A Parade that Includes People Throwing Flour? What’s a Celiac to do?

chef who is a celiac

Being a celiac means considering things that others don’t have to. It doesn’t mean living in fear, but it certainly means living in a state of heightened awareness. Take this fellow celiac’s dilemma:

Hey Gluten Dude,

I have to admit this isn’t how I planned my first email to you to go. You see you got me through some pretty tough times, and although I’d love to go into them and how you and the community have really supported me and given me strength to remain a chef and move ( a lot!) I have a question that can’t wait.

I live in the beautiful Mediterranean city of Marseille, France where every year the square where I live is filled with thousands of people, dancers, jugglers, children’s choirs, all for ‘carnaval.’ I only moved here six months ago so this will be my first. And yes it’s true France is one of the worst countries in Europe for coeliacs (I would say the worst but I don’t get around that much and I’m pretty biased.)

I run the kitchen in an arts cafe on the square and as we speak we’re building a giant sardine effigy to be burnt on Sunday (I know … don’t ask me why it’s a thing here …) Basically everyone is mad excited. The only issue: every single person carries a bag of flour, kids, grandpas and clowns included. The whole square is engulfed in flour (or at least that’s what I’ve been told).

I’ve been thinking of buying a HAZMAT suit (seriously) but somehow I just don’t think that’s going to cut it. I’ve been looking into masks and overalls but I won’t even be able to take off my mask to have a drink/ chat to mates. It’s a tricky decision to make because I feel like no one here really ‘believes’ in coeliac disease – as if it’s like the fairies! (sorry fairies). I don’t eat out at all here and my diet’s Whole30 every 30 so my colleagues and friends haven’t seen me sick.

Look, I get it, we don’t get to do some stuff. I’d love to go grape harvesting and take time off work in September but we all know ‘bed and board’ provided just ain’t going to include cross-contamination awareness here in France. Oy being a coeliac twenty-something is tricky.

Should I stay or should I go now? (GD note: Nice shout out to the Clash.)

Also dude, seriously, can’t thank you enough.

Dang…that’s a new one. I looked it up and yes, it seems that “flour fighting” is indeed part of the Carnaval. Perhaps this will be limited to a small section? Yeah…wishful thinking. Flour in the streets means flour in the air, which means flour in your system. If the streets really are engulfed in flour, hate to say it, but you gotta skip it.

And while I think you’d stand out nicely in a haz-mat suit, I can’t see it being very convenient. Or comfortable. Or fun. But it would make for some interesting conversation.

Sit this one out. And maybe next year you can convince them to use gluten-free flour?!

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14 thoughts on “A Parade that Includes People Throwing Flour? What’s a Celiac to do?”

  1. therainbowbookworm

    That sounds like celiac torture. I wouldn’t advise going anywhere where flour is in the air; I’ve accidentally inhaled flour before and ended up very sick. You shouldn’t go on those streets at least until it rains, and even then I’d be very very careful.
    Good luck!

  2. Go on holiday to Scotland. My daughter and I had a wonderful week in Edinburgh, and the restaurants were very GF knowledgeable. Had delicious food every day. We did stay in a hotel that has a small restaurant, not in a B&B.

      1. I second this! I want to see pics if you go in the hazmat suit. Paint it to say flour with a big no symbol over it and bring bags of GF flour to pass out

    1. I’m a year and a half late to this, but I would TOTALLY DO THIS! You can be both lighthearted AND educational about it. You’ve (global you) got to protect yourself at all costs. If you can make people smile and think, you’ve won a Celiac battle my friend.
      Hey GF Dude, have you heard from him since? Did he make it through okay? I once got desperately ill while on vacation when I chose to buy GF flour that sat on the bottom shelf of a wheat filled flour aisle. My sister & I had ordered our go-to GF gourmet feather light flour for our week at the beach, but the place we ordered it from sent us 6 lbs of straight garbanzo bean flour instead 🙄. It was too late to reorder. Anyways, we washed the flour covered box we bought at the store, then washed the bag of flour inside before opening it. My sister made her famous chicken tenders, and, as is the typical gluten response for me, we were still eating supper when I got desperately ill and stayed sick for the next 3 days.
      Hoping our Friend in France faired well!

