to if/when you ever find yourself in the middle of treatment. It becomes very easy to be reactionary and let treatment drive you, rather than you drive your treatment.

        If it turns out that you are not able to conceive on your own within 3 mos of trying, I would immediately go to a reproductive endocrinologist. I know that they usually say to wait 6 mos or a year before seeking medical help, but since you already have a diagnosis, there is no point in wasting time (and it might take a bit to get an appointment). Don’t go to your OB/GYN and do find out who the really reputable REs are in your area. I have found that OB/GYNs are really good at getting babies out, but can be scarily ignorant about how to get them in. Fertility drugs should not be taken lightly (most of your high-order multiples come from insemination + fertility drugs and not IVF) and you should be carefully monitored by someone who has made their career out of maximizing your chances of pregnancy while minimizing your risk of multiples.

        Another thing to think about (really jumping the gun) is secondary infertility. If you and your husband plan on having more than one child, you might want to look into timing issues. I’m not certain, but I believe PCOS can become more severe with age. If that is the case, it may alter the way you approach when to start trying to conceive and how long you wait to space children.

    • My husband’s cousin’s wife (heh) has PCOS and an adorable 1 year old son!

    • Two healthy children, now in their 20s, so it’s absolutely possible!

      With that said, I did have three miscarriages before and between the children, but I don’t think the poly-cystic ovary syndrome was the cause (my mother also had a number of miscarriages). In fact, once diagnosed, it was never mentioned again. So apparently mine is also mild.

      • “In fact, once diagnosed, it was never mentioned again. So apparently mine is also mild.”

        Not to be snarky, but I think you were (very fortunate to be) misdiagnosed.

        • Ruby, that occurs to me, too, now that I see what other women have been through! In fact, I hadn’t thought about it for years. Maybe I’ll ask the doc to look at my records at my next appt.

          • If you’re really concerned you could visit an endocrinologist and get blood tests. But PCOS is a syndrome, which means it’s a collection of conditions; associated conditions include high testosterone, insulin resistance, high cortisol levels, hirsutism, acne, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, infertility, amenorrhea, menorrhagia, discoloration in the groin and armpit areas, hidradenitis suppurativa, and of course ovarian cysts. People with PCOS have several, but not necessarily all, of the associated conditions. People with one or two conditions that are also symptoms of PCOS don’t necessarily have PCOS.

            At any rate, if you don’t have problems with any of these conditions, you don’t have the syndrome. If you do have some of these conditions and suspect PCOS a blood test can show if you have the underlying hormonal imbalances that are necessary for a diagnosis of PCOS.

            One final important PSA: You do NOT have to have ovarian cysts to have PCOS. I wish I could get back the 3 years of my life I spent wondering wtf was wrong with me after my OBGYN mistakenly told me I could not have PCOS because an ultrasound showed no cysts at the time.

      • Oh, and my diagnosis was well before the days of Google or WebMD, so I didn’t have worst-case-scenarios in my face. I did have some drugs: Progesterone with one and I can’t recall the name of what I took before my daughter was conceived, but its purpose was to regulate my cycle. It worked so well and so immediately that my doc called in his partners to look at me. Perhaps it was brand-new in 1984?!

    • Do you have an endocrinologist? You need to get a referral to one, stat. Your OBGYN is not qualified to treat (or even really to diagnose) PCOS. Going forward, regular endocrinologist visits will be a part of your life, and managing the disease will help you preserve your fertility and your well being.

      I also highly recommend this book:

      There are also a couple online communities. One is called (not kidding) SoulCysters. I didn’t have much luck with the online communities, but they do seem very active.

    • I have PCOS and have not tried to have kids. However, my cousin is also PCOS (I think this stuff runs in families) and just had twins after being on Clomid for just a couple of months. Cousin is about 27-28 years old.

      As someone who was diagnosed when I was about 16 (and I’m now 31), I can say, don’t freak yourself out too much. Remember the people who post on the message boards are often the ones with the worst conditions who are desperate for help. Monitoring my diet and exercise have been huge in helping me control my symptoms (I am eating Reese’s as I write this–but overall eat really well), as has being on birth control pills (obviously inconsistent with trying to get pregnant, but great for the rest of the time). I also suggest you see an ENDO, rather than just your GYN, if you want to get pregnant and, generally, for monitoring your condition.

      • AnonInfinity :

        When you say monitoring your diet, what do you mean?

        • AnonInfinity :

          Oops… for context, I have PCOS too, but I’ve never been told to do anything special with my diet. I’m wondering if that could help…

        • I eat a diet high in fruits and veggies and low in processed foods (particularly sugary foods like the Reese’s PB cups I so love). I try to stay away from foods that will impact insulin production negatively–as in causing my body to overproduce insulin. I really should eat more protein, but as a vegetarian/Celiac, that’s easier said than done. My endo really encouraged me to eat as if I were a Type II diabetic, even though I’m not, to keep the insulin under control and reduce the changes of getting diabetes (since PCOS women are more at risk). So basically the diet is the same as what we all should be eating–and I fall off the wagon too (not trying to sound holier than thou here at all!). But I find my weight, skin, and energy levels are much much better when I’m eating the right foods and skipping the PB cups!

        • Please check out this book.

          I know I sound like an evangelist on this thread, but this book helped me so much in understanding how to manage my PCOS. Eating foods with a low glycemic index will really help you manage your symptoms, and that’s one of the many topics covered in this book. So many people get bad advice by doctors who don’t really understand PCOS and I’ve been so fortunate to be cared for by great endocrinologists; I want to spread the word.

    • I do not have PCOS but have dealt with other related issues and in my research learned a lot about PCOS and met many women with that diagnosis.

      If I were you, I would fast-forward any plans on starting to have kids you may have had. Maybe not to right now, but just sooner.

      Right now, I would go off any hormonal birth control you might be on and start charting. Buy the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”. Read it diligently and start at least temping. Use the site fertilityfriend[dot]com to keep track of your temps. Use the free version.

      Buy the book “Making Babies” if you are open minded about the possible benefits of a more holistic/eastern approach to fertility. Focus on the dietary recommendations for PCOS. If memory serves, it will recommend a reduction in simple carbs and alcohol for PCOS (but there is more nuance than that) and there are certain foods that are recommended. If you have time/money, start accupuncture. Accupuncture is a really common therapy for PCOS and I know women it has helped. Maybe it’s just a placebo effect, but who cares.

      The charting will give you a lot of information so if you do go to an RE (reproductive endocrinologist) you will actually be able to answer his/her questions and get started on the right path. Without charting, you are really in the dark about what your body is doing. It takes several months of charts to establish a pattern, so get started now.

      Good luck!

    • Diana Barry :

      They gave me a “soft” diagnosis of PCOS when I hadn’t gotten a period for a year. I took provera, then clomid and got pregnant right away.

      Good luck!

    • Bursting out :

      No experience with PCOS, fortunately, but experience of being ‘old’ (over 40) and wanting to get pregnant, which poses similar challenges, I think.

