An 11-year-old Celiac is Forced to Eat Outside…in the Rain

celiac forced to eat outside

When I was in grade school, we went to Colonial Williamsburg every year for a class trip. Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the history and the culture of the times, or perhaps it’s because I had the emotional maturity of a small gnat, but all I remember is being bored to tears. Now here I am 40 years later and I have no memory of the place. I don’t think another 11-year-old with celiac will ever forget his visit there. And for all the wrong reasons.

Let me set the stage for you (or you can read the gory details here.) The 11-year-old has either celiac or NCGS. Either way, he can’t eat gluten. At all. If he does, he experiences “precipitous drops in blood pressure that result in him losing consciousness.” Yeah…pretty serious shit.

On May 11, the class had a field trip, with 30 children and 30 adults, including the boy’s father. (Is it me or does that seem like a lot of adults/chaperones? Oh well…I guess times have changed.) The trip, which was was the culmination of a yearlong research project, included lunch at Shields Tavern. Because the boy had celiac, the father smartly brought food from home so the boy could enjoy lunch with his peers.

Now allowed in restaurantDo you see where this is going?

The dad told the server that his son could not safely eat the restaurant’s food and that he did not need a meal. He then proceeded to pull out his own lunch. An employee at Shields, who must be a miserable slug to treat someone else like this, saying they could not stay if the boy was going to eat his own food and were told to leave immediately. The dad appealed to the manager, who must also be a miserable slug who just gets paid a bit more, said nope. Out you go.

The boy began crying AS HE WAS REMOVED FROM THE RESTAURANT IN FRONT OF HIS FRIENDS. He was then forced to wait outside, IN THE F***CKING RAIN, while his classmates ate their meals. And here’s the topper: The restaurant allows toddlers to eat their own food that their parents bring. But not middle-schoolers I suppose. No words. Absolutely no words.

The father is now suing. His attorney made the following statement:

Children with disabilities that require strict adherence to special diets often find themselves on the outside of school parties and social events, but here this child was quite literally removed to the outside in a way that left him feeling humiliated and unworthy. This is despicable behavior by any adult but especially by an organization that professes to offer educational programming for children.


A few quick thoughts here:

  • The article just spoke from the father’s view point. I’m sure he’s telling the truth but would love to hear from the restaurant to see what their lame reasoning was.
  • Assuming this is all accurate, I hope they get something from the lawsuit. While lord knows there are tons of frivolous lawsuits out there, this one has merit, as it was totally avoidable.
  • Who the hell does this? Who makes a kid sit in the rain (assuming there was not other covered area to eat) simply because he brought his own food? Is celiac disease still that disrespected?
  • Shields is getting their ass handed to them on Facebook, Yelp, etc. People applying their own justice (insert evil laugh here.)
  • Feel free to respectfully let them know how you feel so they will think twice next time.

Ok…I could end things here, but since the article generated a lot of comments (which I probably should not have read), I thought I’d call some of them out, both the good and the ignorant.

I like this person: The boy should have been able to eat the food inside the restaurant that he has to have, instead of being sent out in the rain!!! Despicable!

This one not so much: How about we realize that this whole gluten allergy thing is made up nonsense that just came about recently…let’s grow up people.

This person doesn’t quite understand: Why not just order something off of the menu that has no gluten in it? There is a 90 percent chance that there were multiple menu options available.

This person is the worst: Aaawwwww… is hard and u r going to have to deal with all sorts of disrespect so this is a good beginning…sorry sweetheart.

(Dude note: This is the kind of person who pummeled me after the Disney fiasco, saying we’re causing “the pussification of Ammerica.”)

This one gets it: It’s interesting how many people think the child should have accommodated the restaurant rather than the restaurant accommodating the child. Oh and so many medical experts as well.

I hate this person: Not a penny for the crying 11 year old and loser family.

This person is confused: Put up a sign “No outside food — No exceptions” and be done with it. I wouldn’t enter a synagogue and expect a Christmas midnight high mass.