      1. All Bob’s Red Mill GF Flour in Washington and Oregon is contaminated with wheat flour, just as you described. The distributor places all flour, gluten as well as gluten-free on the same 4 shelves, alphabetically! Have you ever met a flour sack that doesn’t leak?! I tried to order GF brown rice flour from my usual supplier but they were out and I really needed it for the holidays. SO…I bought BRM GF at my local Safeway, had them put it in a separate sack, took it home, put the whole deal in the sink, and then took the BRM flour sack out of the Safeway sack. I washed the sack of GF flour with Dawn, washed my glove-covered hands, took off the gloves and disposed of them in a ziplock bag, washed and rinsed my hands again, dried my hands and sack with paper towels, and then made the cookies with the BRM GF flour. AND I GOT SICK! Bob’s Red Mill refuses to take any responsibility, they say once they sell the product to the Distributor their liability ends. The Distributor refuses to return my calls, emails, and texts. When I see an employee of the Distributor stocking the shelves in Safeway they say they have no choice but to do as they are told. I refuse to give up educating everyone as to what Gluten Free really means. I just hope I remember that nothing has really changed and I cannot eat most ‘gluten free’ food unless make it myself. These days the only time I get ‘glutened’ is when I forget and/or go into deep denial and gluten myself. Thanks for listening to my rant. You can’t make this stuff up!

        1. I also decontaminated the sink, counters, everything. I used a whole roll of paper towels. I was meticulous. The wheat/gluten didn’t care how meticulous I was, it still got me. Ugh.

  3. We lived in the Netherlands for three years, and Carnivale is huge in the country’s south, especially Maastricht where we lived. We knew many, many, many people who would escape the region during the festivities for any number of reasons, but mostly because the drunken debauchery was not their thing. So I suggest a holiday, and I suggest Italy — surprisingly, Italy is a great place to be celiac, and there are thousands of restaurants that have been trained by their national celiac association. The awareness is high, and the options are plentiful — you can have your wine, a wonderful meal, and more understanding people. I hope you get the chance to enjoy.

  4. Oh gosh that is too bad you are not enjoying the culinary experience of France. My son traveled through the UK and Europe last year. At just 17 and alone, I was concerned he would be famished or get glutinized. He ate like a king, France and Italy definitely being the highlights. The lodging he had in Marseille, he met a local French lad the same age also with Celiac Disease. He gave my son all the best places to go. Of course Paris had endless possibilities too. I hope you find your dietary way. If it makes you feel any better I am allergic to tomatoes including to the touch, and I was in Bunol at the time of the tomato throwing festival. ‘When in Rome’ does not always apply.

  5. I should have added this to my previous comment — this link is very helpful for checking things out ahead of time when traveling: https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/resources/travel-resources/celiac-associations-around-the-world/. Some countries do a better job than others with the resources and support that they provide, but these are at least a starting point for restaurant lists, places to shop, etc. And sometimes the contacts, too, are exceptionally helpful (sometimes not) in connecting you with resources and more ‘in-the-know’ information. I hope this is helpful as you navigate Europe!

  6. Ugh. Sorry to hear this. What a bummer. As if we’re not already left out of enough fun stuff! Sadly, I’d just have to stay indoors that day, were I in the same position.
    I sympathize. I was mentoring a child and at Christmastime the mentoring organization did a big group activity where they took us into the NECI kitchen (New England Culinary Institute) to make amazing holiday cookies with the kids. The kids look forward to it all year. I explained to them why I couldn’t participate. They offered to provide GF flour, but they just couldn’t understand that I couldn’t be in an industrial kitchen with tons of flour flying around! My mentee was super disappointed and I felt awful, but there’s just no way I could do it. I would have been mega sick through Christmas and into the new year.
    So, I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, but you definitely have my sympathy.

  7. I really can’t add more than the advice you have already given, but I am wondering what France he is in. My husband and I go to France every year for extended periods of time and have traveled all over that country — including Marseille. I have never had his “worst country in Europe” issues with celiac. The French truly “get it” and have bent over backwards to accommodate me. I just don’t want others to read this and be afraid to travel. Go. Europe is way ahead of the US and that includes France.

  8. The mental image of someone in a hazmat suit with flour flying around is amusing, but have you ever worn a hazmat suit? I am a member of my companies Emergency Response Team and I have had to work in a hazmat suit before and you don’t want to go there. They’re air tight and the material doesn’t breathe so the temperature and humidity quickly rises inside. It’s like being in a sauna. The picture is of a level A hazmat suit which requires an SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus). You can see the full face mask, but what you don’t see is the air tank on there back which weighs at least 30 pounds of more, depending on the size. I’d take a holiday and get out of town and not return until the dust, er, flour settles.

    a votre sante

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I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

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