Being Your Own Emissary: Tales from a Celiac Ambassador

This guest post comes from Kathleen Davis, a wonderful blog supporter and friend of mine. Kathleen and I are distant relatives through a family marriage, but our email friendship blossomed with her diagnosis of Celiac Disease in 2006. Although the only time Kathleen and I met in person was 10 years before her diagnosis, we have continued to grow our online friendship over the years. It is people like Kathleen that help keep me growing my blog every day. 

Kathleen loves “seeing how things are done in other regions of the globe and encourages others to fully experience wondrous things.” Her gluten-free travels over the years include Amsterdam, Iceland most recently, just about all of Europe, Canada, USA, and beyond. Kathleen is always 100% proactive in planning her global travels and she has kindly shared part of her most recent gluten-free vacation preparation. 

Being Your Own Emissary: Tales from a Celiac Ambassador

You’ve had a wonderful day, leaving for, getting to or visiting where you want to be. You’re tired and you’ve had supper and plan an early start for another fun adventure. You ready for bed and anticipate another adventurous day that starts the next morning. Only now you wonder if you will find anything gluten-free for your breakfast at a hotel chain. Breakfast doesn’t have to be a quandary for the gluten-free.

Yesterday, I called a location of big chain hotel. You know them; they are ubiquitous. They invite you to participate with Honors, Rewards, Privileges, and the like. They are for hotel usage but similar to frequent flyer miles with the airlines, except in my opinion, a lot more traveler friendly.

A call to the manager of the hotel we were staying was just right to learn how this particular hotel might accommodate Gluten-Free. I inquired about their breakfast buffet, asking what do they offer that is safe for Gluten Intolerance and told him I am gluten Intolerant. With ever-increasing gluten awareness, I hoped he might have heard of it. He had.

Promptly, he replied the breads are not safe but maybe the cereals and eggs are okay. Addressing his statement, I offered that most cereals are not gluten-free unless it has a clear statement on the packaging. Even yogurts and prepared egg dishes often add gluten. Was there a list within the hotel that clearly lists what they know for sure is Gluten-Free? Kindly he offered to compile a list of suitable gluten-free foods available for me. He asked if he could call me back within 2 days. I expressed my pleasure and am waiting to hear from him.

This reception is unusual. I have heard answers ranging from “What?” to “Yes. Please ask the morning Kitchen Attendant for the Gluten-Free cereal. We keep it secured in the kitchen so it remains safe for our guest.” And there can be a range of comments in between these extremes. It is so helpful to know that the cost of a room for all guests includes a pleasant first meal of the day, whether one is Gluten-Free or not.

I will let you know what develops as soon as I hear from the manager.

3 days later, I received his call. The manager introduced himself formally to me. Over the past few days he said he read through all their food labels to determine what foods offerings are indicated Gluten-Free. Not seeing the word “Gluten” on any labeling contents, he took the initiative to call their food provider. He said their food provider knew nothing and could not help regarding gluten content of foods they bring to the hotel. He ventured to say the fruits might be Gluten-Free but he wasn’t certain. He gave me the name of the yogurts (Dannon NB at end products) they offer but said he didn’t know if they were okay for me either.

He commiserated with a guest who had few choices from their gracious buffet. So many Gluten-Freers (GFeers) go through this multiple times daily, whether experienced, newly diagnosed or in unfamiliar waters. Some GFeers won’t even try traveling as the task of determining what’s for breakfast, or any eating away from home, can be daunting.

The manager and I discussed Gluten-Free briefly. He sounded genuinely interested in understanding and helping his guests. It was a true awakening for him, it seemed. This is what those with Gluten awareness for health and quality of life must do for every product we consume. Point made.

I asked if he could provide a sealed box of General Mills Rice Chex for my stay. He was happy to do so. I offered a solution for his efforts, a big plus in resolving his problem for his guest. It’s a win-win.

This experience is with but one hotel in a chain. This venture had a positive outcome. I’ve experienced a wide range of results in my travels. A little positive encouragement yields a favorable action on behalf of the hotel, more often than not. If one doesn’t try, the result is always negative, though. I encourage Gluten-Free, -Sensitive, -Allergic, and supportive people to at least make the inquiry. When the question arises frequently enough, hotel and restaurant chains recognize Gluten-Free needs to be a standard in food fare, with coffees, teas, cereals, eggs dishes, yogurts. We Gluten-Freers pay, just like other guests, so we should have a decent breakfast. Make it happen by taking the first step. If only one chain speaks Gluten-Free fluently, there is a very good chance that most hotel chains will want to be competitive and Gluten-Free foods will be available more widely when traveling.

As a Gluten Intolerant traveler since 2006, a hotel representative has not offered to compile their Gluten-Free offerings in anticipation of my arrival. More often, they either have a list or booklet of Gluten-Free or they do not. Most places want to welcome guests. If we GFeers ask, the hotel has a chance to shine. If we do not ask, we’ve missed our opportunity to mainstream GF.

Traveling within and outside of the US, I have never felt food denied since my diagnosis of Gluten Intolerance in 2006. We must speak up. This manager gets an “A” for his efforts. He learned firsthand how frustrating it can be to determine gluten status in foods. What a job, was his sentiment conveyed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he were able to convey this to the bigger powers that be in his organization to affect a major change in hotel breakfast offerings? I found that most chains’ breakfasts have nearly exclusively foods with gluten, which, of course, those with varying stages of gluten sensitivities, intolerance, or allergies cannot partake.

The result: This venue was successful in welcoming their Gluten-Free guest. Upon arrival, behind the front desk was a sealed box of Rice Chex with my name on it. How very nice! My breakfast was most enjoyable. After breakfast, I brought the cereal box to the front desk and asked for a clip to seal the inside bag. Rolling the inside bag down, I explained that if sealed well, the cereal will stay fresh and be a welcome breakfast for other Gluten-Free guests. I thanked the staff for their efforts, in particular the manager. How delightful not to worry about what many travelers take for granted – breakfast. Success!

NB: I called Dannon as they have no disclosures about gluten on their website when I looked. I was informed by Ahmed, a customer service person over the phone, that only the PLAIN Activia, PLAIN Oikos and Dannon PLAIN yogurts are considered gluten safe. They do not use the term Gluten-Free.

~KD

an agent or messenger sent on a mission, especially one who represents a government or head of state; an agent sent on a secret mission, as a spy.
Ambassador

an authorized messenger or representative; an unofficial representative: ambassadors of goodwill
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About Erin Smith

Living with celiac disease since 1981 and eating gluten-free long before it was "trendy", Erin Smith has a unique perspective of growing up in the gluten-free community; Founded Gluten-Free Fun in 2007; Founded Gluten-Free Globetrotter® in 2011; Founded GlutenFreelancer® in 2014. Erin was the lead organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup group, a social community of more than 2,000 members for over a decade and has recently started a support group in Northern California.
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2 Responses to Being Your Own Emissary: Tales from a Celiac Ambassador

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Glimpse of South America (Part 1) | Gluten-Free Globetrotter

  2. Pingback: Guest Post: Glimpse of South America (Part 2) | Gluten-Free Globetrotter

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