c/o Erin’s Restaurant
Rock Hill, S.C.
I want to thank you for the delicious dinner my wife and I enjoyed at your restaurant last week.
As someone with celiac disease, I was especially pleased to see that almost every entrée listed on your menu was accompanied by “gf,” signifying it was gluten-free.
In the seven years since I was diagnosed with the hereditary condition, I have come to appreciate restaurants that make it easy to order a meal without worrying whether the ingredients include wheat or may have been contaminated during preparation.
I can’t tell you how many eateries I have stopped patronizing because they don’t offer enough items I dare consume. The last time I ate at an IHOP, our server advised against ordering an omelet because the batter contained wheat. Likewise, I don’t expect ever again to set foot in a Red Lobster after learning so few of their entrées are gluten-free. (Man does not live by shrimp scampi alone, I assure you.)
Given your sensitivity to my food issues, Erin, I thought I owed it to you to explain why I intend to name your restaurant as a co-defendant in the $10 million lawsuit I am filing in federal court.
I got the idea from reading an Associated Press article about how the Justice Department has determined that severe food allergies can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It seems that a small university in Massachusetts has agreed to settle a federal complaint brought by a student who claimed the school would not exempt him from a mandatory dining plan even though his condition prevented him from eating what was served.
Not only did Lesley University agree to make gluten-free food available for students who suffer from celiac disease, but the Cambridge, Mass., institution also agreed to pay $50,000 to affected students.
Originally, the ADA was limited to more traditional disabilities. Under the law, any establishment that caters to the public is required to make bathrooms accessible, provide parking spaces for handicapped customers, add ramps for those who need to use a wheelchair or walker, etc.
Most Americans, I think, appreciate the need for such rules. Even people without a relative who has benefitted from guaranteed access to businesses, government buildings and other public spaces understand that they, too, one day may become disabled.
Some critics are upset that the federal law seems to have been expanded to cover food allergies. “The fact that this is a federal case and the Justice Department is going to be deciding what kind of meals could be served in a dining hall is just absurd,” Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation said.
Not surprisingly, the president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness applauded the Lesley University settlement. “All colleges should heed this settlement and take steps to make accommodation, Alice Bast said.
Under the settlement, the university not only will provide gluten-free menu items but also will allow students to pre-order meals, provide a dedicated space for storing and preparing gluten-free food and train staff about food allergies.
After years of not being able to eat pizza or wolf down a ham and cheese sandwich whenever I choose, I look forward to walking into restaurants, armed with my copy of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Which brings me to my lawsuit against your fine establishment, Erin.
Of the nine or 10 entrees listed on your menu last week, all but one was designated “gf.” The one that didn’t carry that symbol indicated the recipe could be amended.
Aha! For me to have enjoyed that entrée (for the life of me, I can’t recall what it was), the kitchen would have substituted another ingredient for the rice pilaf.
Therein’s the rub: The very idea of foregoing rice pilaf has left me emotionally drained. I haven’t thought about anything else since.
I’m sure you’ll understand and not take my lawsuit personally – unlike the guy in the McDonald’s drive-through to whom I tried to hand a subpoena last week…
I guess there’s no Big Mac in my near future.
Email former Herald Editor Terry Plumb at firstname.lastname@example.org.