This person represents the lowest our country has to offer: How about this one…. don’t enter a cake shop and demand they make a bunt cake with figurine of two guys in the middle of the bunt hole.

This one made me shake my head until it almost fell off: Gluten doesn’t happen unless you knead dough. Even pancakes have little if any gluten if you don’t mix it a lot.

And finally…this person gives me hope: What a lot of people don’t understand here, is that cross-contamination is a serious thing for someone with a gluten intolerance. If the management of the restaurant has admitted that they allowed small children to eat ‘outside food’, and there is an adult there with clear knowledge and understanding of the child’s ailment, the management needs to be a little flexible. Seriously? You’re going to be known as “That Restaurant That Kicked The Allergic Kid Out In The Rain”. The old adage “all PR is good PR” doesn’t pertain to restaurants. That management needs to cowboy up, apologize, and be willing to make exceptions, perhaps stating somewhere on the premises that exceptions will be made only with a medical card present, or get with the times and have a gluten-free food prep area.

Hope is a good thing…maybe the best of things.

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41 thoughts on “An 11-year-old Celiac is Forced to Eat Outside…in the Rain”

  1. I commented on the article when I saw it a couple of days ago because I too read the comment section even though I knew I shouldn’t! :/

    This would have absolutely crushed my 10 year old. It would take a very, very long time for him to overcome that humiliation.

  2. There really are no words. Every single restaurant in our community allows someone with a medical issue to bring in their own food. I have a friend with a severe salt issue- absolutely none- and brings her own if there is not a salad or a shrimp cocktail on the menu. Would they insist a diabetic eat a hunk of chocolate cake? Bad publicity ruins more businesses than the food or the product. This place will reap what they sow!

  3. Addie Mae Weiss

    After I had a back-and-forth facebook session on July 21st between someone defending Sheilds tavern and telling me I wasn’t there so I shouldn’t share inflammatory stories another friend who lives in Virginia posted this response, but I can’t find the quote myself. Maybe the original poster had to take their response down since people can be so ugly and attack:

    This came from the comments section of the article:

    This is from the comment section of the article. This info would have been good to have in the article as you can see that the parents pulled this food out because they didn’t feel comfortable with the gluten free option at Shields Tavern.
    “I was there that night. The parents DID call ahead and the Tavern DID know ahead of time. They prepared a “gluten free” meal but after the parents asked about cross contamination, they didn’t feel comfortable with the answers. They carry food with them just in case. Cross contamination is a common mistake people make when it comes to preparing food for people with Celiacs disease.

    This is a real good reason that I am very impatient with the current gluten free fad. And it IS a fad. It is baseless and not based on any kind of science. There are people who actually have gluten allergies and it is a serious thing. Celiacs disease is a RARE condition and it is a very difficult thing to manage. I had a student who had it and cross contamination was a REAL issue. He ALWAYS carried good with him just in case. I took him on field trips and we called ahead just like this family did, and we still had to use his food, because the parents didn’t want to chance it. The reserve food is a medical necessity just like having insulin is for a diabetic. People don’t take celiacs disease seriously now because of the gluten free fad where people who have no actual allergy are requesting it.

    See the above comments as proof of this. You automatically assumed that the family was trying to gouge CW for money and that the family was acting entitled.”

    1. I’ve always said…the GF Fad has totally hurt the community. I don’t need 33 kinds of bread. I need to be kept safe.

  4. I would even expect the school to stand up for him and everyone walk out. If the whole class isn’t allowed to eat there then the whole class should leave.

  5. This makes me so sad! My daughter is also 11 and has had her share of sitting out because of food. After going hungry at a baseball game, I asked our GI doc for a note for my child to carry. She wrote one for us on the department letterhead. It says:
    “Gluten Free Diet Requirement
    Mary requires a gluten free diet. Please allow her to bring her own food to avoid exacerbation of her medical condition.
    Please call my office with any questions or concerns. ”
    This has helped us out at a few places. I carry it in my wallet at all times.
    Not sure if it would have helped in the Williamsburg situation, just thought I’d share. Sometimes people need to see it in writing.