      These two books were incredibly helpful, and I give them credit for my current 4-month pregnancy. As I recall, they both have sections on special considerations for PCOS:

      –Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler (really should be required reading for all women & girls. For everyone, if you haven’t read this and are thinking about kids, even someday, read it!)
      — Making Babies: A three month plan for maximum fertility, Sami David & Jill Blakeway

    • Anon for this (PCOS) – The timing of your post is interesting because some research indicates that – for some women – going gluten-free could help reduced the impact of PCOS on fertility. In Europe, women with unexplained infertility are tested for celiac and/or gluten-intolerance. Hopefully, you will not have your fertility impacted but that might be something to consider and be tested for celiac if you have any of the symptoms.

    • Some questions … what led to the diagnosis? Are you trying and not conceiving? How do your blood results look? Not to be critical, but how is your weight?

      I was diagnosed with PCOS by one doctor in the string (long story) we dealt with through infertility. I was also told it was mild and IMO, since the diagnosis was never repeated, I’m not sure how much faith I put into it. Besides struggling with my weight (thank you, thyroid) and struggling to conceive, I did not have a lot of the symptoms.

      I did an insulin-resistant diet, along the lines of what a diabetic would follow. I really cut out processed sugars, focused on more whole grains and fruits/veggies. I’ve since had two successful pregnancies (and unfortunately, several early miscarriages) so it can be done.

    • I got a diagnosis of PCOS about a year ago, so I haven’t experienced this myself. I got a lot of tests done when I got the diagnosis, and don’t have the lack of vitamin D and verging towards diabetes that some might have.

      However, one of my best friends from college got the diagnosis in April last year, and had the latter two symptoms, and conceived in June/July – with the kid born in February. What she did was that she controlled her diet and exercised. Her diet consisted of cutting out the lighter carbs (she kept dark rye bread, which has a lot of whole grain, but almost everything else went), sugar and heavily processed foods. Essentially she went on a low-GI diet.

      So, it is possible.

      The low-GI diet is recommended for
      Apparently, it was

    • anon for this :

      Thank you all so much for the information and support. I’ve ordered those books, and have an appt with the OBGYN in a few days at which she will hopefully refer me to an endocrinologist. Taking little steps to get back in control makes a huge difference in mood.

      @GovtMom We plan to start trying soon, and 6 months ago I went off hormonal birth control in preparation for that, only to discover that I have terrible and irregular periods which can leave me constantly bleeding for weeks at a time. That’s what led my OBGYN to order the blood test. I have had annoying acne for most of my life, but my weight’s always been normal (5’5″, 130) and so has my blood pressure, thyroid function, hair growth, etc.

      I do have a terrible weakness for refined sugary foods…. And I usually have a glass of wine with dinner… Sounds like it may be time to phase those bad habits out of my life. Thanks again everyone!

    • I don’t have anything to add to this discussion, but I want to say I think it’s great you’ve gotten so many thoughtful responses. I wish you the best of luck with having a child.

  2. Great tips Valerie. You have done a great job of taking a situation that would freak out folks and break it into simple attainable steps. Great advice.

  3. This is such a great common sense approach to dealing with one’s food issues while maintaining a perfectly professional demeanor and atmosphere. Great tips, Valerie! I like the idea of placing one’s order ahead of time, too. Doing that by phone before the restaurant gets slammed just makes sense. It also avoids awkward conversation once you’ve arrived at the restaurant. I appreciate the link to my trip report on gluten-free dining on our vacation last year, too! More and more resort spots are doing gluten-free meals really well, especially when they focus on real foods and make dishes from scratch.


  4. For me, managing Celiac means always having a stash of safe food in my office (or handbag, or pockets) and never feeling anxious or uncomfortable sitting through a catered lunch in the boardroom with only a bottle of water while my colleagues chow down.

    Once you’ve made peace with your own limitations (which can take years, at least it did for me), the trickiest part is learning how to control the conversation, or at least manage it, so your health issues don’t dominate. Doubly important (and difficult) during interview lunches.

    • Kayne, your comments completely mirror my attitude. I have a Lara Bar in every briefcase/handbag/car/office and am a master at being comfortable while everyone else eats catered food.

  5. For “anon for this,” here’s the best article I’ve seen on reversing PCOS: (Uses primal diet, which is naturally gluten free. Read this success story; it’s amazing, and may be helpful to you! No, I’m not eating primal, but I can see lots of benefits from doing so.)


  6. If one has allergies to certain foods or even prefers a certain diet (like vegan or vegetarian), great, good, if we were all alike, life would be pretty boring. However, please only mention it once. I will be kind, helpful and understanding. But, don’t make a big deal out of it. I don’t want to hear “Oh you can have that, I would love to have that, but I am allergic. ” And definitely don’t lecture me that what I am eating is bad for me if yours is a chosen diet, not one imposed for health reasons. You eat what you want, I will eat what I want (I do avoid ordering meat when eating with a vegetarian. I don’t mind I am an omnivore).

    The same goes for people who have religious restricions on diet. I get it — especially during Lent. You gave up sweets or booze for Lent. Guess what? I didn’t. I don’t want to hear how wonderful you have been all Lent because someone is serving birthday cake at my party and you are not going to ruin your good behavior just for me. Not asking you to. Just asking you not to ruin my good time.

    Can you tell I had a lot of birthday parties ruined as child because of Lent?

    • Anonymous :

      I wholly agree with your post. In fact, I’m so self-conscious of being a vegetarian that I never mention it. If I’m asked based on my order, I generally say something like “well, I just don’t eat much meat…” and leave it at that. I don’t want people thinking they can’t order steak in front of me, or that I’m judging them, it’s simply none of my business what they eat (provided, of course, that it’s not human babies or something).

      • Yep – I do the same thing. I’ve put everything on a hamburger bun except the actual meat patty at cookouts, and just hope no one notices. Usually, they don’t.

    • As a Catholic, I’m pretty sure that the whole point of giving something up during Lent is so that you can talk about giving something up during Lent. :)

      • Hilarious!
        Also “explains” why people talk endlessly about what they gave up, whereas vegetarians usually don’t fit that awful stereotype of blabbing on & on about their choices.

    • “I don’t want to hear ‘Oh you can have that, I would love to have that, but I am allergic.’”

      If everyone without dietary restrictions agrees not to say, “I’d kill myself if I had to give up bread!” ever again, and also promises not to ask prying follow-up questions fishing for graphic details of my physical symptoms, then we have a deal.

      • Anonymous :

        People say that? Seriously? What tact!

      • Also wine and beer. Because yeah, my sulfite allergy is worse than being dead.

        Uh, last time I checked, dead people can’t drink wine either.

        • Why is it that an alcohol-related allergy is always one people can’t believe? Surely if you just drank more, you’d get over it. No one tells someone “Hey I know you are deathly allergic to peanuts, but just try one for me, okay?”

          • My favorite is “white wine doesn’t have sulfites.”

            OK then! I’ll just tell that to the emergency room doctor in between gasps of air!

          • I have asthma attacks just smelling some red wines/dark beers, so in many cases I do have to be upfront about it if I am having breathing difficulties. I talked to my allergist about it and apparently it is not as uncommon as I thought.

      • Seriously. I don’t want to talk about my gluten intolerance, but people feel compelled to grill me about all the details. Then there are the ones who don’t believe that I really can’t eat gluten, they seem to think I’m making it up for attention. I don’t understand the hostility that some people have towards those with dietary restrictions. And I don’t complain about it, I’m used to it.

