The average person has no idea

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(Unsplash / Landen Buckley)

I pulled into a shopping center, parked easily, and then walked toward the store that was a few doors down from the end. This meant that I passed by a lady seated in a wheelchair outside a café. She greeted me as I passed by, so I stopped to chat with her. I wasn't in any particular hurry, it was a beautiful sunny day, and it looked like she hadn't had many customers going by.

"Hello," she hailed. "Are you looking for a gluten-free restaurant? If so, you've come to the right place. I just opened this location about three months ago."

Although I actually wasn't looking for a gluten-free restaurant, I was interested in hearing more, so I sat down in the open café chair next to her.

"People who have celiac disease like I do can't go out to eat. There's no restaurant you can trust to be sure that there's been no contamination of products, like bread, touching anything you eat. I'm in this wheelchair because I'm still regaining my strength after a terrible bout with the disease last year. I lost 82 pounds. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder preventing you from ingesting any gluten product, like wheat, rye or barley. If you do, you can severely damage your small intestine."

She and her adult sons opened the restaurant several months ago and business has been good. "We make everything from scratch, like our breads, rolls, pancake batter, and even onion ring batter. We take great pains to prepare foods correctly that celiac sufferers can tolerate. Our busiest time is brunch on the weekends because there's no place around that provides the array of buffet items that we do. You can eat here with confidence."

"What's the cure?" I asked.

She said, "Oh, there's no cure. Celiac disease requires a lifetime effort to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Many folks think that would be very difficult to do, but it's really not, once you know what you can and can't eat. One slip-up of eating something that has even touched gluten sends you into agony."

More and more we hear about persons' food allergies, including gluten. Now for sure I know this is real.

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]