Gluten-Free? Not if You Ate at Damian Cardone's Restaurant!

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My name is Mir, and I have a sensitivity to gluten. I'm lucky; unlike sufferers of Celiac Disease or people with a severe allergy, gluten doesn't debilitate me or threaten my life with anaphylaxis. All that I know for sure happens when I eat gluten is that I have a lot of (annoying, but non-emergency) problems with my skin. I suspect I also have some other symptoms, but the skin is the main thing. And while I wish I could eat gluten, and wish that I could eat it all the time and not have it wreck my skin, I am one of the lucky ones, because if I eat it accidentally, it doesn't make me ill.

Here in the United States, it's estimated that 1 in 100 people suffer from Celiac Disease. And something like fewer than .5% of people have a true wheat allergy. But add it up, and that's still a whole lot of people who may find themselves dangerously ill if they happen to eat wheat. For those, eating becomes a much more complicated proposition; having to be so vigilant as to avoid not just wheat, but foods that may have been cross-contaminated, means eating out is often difficult or impossible. Fortunately, more and more restaurants are offering gluten-free options, along with taking the appropriate measures to insure that their gluten-free options are safe for diners who need them. That's awesome, right?

pastaWell, it is when it's true. It turns out that chef Damian Cardone took it upon himself to decide that gluten is good for everybody, and then he bragged on his Facebook wall about how he served regular high-gluten pasta when diners ordered gluten-free.

Take a minute to let that sink in. Celiac or allergy sufferers went to a restaurant that advertised appropriate gluten-free offerings, and were then fed not a cross-contaminated dish or a little bit of wheat, but an entire plateful of the stuff, because this guy decided that their medical problem was something they'd made up in their heads.

As word got around the gluten-free blogosphere, it came to light that Cardone often complained about the "Liberal hippie idiots" who ordered gluten-free offerings in his restaurant. So let me stop here a moment and remind you that I don't become deathly ill if I eat gluten, so I suppose someone like me is the reason Cardone felt confident dismissing the entire non-gluten-eating segment of society as delusional. After all, I could eat a plate of pasta and feel fine, so I must be full of it. In my case, I won't experience the deleterious effects of gluten consumption for several days. And for those with Celiac, ill effects may not surface for hours or even days, but when they do, symptoms include intestinal bleeding (just as pleasant as it sounds). That's serious stuff, not a "liberal hippie fad," but real, dangerous health consequences.

Chef Cardone's Facebook profile has since been removed, and he has been fired from his job. That's... good, I guess, but I can't seem to find anything that indicates that he's being brought up on charges of any kind. And the last time I checked, poisoning people was illegal.

Chrissy of Injera and Chocolate Gravy wrote an open letter to Cardone, including this:

If you have ever had food poisoning, ever had the flu, ever laid on the floor of the bathroom with your cheek on the cold ceramic tile - shaking and shivering - you have a clue as to what happens when you poison your diners with "high-gluten flour" pasta.

The Daily Meal's Jess Kapadia wrote an open letter as well, pointing out the obvious:

Nobody pretends to have gluten intolerance. Everyone likes sandwiches, bagels, noodles, waffles, and pizza. If you give up those things and feel at least 100% better, you have it. I, a born-and-bred New Yorker, gave up pizza, bagels, and half the things on brunch menus and in Chinese restaurants across the city. It wasn't something I wanted to do. Trust me.

Andrea Mitchell covered this story for Foodista with several updates along the way, and some of the best information is happening in the comments. ChrisB adds:

Just want to dispute the “chef’s” basis for his belief: that bread and flour have been staples for thousands of years. This may be true, but NOT the flour and bread we are eating today. The manipulation of wheat and other grains by agribusiness is frightening.

As Melinda Beck brings up in an article in The Wall Street Journal, the gluten content of wheat has been increased.

Elizabeth Mari at Beyond My Two Cents claims she knows where Cardone was coming from because she feels elite foodie-ism is out of control:

And, it’s not just gluten – it’s wheat in general and dairy too. This chef is sick of people that pretentiously eat ‘gluten-free’ and talk about how great it is and what good it’s doing for them. Sure, they ‘supposedly’ don’t have as much gas and bloating, maybe even headaches and what I call laziness after pasta…

(But I tell you what – I would suffer a little gas and bloating for a great meal!! – maybe that is what separates me from your average foodie. Why do I want to suffer from the boredom of alfalfa and flax seed?)

(She does clarify, however, that she understands Celiac Disease is real and that she doesn't agree with what Cardone did.)

And finally, Auntjayne wonders what is up with all the hate:

I don’t understand why anyone would purposely make another sick. I certainly don’t understand the animosity toward those of us who have Celiac disease!

Correct me if I am wrong, but in Canada and the USA, restaurant owners can pretty much put anything they want on their menu – and omit what they don’t want to serve.

Why is it then, that there are people in the food industry who choose to include gluten free items, would then feel the need to contaminate the food?

There is a new group on Facebook called Gluten. The tag line says “We love gluten and hate people who can’t eat it” WTH!!!???

I have to believe that this guy is the exception to the rule, but still. If I had Celiac I think I'd be afraid to eat out, after hearing about this.

Are you (or is someone you love) gluten-free? Do you think Cardone is the exception, or was he just the only one dumb enough to brag about it on Facebook?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin misses pizza, sometimes. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

Photo Credit: scelera.

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