        • The hostility present when a person is being unreasonably demanding? Understandable.

          Maybe b/c dietary restrictions mean that you’re special, even if it’s the kind of special that makes your life more difficult and costly. When I was unemployed, one of the more difficult parts was not being able to afford alternative grains aside from oatmeal and rice b/c I just accepted that my diet is more expensive.

      • KentuckyLawyer :

        AMEN! I really hate when people tell me – ooh I love bread/pasta/beer/carbs so much, I’d shoot myself if I could never have them again! And I don’t mind when people ask me what happens if I eat gluten (which they seem to ask a lot), and I usually just say something like, I will have an upset stomach for a couple of days. Any prying beyond that is just out of line!

    • lactose fail :

      Interesting EPLawyer. I am severely lactose intolerant and often will say something along the lines of “I would love to have that, I’m sure it’s delicious and I hope you enjoy it!” because I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t have whatever they want to eat just because I can’t eat it. I hope my colleagues say “mmmmmmmm pizza!” or “mmmm homemade brownies!” and really enjoy it, without feeling badly for enjoying it just because I can’t. What is it about “I would love to have that, but I am allergic” that bothers you? I don’t want to offend anyone.

      I of course agree that no one should ever be commenting on anyone else’s food choices.

      To the OP, I totally agree with calling the restaurant ahead. And if I feel like I’m not getting traction with the waiter when we get there, I’ll excuse myself from the table like I’m going to use the restroom, and go talk to the manager, and politely, graciously explain my concerns. That said, some restaurants have been epic disasters, especially outside the coasts (Bern’s in Tampa, I’m looking at you). Some places just don’t get it, or just don’t care. So frustrating.

      I also keep an arsenal of snacks and meals in my office and the communal freezer, so if the lunch meeting happens to be pizza (sigh), I know that I have lots of safe food waiting for me when I get back to my office. For office receptions, there’s usually a fruit or veggie tray that I can nibble on to look social.

      • Be careful *on* the coasts, too. (I don’t want a link to get stuck in moderation, but Google “Tavern on the Green + gluten”).

        • Always a NYer :

          That’s awful, no wonder they’ve closed their doors. I always remember my grandfather, who was a chef in NYC for 30 years, talking about how dirty that place was. He never worked there but it was infamous among restaurant workers.

        • I googled it, and while that guy is clearly a total jackhole, it also looks like he never actually worked at Tavern on the Green (atleast with my google-fu). He has worked in restaurants as a chef in Colorado though.

          • Kanye East :

            It’s symptomatic of an all-too-common attitude that food sensitivities are just personality quirks and fads, as opposed to serious medical issues.

      • anonymous :

        That’s great that you are so sensitive to thinking about others being comfortable eating in front of you.

        I think the issue with some people is the “I would love to eat that” part of the comment. Depending on how it is said, it can be guilt inducing. You know the that can be heard dripping from the words?

        That said, I think with friends, it is perfectly appropriate to ask to not have them eat certain things in front of you — especially if you are having a craving that day. Keeping the tone light, I think, is the key.

      • Anonymous :

        I’m originally from Tampa, have eaten at Bern’s many times (have no dietary restrictions, though), enjoy the food and the bordello decor, and really want to hear the epic fail story!!

      • Anon at 2:16 does a great job explaining the problem with those kind of statements.

    • Wow, as someone with a long list of food allergies I am sick of discussing it. Perhaps it’s not much fun to discuss for either side.

      It’s more challenging at a potluck or at someone’s home, where some people take it really personally if you cannot eat their food.

      • Anonymous :

        I think we’re talking about different things here. I completely understand that you have a long list of food allergies, and it’s appropriate to discuss in context. There’s a difference between “Here, have some soup!” “No, thanks, I’m allergic to tomatoes” “Oh. How about some pasta,” “No thanks, I’m allergic to gluten” is one thing. Going “ooooh, I wish I could eat that creme brulee, but I’m allergic to dairy” “I’m sorry to hear that” “ooooooh, it looks so good, but I can’t have any!” “Yes, I’m terribly sorry about that.” “Man, just one bite would be soooo great. But I can’t have any. Really too bad.” “Yes, quite.” “But I bet it’s good, right? It looks sooooo good.” “Erm, yes, sorry.” is an entirely different animal. If people take your allergies personally, that’s really their problem. If you remind them of it every second, that’s when it becomes your problem.

        • That’s it exactly. I don’t want to hear it over and over and over and over. Mention it once so I don’t accidently feed you something you should not have and DROP the subject. It does not need to be beaten into the ground.

          I used to be allergic to sulfites. Grew out of it somehow. But when I was, I just mentioned sorry can’t have that and left it at that. Although did have the wine argument alot. Look, I said “no thank you” that should be enough folks.

          Same with Lent and giving up stuff. Don’t get all self-righteous with me. I didn’t tell you to give up the good stuff. Mention it once and shut up. Don’t go on and on and on and on and on about how good you are. Because if you have to mention it all the time and be a martyr about it, not really a sacrifice in my book. Plus, just trying to make the rest of us feel guilty for enjoying something you can’t.

    • Really? B-day parties ruined because of Lent? I’m curious – because someone gave up chocolate/cake/fun and felt the need to share it?

      My birthday will always be during Lent for my lifetime (Trivia – its also the earliest possible date for Roman Catholic Easter, but won’t happen for another couple hundred years), and I can’t say I’ve ever notice any interference.

    • With all due respect, get over yourself. As a vegetarian bordering on vegan, I don’t know how many times I’ve eaten iceberg lettuce at a company event because “isn’t chicken vegetarian”? I don’t lecture anyone, but I do ask if there will be vegetarian options because iceberg lettuce is not enough foood for me. Even with a side roll.
      I had lots of birthday parties ruined as a kid b/c everyone was on vacation (I have a summer birthday). I don’t get upset when people talk about vacations and how much fun they had…Geez. Listen to yourself!

      • That’s just rude. That is not the sort of thing OP was talking about – asking if there will be a vegetarian option. You appear to want to play the victim and see some sort of personal slight where none was intended. Please excuse me if I am incorrect, but it is something you might want to consider.

        • What? Seems to me like sorting it out in advance was a big part of the op. Or are you one of those people who assumes that vegetarians could just pop a bite of meat whenever we want & our gut would miraculously develop the right cultures to deal with things we haven’t eaten in years? Not gonna happen!

    • I think restrictive diets can be such a major issue, and the social issues around them are not the least of it! The advice in this blog post is great…I had to be on a super restrictive diet because my baby failed to thrive (he went from 50th percentile to 2nd percentile, and was starting to get weaker….then I eliminated a list of 6 common allergens, and within 3 months he was back up to 50th percentile and is now very much thriving!!!). I don’t mind talking about it in the context of parenting, but when I was trying to eat in restaurants, believe me I didn’t want to talk about it!!! This ws doubly true in a professional setting. It was stressful enough trying to figure out what to eat when I was avoiding wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, and nuts. And I can tell you corn is in everything.