    1. I have a medic alert bracelet. It has allowed me to get food into places that normally do not allow in food (note, this is usually snacks). I just tell people I have severe food allergies. Of course, this has only been challenged once and only lightly. I’ve never tried to get my own food into, say, a professional sports game. I have no idea if the bracelet would work there.

  6. As a mom of an 11 year old celiac son this breaks my heart on so many levels. Being a tween is hard enough but having gluten challenges adds a whole other dimension. My son just went to DC and VA last month on a school trip and he could not have survived without my husband being there to help advocate for him and bringing his own food. They ate at food courts and buffet restaurants the entire time and he pretty much had to eat what he brought. It’s not fair that kids should have to miss out on fun and school field trips due to their diet restrictions. I guarantee my son and others would happily opt out of gluten restrictions if they could.

  7. Janet Rosenbaum

    I had this experience at a synagogue event: no one answered my emails asking what was being served, so I paid for a meal, got there and learned that I couldn’t eat any of it, allowed someone who hadn’t paid eat in my place, then got yelled at for doing that, and so to demonstrate that I wasn’t cheating the system, I stood on the street outside the building while everyone else ate, making phone calls to pass the time. I never got to eat. Also when I gave birth, the synagogue tried to dissuade me from having a meal signup because no one can cook gluten-free food.

  8. Sadly for our health department – you cannot bring in outside food or drink. Period. Sooooo, they might have been protecting their license. Sad, but true. Annoying as hell.

    1. It was noted that they allowed food for toddlers, so that would not seem to be the issue here. Regardless of company policy the manager had the authority to “do the right thing” and chose not to. Clearly, he/she is a heartless asshole deserving of shame and humiliation. Had he allowed the child to eat his own food we wouldn’t be reading and commenting on it right now. EPIC FAIL!

  9. I have a similar issue… I am actually allergic to some strains of wheat. It manifests as hives, then lesions on my neck, then my mouth swells, my throat closes, and I can go into anaphalactic shock. I carry an EpiPen because of this life threatening allergy. I can’t eat at many places, because they do not pay attention to cross contamination. I would not wish this allergy or celiac on *anyone*… it sucks. But all places need to be aware of allergens, and be honest about their ability to cater to those with the allergies.

    I will happily have a drink and nothing else while friends eat at a place. I’m fine with it. I’ll grab something for myself at a trusted place or home later. But if you say you can accommodate me when I call in advance, don’t lie to me, and don’t give me the server who thinks I’m indulging a fad and gives me foods that can kill me because of it. 🙁

  10. To the person who wrote; “How about we realize that this whole gluten allergy thing is made up nonsense that just came about recently…let’s grow up people.” ALL disease is IMAGINED and NOT REAL according to Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. She believed it was all in ones mind. Eddy died of pneumonia on the evening of December 3, 1910.

    1. I once had a person tell me that autoimmune diseases are caused by self-hatred. I wanted to tell her if they are caused by hatred it is by hatred of idiots!

  11. Same thing happened to my then ten year old at colonial cafe, the waitress said he couldn’t join the rest of us at the table Bc he can’t bring outside food. He and my husband are on the ground outside the restaurant until we finished our unpleasant meal where I immediately posted what transpired on yelp. Hope the establishment makes it clear how inhuman this is.

  12. This is real folks, not some dietary fad! It is expensive to have the substitute breads just to eat a regular meal. Bread and pasta are part of almost any meal in the American diet. Spaghetti, you can’t even have the sauce because they use pasta water to thicken it. So, salad it is. Burgers, you get meat and veggies and mustard and ketchup. No fries though, they cook the onion and nuggets together. I love Gyros, sorry, but it is meatloaf on a spit, bread crumbs included. Hot dogs? Sandwiches of any kind, meat and cheese and veggies on a….? And pizza! Many places dont let you bring your own breads. No matter how severe the gluten reaction is, NO CHEATING IS TOLERABLE!

  13. This is just heart breaking!!! Besides the fact that this was a child, do restaurants have so much business that they think there is no reason why they should try to cater to food allergies? Good greif people have a heart!

