I stopped liking pizza long before I realized that it wasn’t about how I felt while eating it but how I felt afterwards. If I had known years ago what gluten was and how it could affect my body – I wasn’t diagnosed with celiac disease until my 40th birthday – I would have quit pizza and many other foods a long time ago. I remember my younger days with quite a few weekends of pizza and (imported) beer, two things that are exactly what I shouldn’t be eating or drinking.
On the other hand, the act of eating gluten free pizza is fraught with fear of:
- cross-contamination (as ingredients are snatched up by hands making wheat and GF pizzas alike, without handwashing in between),
- disappointment (tasting like the box it came in), and
- cost (gluten free pizzas are much more expensive and never go on sale).
Yet, try as I might, I can’t completely shake the pizza habit. Maybe, probably, no definitely the reason is… because I have young children. In the United States, pizza is a crucial currency in a child’s world. Pizza matters. Without pizza, children’s birthday parties all across America would be in disarray. What to serve? Hamburgers? Hummus? Seriously, pizza is the one food that “everyone can eat” and “everyone likes”. Even if some of us can’t or don’t.
Without pizza, children’s birthday parties all across America would be in disarray. What to serve? Hamburgers? Hummus?
Nowadays, I don’t let others (except family members and a small circle of friends) order gluten free pizza for me. I want to know the restaurant and how the order was placed to make sure the people making my pizza know what the heck they’re doing…. You know that old phrase, “once bitten, twice shy”? Although you can throw a rock nowadays and hit a pizza place offering gluten free pizza – well, I’m exaggerating, maybe an asteroid – that doesn’t mean they are all safe.
I spent one kids’ birthday party (not my own child’s, of course) taking a bite of gluten free pizza someone offered, feeling some effects of trace gluten and hoping I could make it through the rest of the party without an adverse reaction. All the while trying to smile at our gracious hosts for their hospitality. I’m not doing that again! (See my prior post on vicious cycles of niceness.)
If you start paying attention, you will notice that many of the major chains “don’t guarantee” that their pizza is free of cross-contamination. Try your hand at a search for “gluten free pizza cross contamination” in Google or another search engine, and you will easily find out more about why that is. (No, it’s not just better lawyers. It’s also more room for error.)
I mentioned one means of gluten cross-contamination above. The issues that make most restaurant pizza unsafe for celiacs and many gluten intolerants all have to do with how the pizzas are made:
Were the toppings prepared and stored in an area free of gluten and not touched by anyone cooking with gluten without thorough handwashing with soap?
Are all of the utensils gluten free?
Is there a chance for cross-contamination in the oven?
Funny as it may sound, the flour from a gluten pizza can blow around during the cooking, settling onto a gluten free pizza. Making gluten free pizza in a separate oven is the best bet. Or, if you are making pizza at home, let some time pass between cooking the gluten and gluten free pizzas or cook the GF pizza first. Some restaurants have the gluten free pizzas on a separate rack, which has mixed results.
Pizza also matters as much in the gluten free community as it does in the larger community of wheat-eaters. If you don’t believe me, find any common list of gluten free restaurants in a large city or state and add up the number of pizza restaurants as compared to the number of total restaurants serving gluten free. It gets kind of oppressive if you don’t like pizza, because that may be the only “safe” place to go eat with friends if you do not live (or are not traveling) in a place with more GF variety than America’s most ubiquitous food. But complaining will get me nowhere. It’s a matter of supply and demand, as well as what’s cheap and relatively easy for restaurants to serve and GF eaters to consume.
Note to new celiacs: As a practical matter, the pizza and other restaurants that generally have the best practices are the ones in which the owner or a family member has celiac disease. They get it. Really get it. Because they’ve seen firsthand all the crazy #$%! that can happen if they screw up. (I almost used the appropriate S-word that came to mind, but not in a food post!) And, most of the time, they train and motivate their people to get it too.