      The other day I was in my favorite coffee shop (I do a lot of work in coffee shops). The owner had to leave, and the only employee was a new one who was very nervous. The owner asked me to help her out if she got in trouble, and I found it interesting that the trouble she got into was a with a woman who wanted very detailed information about all the ingredients because she had food allergies. Really, this customer just wanted to engage with someone about her “thing” – being on a super restrictive diet (so I engaged and she about about $30 worth of stuff….gotta help support my favorite coffee shop :)) I’m not claiming that her allergies weren’t real, but I think sometimes people need to have a “thing” to latch on to.

  7. Great job, Valerie. I’m grateful that business lunches and dinners are not something I have to deal with, but the things you have learned from your experience makes you a valuable resource for those who do. Thanks for linking to my conference travel post!

  8. Anonymous :

    Side-comment: Anyone else notice that the people with *actual* medical dietary restrictions often make so much less of a fuss than the people who choose to go gluten-free, etc? It’s just so interesting to me that (in my experience – not saying it’s true for everyone), often the people who it actually matters for are so much more appropriate about it (note the thoughtfulness in this article – thanks Valerie), and the people who could eat gluten-contaminated foods squeal and whine about it more?

    • Anonymous :

      It makes sense– it’s like the newly converted, literally to a religion, or to anything else. If it’s just your life and you’re living it, versus it’s a lifestyle pick, you don’t need to gush. No need to be embarrassed either, I hope. As in all things, we should be who we are, not worry about either hiding or projecting. Just be, proudly, and in the case of diet, safely.

      • OMG you should have heard the fuss my sister made when she got her Dx–more whining and anguish than idk, when I had a miscarriage. Certainly more than I’ve said in 25 yrs as a vegetarian.

        • JenK, you need to get over it. Vegetarianism is a choice. Celiac is a disease.

    • What amuses me are the people that go gluten-free without the medical necessity (Celiac’s, IBS, Crohns, allergy). It’s not like a gluten free diet is going to really benefit you otherwise, so why put yourself through the headache, unless you WANT something to point out to people.

      • Not to mention that there’s evidence that once you go gluten-free, you can’t go back because your body will actually become intolerant to it if you don’t eat any gluten for a long period of time. I think I remember seeing a link where you could even pass this voluntarily-acquired intolerance on to future-born children (sorry, it was a while ago so I don’t have a link). Seems a bit extreme just for a dietary fad (to be clear, I’m only referring to the people who do this by choice!).

    • What I don’t get are the people who claim an allergy when they don’t actually have one. I know that there are some people who actually have food allergies (I have some myself). But, I also know several people who claim an allergy to anything from milk to onions, who at most have a sensitivity and/or, too often, just don’t like the food for taste or diet reasons. It also drives me nuts b/c (1) it seems so simple to just say you’re not going to eat something without having to make up a reason, and (2) I feel like it makes the rest of the world treat genuine, serious allergies/food intolerances less seriously.

      Very good post.

      • goirishkj :

        Agreed. Except I don’t eat seafood (no good reason, I just don’t eat it!) and when I’ve ordered non-seafood dishes at seafood restaurants I’ve been asked if I have an allergy. I’ve also been asked if its an allergy when I ask to make simple swaps (i.e. is there anyway not to have the shrimp in the pasta or is it cooked with the sauce, etc.) Understandably, the restaurant probably doesn’t want me to stop breathing–I hear it is bad for business!–but then I have to explain that I’m just picky and haven’t outgrown my childhood food issues. Sometimes I think it would be easier to claim a non-existent allergy when asked, although I usually (wo)man up and admit the real reason.

        Great post.

        • Always a NYer :

          I agree, I’m a very picky eater – don’t like seafood, parsley (i.e. green stuff), want any sauces on the side. I’ve finally grown comfortable enough to joke that my ordering habits are like that of a five year old, wait for the inevitable guffaws, and then move on.

          Loved this post, especially the ordering when placing the reservation.

      • Absolutely. I’ve had a number of friends and colleagues with dietary restrictions due to health or religious reasons, and I hope that I am always supportive of their needs (okay, I don’t have two sets of dishes, but other than that…). However, I’ve also had a couple of friends who seem to prefer telling others that they are allergic to specific foods rather than they just don’t like them (let alone just eating a little and not saying anything at all). In some cases it’s become a real joke because everyone knows that they’re picky eaters and/or occasionally attention-grabbers. Food allergies can be incredibly serious and unfortunately behavior like this really trivializes the potential consequences.

        (Please note that I don’t automatically assume that anyone claiming allergies is just making it up!)

      • What I don’t get are people who refuse to believe that I really can’t eat gluten without severe pain and not so fun bathroom issues. Just because its an intolerance and not an allergy does not mean it’s not real. And continuing to expose myself to gluten will cause irreparable damage to my colon.

      • Financial Mama :

        YES. My daughter has genuine allergies to milk and egg. (like, vomit, breakout, struggle to breathe). People claim milk “allergy” so often (when it’s actually an intolerance, much less life threatening), and it’s starting to annoy me, because i do definitely see the apathy towards her actual medical need.

        My favorite: “gosh, it’s a good thing she doesn’t have a PEANUT allergy!” (“then it would be serious!”) oh, and she’s two, so she could have a nut allergy we just don’t know about. Thanks, random genius.

        Anyway, I’ve found that personally, as I’ve tried various “diets” (low carb, etc) I feel less need to justify…I just adjust. BUT, when it comes to my daughter being able to breathe, I will be focused about it. Not obnoxious, but still.

    • I totally agree. I have a cousin who cannot eat any peanuts or anything that has been in contact with peanuts and he has dealt with the allergy like a champ his entire life. My friend with the self-diagnosed Celiac’s… is totally obnoxious about her dietary restrictions. She unexpectedly showed up with a group of friends for whom I was making dinner and began to quiz me about the ingredients. (What brand? From which grocery store? etc etc) And then she even took containers out of the trash can to look at the ingredients I used in a few dishes. I saw her at a girls’ night at a friend’s house a few weeks ago, and she did the same thing. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me so much, but the self-diagnosis combined with the Harriet-the-Spy moves sets me on edge.

      • Epi-pen owners unite!

        I don’t expect people to go out of their way to accommodate me. However, I do expect them to be honest about ingredients, which is different from ignorance.

        It’s really not fun when your throat starts to close up while you’re alone and you don’t know if it will close 100% before you can get medical help. It’s infuriating when people say it’s all in your head. Stress-related is one thing; “made-up” is another.

        • Did I imply that I lied about ingredients? If I did, I certainly didn’t mean to. I had to stop cooking for all the people at my house (who were invited and whose dietary restrictions I gladly accommodated) and list every ingredient I put into each dish, retrieve recipes for a few of the dishes, and watch my friend open my fridge and my trash can to look at the brands of food I used.

          I know there are people that deal with allergies and food reactions in a much less obtrusive way – I have cooked for them and gone out to eat with them. I was simply agreeing with the OP’s observation that those who make dietary choices are sometimes more obtrusive about that choice than those who have a medical condition and don’t have a choice at all.

          • Sorry, I am not referring to your situation specifically. Most of my statements related to this post are general and anecdotal experiences, not about other people’s experiences. Like I said, adults should be generally responsible for their own meals. That level of effort isn’t worth it–she should just cook for herself.

