At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gluten-Free Failure

This blog of mine isn't meant to be a foodie blog at all, but seeing as food pretty much is a central focus of mine, I think it's reasonable for me to write about it. Because I live in a country that doesn't recognize Celiac Disease (and the USA isn't much better, to be honest), I have started to dream about living in a country like Italy, where everyone is knowledgeable of it. I just read this article by Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef and this article by Celiac Chicks, and I am ready to pack my bags and trade in my language and culture study from Japanese to Italian.

But seriously, after last night's failed dinner at La Fonte (a Japanese idea of an Italian restaurant) in Shuri, I woke up this morning thinking that I should I refuse to tolerate food prejudice. Basically, the restaurant refused to serve me dinner, but they waited until I arrived to tell me, instead of graciously phoning me in advance. I had the gluten-free card faxed to them notifying them of what I could and could not eat in advance, so I thought that everything would work out. Being refused by a restaurant would normally be something I could just move on from, but I was attending a dinner that was organized by the English Department on behalf of the prior ALT (who is in Okinawa for a short visit). So, I had to sit through several hours of chatting -- which I actually found pleasant enough to stay -- while watching other people eat delicious food. This was on an empty stomach, 6 hours after I had eaten my last meal. The restaurant did serve me a big plate of lettuce and tomatoes. I had to ask them to bring a bowl of rice, which they didn't do until halfway into the meal. It's ridiculous to eat only a plate of rice in front of people who are eating scrumptious looking pizza and pasta. Basically, it sucked.

I was also rather upset with my coordinator, who is the person at my school who is supposed to look after me. I had originally planned this dinner and had booked it at a restaurant I knew could attend to both my and the prior ALT's needs, as she's a vegetarian and I require gluten-free food. Unfortunately, the restaurant could not fit a party of 10. So, my coordinator took the reigns and booked at La Fonte. I understand why she did this. People don't want to rush through eating food, and we would have had to do this if we had gone to the restaurant I had booked. Anyways, it isn't that I feel entitled to have her do things for me, believe me I'd much rather be fully independent and not have to rely on her at all. What got to me was her lack of empathy for my situation. Remember tatamae and honne? I guess the honne was out in full display. Sad. Also recently she's made a huge deal about my status as gluten intolerant to everyone on the faculty, even though I've been at the school for a year and I've had this issue since I was 25.

This leads me back to dealing with food prejudice and prejudice towards disabilities. I think I'm starting to develop a sense of inferiority from this disease due to having to explain my issues over and over again and having people say "taihen desu ne" over and over. To have to work around people who treat it as a problem, rather than treat me as someone who is their co-worker who just needs a little extra help in finding places that will cater to my needs, really does affect me.

I guess I need to just accept it and get over it.  Or start advocating for myself.


  1. wow.. that`s a really rude restaurant!!! they could prepare so many things without gluten!!! maybe they are not creative enough!:P
    I also have allergy for a lot of things.. and I know how you feel.. :(

  2. I'm sorry for what u go thru. The taihen thig is cultural; still a country where challenge and disability is better I acknowledged and ignored. We adopted 2 boys with special needs from Japan for this reason. In the us u can have a challenge be a part of Ur life not the thing that defines u.
    Next time u have a group event, I'd bring a bento with u. Fax Ur card, eat something there if possible and if not, pop out the bento. If they r weird, say sweetly, I did t want to be a bother to u so I brought my own food and smile. The coordinator will lose face and realize that she has to b more proactive next time. Apologize profusely for being a bother but brig Ur own food.
    My suggestion, maybe it would work?
    Good luck and T&Y for posting!

  3. Thanks Regina and Stephenie for your responses. I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner to your comments. I just noticed them as my alerts were not on. I have been very careful about where I eat and how to prepare in advance for things in Japan. I have had to deal with real problems in Japan because of gluten intolerance. I should just write a blog about this, but I don't want it to be the one thing that defines my experience in Japan. Also, I'm not really a foodie blogger, though on occasion I post a few recipes or ideas on how to incorporate Japanese food into my diet.

    If you all have ideas on this, please do let me know. And if you blog, send me a link to your blog so I can keep in touch! Thanks again for dropping by and for commenting! I appreciate. ありがとうございます!