Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fast Food Rant

I have probably mentioned this before, but it bears significant repeating. One of the hardest adjustments my husband and I had to make with our conversion to a (mostly) gluten free household was giving up the vast majority of fast food and takeout. Now, I love to cook when I have the time - and I make the time now - but let's be honest here. Sometimes you just don't want to be bothered. And while there are plenty of restaurants with gluten free menu options, who can afford dining out every night? A $10 pizza or fast food meal is sometimes just the best way to go.

Now, before I go any farther, I know that fast food is junk, not good for us, and we're probably eating a lot healthier by sauteeing chicken, etc. That's not really my point - it's a guilty pleasure that we sorely miss. And many gluten free convenience foods have just about the same nutritional value as fast food, but they're more expensive, not always good, and you still have to make them at home!

I do have to say that most of the major fast food chains are great about posting allergen information right on their web sites. It's so handy to be able to go to a website, download the allergen information and make an informed decision about whether or not to go there. And I'd especially like to call out Boston Market. They are the only fast food restaurant where it's possible to get a full meal - chicken, starch and vegetable - that's completely gluten free. That's amazing, and thank you!

That said - if you're craving Mexican, you're just about out of luck.

First, I checked Taco Bell. Like most fast food restaurants, they are kind enough to post their allergen list online. As you can see, there are exactly three "safe" items on the list: pintos 'n cheese, mexican rice, and tostadas. That's it. No tacos or anything with meat, because their seasoning mix contains wheat flour. I'm sorry, but that does not make up a meal! I was slightly irritated and e-mailed them asking for more gluten-friendly menu choices. My response was a snail-mail letter a few days later, informing me that my e-mail was a "product suggestion" and therefore could not legally be considered. Thanks a lot, guys.

Next on my list was Moe's. I had Googled for their allergen chart and found it, but since it wasn't hosted or linked to directly by their web site, I e-mailed them for confirmation and an up-to-date allergen list. Instead of a generic blow-off letter that I took as a "heck with you," I had an e-mail dialogue with a customer service representative for the company. I found out that the only items containing gluten were their chicken, steak, and every/any variety of corn/flour tortilla, shell or chips. After additional e-mails back and forth between the customer service representative, we had the following exchange:

Now on one hand I have to give Moe's props for thoughtful customer service. They seem to "get" allergens and cross-contamination and while I have to say I'm sorely disappointed, I can't exactly blame them for not having a dedicated fryer for every ingredient, can I? So, it looks like if my hubby and I want Mexican in the future, we're either making it at home, or visiting El Loco's for a sit-down dinner. Certainly not bad options, but it would sometimes be nice to have more choices.

There is not gluten of any form in our corn chips or corn tortillas. However, we
do fry our chips and taco shells in-house. We also use the same fryer for our
salad bowl, which is a fried flour tortilla (contains wheat gluten). Since they
are being fried in the same oil, we have to list those items as containing
gluten, due to cross-contamination in the frier. Have a great day!

[Moe's Rep]

-----Original Message-----
From: [Kat's GF Kitchen]
Sent: Tuesday, September 09, 2008 3:07 PM
To: [Moe's Rep]
Subject: Re: Moe's Customer Service CRM:0004926

Hi, and thank you for your response to my e-mail.

I was surprised to see that absolutely none of your wraps or chips are gluten
free. I would expect that your soft flour tortillas would be off-limits, however
the fact that your corn tortillas and chips are not safe is extremely
disappointing. There are several commercially available varieties of corn
tortillas and chips that are safe for celiacs and others with gluten allergies
and intolerances, without sacrificing any taste. From my point of view, if I
have a choice to go out and only eat taco fillings or make food at home, I'd
stay at home.

Please consider modifying your menu to provide at least one option for pure corn
tortillas, with no wheat or gluten.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.

I haven't even started on Chinese food - but if I could find a good
Chinese restaurant that used gluten-free soy sauce - and better yet,
rice flour - I would be in heaven. (Again, I know PF Chang's is gluten
free, but they just don't compare to Pearl of the Orient).

That said - does anyone know of other good, gluten free fast food
choices? I know things like the fries at Five Guys are gluten free -
but a meal is not made on french fries alone. Are there any places
worth going for a quick, cheap meal when we do need to grab something on the go?


Lisa said...

I have had the same issue with Mexican Restaurants. I do however, go to Moe's on occasion. I order the "Art Vandalay" Burrito - Streaker Style, which means without the tortilla. You get all the stuffings in a bowl. Last time we went, I brought my own corn taco chips.

I also go to Chili's. They do have a gluten-free menu, however, as I found out last time, not all waitstaff are on board. I ordered the baked potato soup and it came with crackers (wrapped in plastic, but still) and a ceasar salad, which came loaded with croutons. I sent that back and was issued a brand new salad with many apologies. Unfortunatley, there are not many "Mexican" gf choices on their gf menu. Their taco chips not gf. I bring my own there also, so I can share my husband's salsa and guac. I do order their ribs, which are quite good.

Kat said...

Lisa, thanks for the comment!

Just bringing chips to Moe's is a good idea. Still, by that time, I somehow feel that we may as well just make them at home, you know? That avoids any potential cross-contamination issues (the spoon skimming across a flour shell) that may arise as well.

I've seen Chili's GF menu and it's on our list of places to go eventually. I also called Pancho's and while they weren't part of my little rant, they didn't really know anything about it so there's another place to avoid.

HOWEVER - I have heard that El Loco in downtown Albany does have a dedicated gluten free menu. It should be so easy for Mexican food - we dined for a week in Mexico with no gluten issues - that it just boggles my mind that more restaurants don't support it. But I'm craving Mexican so we just might have to check out their GF menu! :)

Lisa said...

Kat, you're welcome! Yes, I do end up cooking at home most of the time. I just really miss going out once in a while...even just so I don't have to do the dishes!!!

I live right around the corner from the Pancho's off Exit 8. I can smell their food sometimes when I take my afternoon walk. I never even attempted to ask them about gf, I'm not sure why, but I just assumed they wouldn't have anything.

Let us know how you make out at El Loco if you go!!!