    • This reminds me of office parties/luncheons/whatever where some sort of alcohol is being served. I don’t know why but many feel the need to remind me that I don’t drink. Yes, *I* know that I don’t drink, you know that I don’t drink, why are you bringing this up?

      • anon for this :

        I know exactly how you feel. In college, I didn’t drink and had no problem being the DD for the night. Without fail, someone would always comment about it and it would turn into a bigger deal than I wanted. Because, you know, if you don’t drink in college you’re a total freak (sarcasm). What did I do? I’d bring juice in a water bottle and tell people I preferred my alcohol to theirs. Sadly, they’d accept that over me not drinking.

        • Alanna of Trebond :

          Omg — I used to “mix my own drinks” — i.e. orange juice + whatever other non-alcoholic mixers were available. Whenever people asked what was in my little “mixed drink”, I would respond somewhat opaquely. College students are often obnoxious though.

        • Agreed! No one understands that I just plain don’t like the taste of alcohol. “It’s an acquired taste!!” But why would I want to acquire a taste for something that’s not good for me, expensive, and I don’t like to begin with??

      • I just commented on this above. It seems like it is one of the few restrictions people have that it is okay to comment on ad nauseum. I’ll happily order my lemonade or whatever drink I want and you can happily order your beer, wine, mimosa, whatever. Should it really matter if I elect to drink lemonade instead of alcohol if I am not commenting to anyone about it?

      • Muslim too :

        Hah, that’s so funny. People make such a big deal about that

      • Yes, I am allergic to alcohol too. Fortunately the citric acid allergy has decreased somewhat so that I can hold a seltzer and lime.

        Why do some people feel so uncomfortable around others who make different choices?

    • Jane Fairfax :

      The last kids birthday party I took my son to the mom thoughtfully provided an array different cupcakes satisfying different dietary restrictions–vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, baked in a nut-free facility etc–all from different “certified” specialty bakeries. I really don’t know how she found them all. A couple of parents still brought out their own cupcakes for their kids to eat. Look, I understand packing treats if your child has a dietary restriction so they won’t feel left out, but if someone was thoughtful enough to provide for your child, wouldn’t you save it for later or at least be subtle about it? Actually, what I found more surprising is that seriously half of the kids were on gluten free diets. I understand that there are medical conditions that require a gluten free diet, but I thought that they were relatively rare. Either this party had a skewed sample, or controlling your child’s gluten intake is the new trend. I left the party feeling like a bad mom for not caring more about my son’s diet and since I posted this, I am obviously still smarting from being out classed in the super mom department.

      • Wow (to what the mom did) and wow (to the prevalence of ciliac’s etc… among the kids). I swear we are slowly poisoning ourselves into extinction.

      • It always seems more and more like we’re somehow dividing into two factions- people that don’t care at all (i.e., parents that let their kids drink all the soda they want and eat fast food 8 days a week) and people that care way, way too much. Are there any parents left who just do a happy medium of try to usually have some veggies and keep the soda down but a happy meal every now and then is fine and for goodness sake, enjoy some birthday cake, like my parents and pretty much everyone that I grew up with did? I find it hard to believe that allergies/sensitivities are that much more common then they used to be.

        • I think there are plenty of people in the middle of the road camp – they just don’t make for interesting horror stories :) The problem of anecdotes vs. data.

        • I’m firmly planted in the middle. We do our best to give our kids healthy food, and teach them how to make good decisions, but I have way too big of a sweet tooth myself to keep sugar out of the house. How can we teach our kids moderation in our food choices if we don’t let them have the less healthy stuff sometimes? I refuse to call food bad. Denying them McDonalds just makes them want it more, because it’s forbidden.

          What drives me even crazier is the restrictions put on the lunches I pack for my kids for school, and I don’t mean asking for peanut free foods. There isn’t a cafeteria, and if I decide to send a treat one day, my son will get in trouble for having candy in his lunch. Our previous school awarded points to the kids based on how healthy their lunch was. I know that some parents send awful stuff in their kids lunches (dh was an elementary school teacher and can tell some stories) but the kids of those of us striving for moderation shouldn’t be made to feel bad if we send a small treat once in a while!!

        • Self- and mis-diagnosed food ‘allergies’ seem to rampant these days, and very trendy on the coasts. There are some times I am very glad to have moved to the Midwest!

          Here’s an article about it from the New York Times. Bottom line from the article: if you or your child have been told you’re allergic to a large variety of foods, you should consider a second opinion. The newer blood tests used to diagnose allergies have a lot of false positives!

      • Wow, that just seems really rude.

      • Unless the hostess mom had stated in advance that she’d be getting all the special cupcakes, I think it’s fine to bring your own cupcakes for your allergic kids. Otherwise, the kid would be left out while everyone else enjoyed cupcakes. The alternative would be to ask the hostess to make something special, which is rude.

        • SF Bay Associate :

          And even then, if I had a child who was deathly allergic to peanuts or another allergen, I would still bring my own cupcake that I was certain was safe. Maybe the hostess mom was incredibly thoughtful, but she probably isn’t an expert in avoiding cross contamination, and just one touch of uncertified peanut-free cupcake by her or her kid or the hubby who’s excited about cupcakes being around, then touch my kid’s cupcake… a trip to the emergency room.

          I also imagine that the mom who brought a cupcake is trying to stay on-message with the child: “your allergy is life-threatening, so the only food you can 100% trust is food you bring. Do not ever eat non-home food. We bring your cupcake so you can have fun too.” Otherwise, even if this hostess is a rock star at food safety, maybe the kid grabs a cupcake at the next party because hey, he got one of the (safe) hostess-provided ones at the last party, and then goes into shock. It’s got to be incredibly difficult to keep telling your deathly-allergic kid “no” all the time.

          I hear that gluten-free is a new way to manage autism symptoms, so maybe the families are trying that out? Autism seems to be more prevalent in families with “older” (in the medical definition of pregnancy) mothers.

        • Yes, and it’s not easy for young children with food allergies, as some adults interpret their food choices as irrational pickiness. As much as I dislike my food allergies, I’m greatful they began at age 14– old enough to cook for myeself and to be taken (somewhat) seriously.

      • A lot of kids with behavioral/attention problems improve on a gluten free diet.

      • My understanding that some parents with children who have autism spectrum diagnoses, including Aspergers, are using gluten and casien free (cow dairy) diets as a way to help with their children’s neurological/behavioral issues. I don’t have any personal knowledge of this, but things I’ve read online say that a lot of families have had success with their children.

        That said, I think its ridiculous when you are so rigid about food you can’t eat at a party!! Sure, I prefer to feed my kids organic dairy, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial dyes, flavors, preservatives etc, mostly organic vegetables, organic meat that hasn’t been in confinement barns….but I don’t try to control **everything they eat all the time, every single thing they put in their mouths!!!!**. Honestly, I think this type of controlling behavior could contribute to eating disorders as the kids get older.

  9. Excellent advice! The part about ordering ahead is brilliant, never thought of it before. A colleague has trouble with business lunches because of her dietary restrictions, so I will be sure to pass this on to her.

  10. Great article and seriously timely for me. Yesterday my doctor recommended the complete elimination diet to me to address some digestive issues I have been having for years. For those unfamiliar, that is where you eliminate all potentially allergenic foods from your diet (gluten, soy, dairy, etc.) and then slowly add them back in to try to identify what you are reacting to. It is severely restricting.

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the diet, especially since i have been living the work all the time, eat whatever is handy sort of lifestyle. It will require me to reallocate a good deal of time to thinking about what I’m going to eat. I appreciate all the tips and the resources. If anyone else has done this, I’d appreciate their thoughts on the complete elimination diet too.


    • I would advise that you spend some time looking online. There’s a LOT of elimination diet resources, incl. some sample daily diets. Then take them all with some degree of salt and decide what works best for you. With just a little bit of planning you should be able to make lunches, etc, that will work for you while you go about your busy day. After a week or two, you won’t even notice the “inconvenience” anymore in your daily schedule.

      I used to eat a TON of fast food and prepared foods before I was diagnosed as a Celiac (I can’t even imagine what it was doing to my digestive system… gross!) Now I basically prepare all of my food at home… at the beginning it was overwhelming, but now it seems second nature.

      Just read the labels on everything, stay away from the middle aisles of the supermarket, and, contrary to what people may say, you don’t need to shop exclusively at Whole Foods for an elimination diet ;-)

      • MJ, I second what SF Girl said. I did an elimination diet while working private practice attorney hours, and it can be done. :) The inconvenience factor dissipates and it starts to become second nature.

    • We had to do the elimination diet for our son when he was young to uncover the many food allergies he had. It’s a pain, and it takes forever to read all the food labels when you’re just getting started (e.g., does the chicken broth you want to buy contain corn syrup or wheat?) but it’s definitely worth finding out for sure what the issues are. Just make sure that you leave enough time after introducing each new food so that you’re positive you do not have a reaction, as it can take a couple of days for a reaction to show up.

    • Be patient, and be honest with yourself. The sooner you can make the connection between what you’re eating and how it makes you feel, the sooner you can make peace with (potentially, but hopefully not) giving up foods (even if they’re your favorites).

    • Bursting out :

      I did a ‘soft’ version of this last winter. I required cooking at home more often, and bringing leftovers for lunch, but when I saw how my energy skyrocketed when I stopped eating gluten and refined sugar, I was pretty well convinced of its value.

    • Really good advice!

      I am allergic to Fish and it is embarrassing to always say that because most things do not have fish in them and would not likely have fish in them. But now, they are putting fish in dairy products to boost the DHA. I stopped asking at the restaurant unless I order something obvious. That is until my ham sandwich caused a reaction…I have tried the call ahead approach when meeting people out at a sushi restaurant.

      That being said I agree people with allergies are more subtle than life style choices. I was just told. If someone chooses the restriction, you probably did a lot of research or were persuading by something powerful. Therefore, you probably have a better story about why than I do.

      Lent has also had an impact on my restrictions, due to the whole fish on Fridays being misconstrued as you HAVE to eat fish on Fridays.

    • This type of diet may have saved my nursing baby’s life (see above). It was also really, really good for my own digestion. I felt healthier than I had in a long time, and it helped tremendously in losing pregnancy weight. The list my doctor gave me is wheat, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, and nuts. Corn is the hardest because it is in **everything**. If it says “modified food starch” it may be corn or wheat. I pretty much ate vegetables and meat. I don’t know how I could have done it vegetarian. I ate a lot of lamb, which is supposed to be better in terms of baby allergens than beef. I also made sure that I always had protein in the morning to help me get through the day. I also added nuts back first (you may not need to eliminate nuts at all…I did because the doctor thought it was possible my baby was allergic to nuts). I would recommend adding goat and sheep dairy and eggs back early on because it will open up a lot of foods. Goat dairy is easier to digest than cow. Make sure you have something around that feels like a treat for you…I made stuff from the baby cakes cookbook. Good luck! This is a hard diet, but it can do wonders to heal your gut.

    • I had some significant stomach problems and my doctor provisionally diagnosed me with both gluten and lactose intolerance and suggested an elimination diet. I was so concerned about my awful symptoms that I cut out both and felt better but not way better. Anyway, I eventually went to a different doctor and had a scope…turns out I have an esophageal hernia exacerbated by lactose intolerance (which my mom remembered I had as a kid and grew out of but has come back). So the solution for me is to lose some weight (I’m not way overweight, maybe 20 pounds) and eat much smaller meals. I reintroduced gluten but kept the milk products away and feel way better. So don’t just accept the gluten diagnosis without some skepticism…it might be something else, with a different solution.

    • DaisiesNHeels :

      Check out “GoPicnic” and “oskri” for quick on the go “eat whatever’s handy” lifestyle. I’m on a pretty restrictive diet right now as far as Gluten-Corn-Dairy-Eggs, but I also tend to follow the I’m just gonna eat whatever’s nearest – which sometimes ends up being my neighbor’s M&M bowl (poor me, I know right :) ). I’ve been very excited about all the new food choices that are available in stores. What also really helps me is keeping some fruits like peaches-oranges-apples-bananas closeby for snack-attacks since they don’t really take any prep time and they’re more or less transportable and last at least through the week.

      Good Luck!

  11. Ordering ahead is a great idea in theory, but I have found it so rarely works, at least in my life.

    I generally find myself in the “hey, let’s go to lunch” predicament. I have alerted folks in the office to my allergy (I’m a Celiac) because I don’t want to constantly have to re-explain it to everyone. For the most part, people “remember” and try to find something that works. I generally don’t remind people of my allergy though on the outset of us going to lunch because, really, it’s my issue, not the group’s. If they choose somewhere that’s a bit difficult, I will simply order something that’s bland (steamed veggies + rice), but I don’t make a big deal about it because, after all, it isn’t about the food, it’s about the company.

    I find the overly-obsessed folks that dominate conversations with their food choice to be stifling. I don’t want to hear about your latest cleanse or your fad diet anymore then you want to hear about my food allergy. What you choose to put into your mouth is your prerogative… what I choose to stick into mine is mine.

    In the end, you have to figure out what works for you. I have found that the low-drama approach works best. Keep it simple. The people that create the problems are those that draw vast amounts of attention to themselves: “oh, I can’t eat THAT… can you order something for me? Why can’t this office support alternative diets?!” Ugh. (Looking at you, former officemate who was a vegan).

  12. Kat – thanks again for inviting me to guest blog and highlight a topic that I suspect many other people face.

    Everyone else – thank you for your comments. I did try to make this piece as thoughtful and all-encompassing as possible, but ultimately I think everyone has a different way of handling these things based on their workplace and own needs, so this is one of many perspectives on the matter :)

  13. Blonde Lawyer :

    To those of you that dislike hearing about food allergies/intollerances, think about whether you may be someone who tries to inadvertantly force food on others. That might be why you are often subject to TMI. I’ll give you some examples I’ve endured.

    1.) Party for Joe in the conference room! Ice cream cake! Hey, blonde lawyer, cake? (me) No thanks. Coworker – aw come on, you are so skinny, you can spare the calories. (me) It’s not a calorie thing. (them) Oh, do you not like ice cream cake? (me) No, I’m just lactose intollerant.

    2.) Joe – I bought cupcakes for everyone, here is yours. Me – no thanks. Joe – aw come on, you have to, it’s a gift. Everyone can cheat once and awhile. Me – I can’t Joe, I’m allergic to the dye in the frosting. Joe – oh. (I walk away feeling like Debbie Downer again.)

    3.) Business lunch at Mexican place. Me – I’ll have a garden salad. Coworkers – really, they have the best Mexican in town! Me – oh, I have to avoid spicey food. Them – you can get it mild! Me – oh, I know, it just doesn’t agree with me. Them – well, everyone pays the price of a Mexican lunch. Me – yeah, but I have a medical condition that makes it that much worse so I’ll stick to salad thanks.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I have now resorted to just telling people about my digestive disease to avoid these issues. I’m sure I’m now labeled one of those tmi people but it is just so much easier than the discourse described above.

      • Anonymous :

        Well said. No one should be offended by hearing the name of the disease you have to live with every day.

        • Obviously, context is everything. But I think when most people gripe about TMI or folks who discuss their food issues too much they don’t mean your example. I would never consider it inappropriate for someone to say, “thank you, but no, I’m lactose intollerant (or whatever it is).”

    • I’m Italian and from a big family that Eats!, and this is something that I really have to remind myself of. I love to cook, and to share my cooking (So I also have to remind myself to hold back for Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office reasons). For my sub-culture (and many others), sharing food is just really important for community purposes. I don’t think that I’ve ever been guilty of doing more than just offering, but my gut always tells me to push like you’re describing for some reason, so I get the people who are being obnoxious about it, in a way. (I get them, but I don’t excuse their behavior).

  14. Anonymous :

    SFGirl and EPLawyer, why all the hate for vegans? Some of us are so quiet and unassuming about our lifestyle that you probably don’t even know we’re vegans. Others tend to be more matter-of-fact, because frankly, we’re sick of nibbling celery and reassuring everyone we’re “really not hungry” when our stomachs are growling. But the obnoxious vegan? My experience is that’s a rare breed, and usually someone who doesn’t stay vegan for very long. (For what it’s worth, obnoxious omnis don’t tend to stay omni very long either. Most people can’t stand to be defensive about their diet, I guess.)

    You can have your gluten-free crackers, let the Catholics forgo cake during Lent, and let me nosh my veggies, nuts, pasta in peace please.

    • I don’t want to defend the people who’s responses bothered you, but, if you’re choosing to nibble nothing but celery sticks, and you’re hungry, I’m probably going to tell you eat something that everyone else is eating.

      (I’ll say that I don’t really know any vegans (I know a few people who flirted with it, but none that could make it last.), so I’m only familiar with this breed of obnoxious ones on the internet, where lots of people are obnoxious. Most of the vegetarians that I know personally are relaxed about it, too.)

    • THANK YOU Anonymous. I have never lectured anyone about my diet and I’m constantly lectured. And no, Lyssa, its not as simple as eating whatever everyone else is having. I’ve been up all night with diarrhea when someone doesn’t mention that, oh, the spinach is cooked in lard when they know I’m vegan-ish (vegetarian and vegan for most things).
      Its not an allergy but my body can’t tolerate meat products. I’ve actually never had a man speak about my food choices with disdain. Only women who feel the need to talk about burgers and steak and act like I’m a priss for not eating that.

      • What I said was that *when* it’s a choice, don’t complain about the fact that no one made special arrangements for you. If it’s not a choice, fine, that’s different. But if you’re going to choose to eliminate certain very common for most of the country foods from your diet, I don’t want to hear you complaining about being hungry when no one made special provisions for you.

        • Lyssa, what many people don’t know is that digestion isn’t carried out by our bodies. The gut is home to lots of flora & fauna–very small organisms– that actually digest our food. Different types digest different food. If you don’t feed them, they die. Then if you eat the food that they would have taken care of, it’s indigestible for you

        • My point wasn’t about the right to whine. My point was that it’s perfectly acceptable to state (in a neutral tone) why you’re eating celery, if that’s all there is for you to eat. Vegans shouldn’t have to hide being vegan. Lots of celebs are vegan (Bill Clinton, Portia & Ellen) — why should it be considered unacceptable in professional settings?

          [And no, after being an ethical vegan for 15 years, I’m not going to eat cheese just because there’s nothing vegan at the reception. I’ll wait and eat afterwards.]

    • I don’t think they minded vegans – I think they mind sanctimonious vegans, or sanctimonious anything else.

      • I don’t suppose they see being sanctimonious about being an omnivore a problem though…right? Because that’s how they sound.

        • No, Anon. I think that’s just how you are reading it.

          • I’ve had women (never men) say I must be a wimpy lawyer because I don’t like the taste of red meat.
            Several women.
            Women are mean to each other and many women are mean to vegetarians. In my experience. And they are sanctimonious. In my experience. If you don’t give a sh** what anyone else eats. THANK YOU. Because I don’t. I only care what I eat.

    • My mother is a vegan. She is the kind who tells you that you are fat because of your diet, that you have diabetes because of it. She never feels bad for people who have heart attacks because of their diet. She once opened the curtain of the emergency room person next to us (ironically while I was there on an allergy…) to tell them all about vegan cooking and how they will die if they don’t switch (which they were very happy to hear!!). She’s also a gym and health teacher so maybe it is just her way of “teaching” others. Unfortunately her little speech has like a 20% success of getting people to at least go vegetarian. Unfortunate because she is going to keep doing it for the 80%.

      It is obnoxious for others I bet (not that anyone tells me my mother is annoying – and they BETTER NOT! :) ). I always ignored it as one of those embarrassing things “moms” do. Doesn’t everyones mom interrogate the farmer’s market people to see if their veggies are organic?

      I will say this, if you tell her to eat what everyone else is eating, be prepared to hear the speech. If her research is right, she will be telling us about it for another 50 years.

    • Warning: Rant. If you get easily insulted or agitated by verbal dysentery, do not proceed further.

      First off, I have a bunch of vegan friends. I have NO hatred for vegans. I get that veganism is a choice. No problem with it whatsoever. Do what works for you and your life. In fact, if you actually knew me, you might think your insulting comment was hysterical given that I went to a college where veganism was the norm.

      Moving on.

      My point in my previous post was geared to the issue that I have a distaste for people who insist on shoving their beliefs and their ideals onto other people. In the example I used, I was simply pointing out one ex-co-worker of mine because she was such a shining example of what NOT to do. If she had been allergic to peanuts I still would have used her as my example because I am 100% positive she would have been just as ridiculous. It was her personality and the way that she approached the food situation, NOT the fact that she was a vegan. I thought I made that pretty clear with the quote that I inserted.

      This is EXACTLY what I mean about the entire problem. People get so da*n defensive. I don’t give a flying crap what your personal food choices are. Eat whatever you want–what you choose to stick into your pie hole is your choice. What I do care about is whining/complaining/expected excessive compassion, etc.

      The End.

      • I think this issue touches a nerve because:
        1. we eat several times per day, if we’re lucky
        2. what a person chooses to eat relates to their belief system regarding what is “acceptable” and what is “unacceptable”
        3. food symbolizes many things beyond calories and nutrients –love, piety, discipline, indulgence, etc.
        4. Not everyone agrees as to what is edible and what is not, and some are very loud about pushing or encouraging others to eat or abstain from certain foods

  15. Closet vegan :

    Great article & excellent timing! I am just beginning to grapple with this issue as a vegan who’s new to the workforce and working in a very non-vegan city. I’ve quickly realized that I need to stash some nuts or other food in my desk for emergencies. This article gives me hope that it will get easier with practice.

    One thing I wish that other people realized is that most people with dietary restrictions do NOT want the conversation to focus on their diet. I would much rather whisper my order to the waiter, quietly nibble on my plain salad, and pretend that it’s totally filling while you eat your steak than have everyone fuss about my diet. Although I know people are trying to be helpful and may be genuinely curious, I’d much rather talk business and establish professional relationships than have my diet define our interactions.

    • You might really like a blog written by a friend of mine – the name of the blog is Choosing Raw – she has several posts on dining out, but the two I am thinking of are titled “Calling Ahead” and “Dining In, Dining Out” – they are older posts but if you google Choosing Raw and the titles they should pull up. Or feel free to get in touch through my blog and I can send you the links. They are both great resources for vegan dining out.

      • Closet vegan :

        Thanks! I think the hardest thing is the spontaneous lunches. I have yet to get the chance to call ahead, see a menu, or even really know where we are going until we arrive. However, the “call ahead” advice is great for when you are able to plan ahead.

  16. This might be a little off topic but do you ladies have the same issue with the type of food served at office lunch meetings? My office always serves sandwiches and salads for meetings. However, I find it really hard to eat because you have to eat and talk. You basically have to wait for those 5 seconds when you gauge that no one wants you to say anything before you bite into your sandwich and quickly chew it before you’re called on again. Sometimes the worst happens and people ask you a question after you’ve just taken a big bite of food! It can also be messy. I always have mayo or something on my cheeks after I bite into a sandwich or eat a big piece of lettuce! Wish there was something easier to eat during meetings.

    • Anonymous :

      So glad I’m not the only one!

    • Our office often has donuts or some kind of pastry at morning meetings, and it is impossible to eat something covered in powdered sugar and not make a giant mess!! I (which is probably good for my waist) have just stopped even trying to eat one during the meeting.

    • I feel like I chew too loud to hear what is going on when I eat a salad at a meeting. I am by no means a self-conscious person, but I also feel like everyone is looking at me when I eat. I take a few bites and then wait until the meeting is over and eat at my desk. My secretary ate her WHOLE pickle in one bite, and NOT because she thought she had an audience either.

      I cannot think of something better though. Soup is hard to transport. Most Asian varieties requires two hands. Chipotle type food requires no explanation. Pizza works but is bad for you.

  17. I have a similar question for you ladies…

    I have a client who I know has to eat gluten-free. She always insists that I choose a lunch venue, and has never complained. I keep repeating two restaurants that I know she enjoys eating at, but I would love some advice on choosing a restaurant at which I know she will be able to enjoy herself. Thanks!

    • A lot of restaurants have gluten free considerations in place, so your best bet is to just call around and find out which places have a good selection of things that will fit her needs. Chain restaurants are probably your best bet (since their corporate headquarters will usually send out a number of special needs menus, that individual places don’t have time/volume to do). My brother was mis-diagnosed as celiac for a while (poor kid, went without pasta and bread, in an Italian family, for about 2 years when he never had to), and we almost always ate at Asian restuarants during that time, so, as far as I know, they’re pretty much fine.

      • GlutenFreeLawyer :

        Just a note to be careful at Asian restaurants — the first ingredient in soy sauce is wheat, so it can be difficult to eat gluten-free when it’s a staple.

    • I just discovered this website. I found several restaurants with good gluten free choices in my city that I wasn’t aware of. They even have an iphone app you can buy from itunes.

  18. Anon for this one :

    For those reading this without restrictions, be thankful! I am allergic to:
    Asparagus, Barley, Cottage cheese, Cheddar cheese, Swiss Cheese, Corn, Cucumber, Eggs, Garlic, Chili Pepper, Gluten, Grapes, Lemon, Lettuce, Malt, Cow’s milk, mustard, onion, orange, white potatoes, rye, soybeans, swordfish, tomato, black walnut, watermelon, wheat, and peanuts. I have to carry around a little laminated note and I almost always get white rice or a spinach salad (with just the dressing) at all restaurants.

    The first time we found out what was making me so very sick all the time, my family went out for a meal with a group of friends. Others kept saying “I am glad I don’t have allergies” and “well what can you eat?” It just seems like so many people (including restaurant staff) are intolerant of this type of medical restriction. I do not go out unless I am attending an event and most times I do not eat.

    It’s embarrassing and it’s a huge inconvenience. But I am thankful that I am healthy in every way that I am because of this. I also have more epipens than extremities if anyone else needs one!

  19. Valerie – great post! I have been gluten-free for 2 years now and am just now starting to get the hang of eating out and navigating business lunches. I am thankful that my office is small now, and while we sometimes have catered lunches, my coworker that arranges the meals insists on at least asking the caterer if they can accommodate. We don’t have a big “let’s do lunch out” thing going on, so that’s not a big thing for me, but I do frequently attend lunches at events held at hotels. The kitchens there are accommodating – I call ahead and ensure they can handle my lunch, and I can discreetly ask the wait staff to help me out. I love your “calling ahead and making an order” idea. Definitely will have to keep that one in mind.

  20. NOT to single out vegans … but here’s a great example of how annoyed anyone can get when his/her explanation of eating choices is continually questioned. **warning – cursing starts at 2:15 in video, which is almost at the end **

  21. Seventh Sister :

    I’m *really* late to the party, but great post, Valerie! You are as awesome a gluten-free guru as you were as a roommate.

    As someone with small children, I can attest to how thoroughly obnoxious some parents can be about food. Someone at my kids’ preschool wanted to cancel or replace the Halloween celebration for its “overemphasis on food” – and we don’t even have candy at preschool! Maybe an optional cupcake per kid. I understand that allergies are very real, but if I have to endure one more lecture about the evils of goldfish crackers I’m going to snap and tell the well-meaning fellow parent that organic granola bars cause dementia.

  22. KentuckyLawyer :

    I’m so glad to see this post! I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease 3 years ago, within a week of starting my career as a lawyer. Our office is fairly social and people will go out to grab lunch, and I know that I tend to seek out these opportunities less often because I am scared about being glutened. There are a few fast food-type places around my office I can grab a safe lunch at, but not many reliably gluten-free-friendly sit-down places. I like the idea of ordering ahead. I have sometimes called the restaurant ahead of time and asked about certain menu items, so then I can just order like everyone else. I hate when I have to ask the wait staff a question (like whether the mushrooms are sauteed in soy sauce) and have it hold up everyone else’s order while they go check with the chef. Calling ahead could help avoid that. I know I need to push myself to seek out opportunities to socialize with colleagues–the last thing I want is for my Celiac Disease to hold me back in my career!