  14. I know that I am in the minority here. But I feel like this is the end result of the P.F. Changs lawsuit failing to support the rights of people who need specific diets in order to live. Once they are allowed to charge us unreasonable amounts, it is a small step toward treating us like animals that have to go outside in the rain to eat alone. It is small steps to treating humans like dogs because they have an incurable disease that is deadly if the person fails to follow the only prescribed treatment of 100% gluten free diet.

    They are clearly in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is no excuse! NONE!

    1. I’m amazed you’re the only one that’s mentioned the Americans with Disabilities Act. Everyone needs to understand that people with Celiac Disease are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because of this that restaurant is going to get killed in that lawsuit and rightfully so.

  15. Haha. This is the world we live in! My daughter just came back from a student leadership camp where most nights she went to bed hungry because this kitchen didn’t offer gluten free. When I talked to the director, she said “well this is a disease she will have for the rest of her life and at least she is gaining skills on how to deal with this as an adult when she can’t find food. She will become resourceful.”. Awesome.

  16. What the ___? The gluten free diet is all us celiacs have right now, it is a medically necessary intervention, and it is our only “medicine”. So they are denying this child his medicine. If they don’t allow outside food there, they wouldn’t allow toddlers to eat outside food either! Hope they win the lawsuit.

  17. You can always pick out the trump supporters-they are the ones that insult the kid and his family. Yeah, I went there, and make no apologies for it.

    1. Celiac disease knows no party affiliation or political leaning, it’s completely bipartisan, as this forum usually is. Please keep the partisan politics out of our disease and save those comments for a more appropriate forum. Have a grand day!

  18. You can always tell the haters, they throw reason out the window and make irrational connections between actions and people they hate, just to just to disparage someone their target. Yeah, I went there, and make no apologies for it.

    1. Celiac disease knows no party affiliation or political leaning, it’s completely bipartisan, as this forum usually is. Please keep the partisan politics out of our disease and save those comments for a more appropriate forum. Have a grand day!

  19. It’ll be interesting to see this wind through the courts. Hopefully Colonial Williamsburg will see the light, settle, and adopt a rational policy for their restaurants. No one should have to go through what this child endured.

    If true, the news that the restaurant and parents communicated beforehand, that a GF meal was prepared, and that the parent felt the food unsafe is both interesting and instructive. Restaurants have to understand that, because any adverse outcome falls on the customer, only the customer can make the risk decision of whether or not to eat the food the restaurant prepares. If a court does make a decision in this case, I sincerely hope that is a part of their decision.

    Finally, with issues like this the celiac community needs to stand together. Injecting partisan politics will only drive the community apart and make it less effective in all it needs to accomplish. Please people, leave your political preferences at home. We all have celiac, and that is what unites us.

  20. Thanks for writing an article on this Gluten Dude! We need to stand with this young man and his family. The ADA attempts to make reasonable accommodations for the handicapped. Clearly it wouldn’t have killed Colonial WIlliamsburg (CW) to let this young man stay and eat his safe food. What many of those posting comments in the newspaper website miss is this wasn’t just a meal. It was part of the educational experience they offer at CW. They presented a program during the meal. That’s what the young man missed. CW takes Federal Funds (upwards of 3.5 million) and I suspect they’ll find that the ADA applies here.

    I also hope this helps other with NCGS. It’s clear that the ADA applies to celiac disease. I hope it’s found that NCGS is just as disabling as CD and those who have are protected by the ADA.

  21. I’m so annoyed … what that young man went through is pure BS. Shame on that establishment for being so disrespectful, callous and downright rude.

  22. My sister and I have Celiac and were going to meet a bunch of my classmates at CiCi’s pizza, where we obv couldn’t eat. So we went and got some gf pizza and were going to just sit and hang with them while they ate there. The manager wouldn’t let us eat our gf pizza inside. He made us leave and we ate in her car.

  23. This appeal for this case is being heard this Tuesday Jan. 29, 2018. As disgusted as we all are that this happened, and outraged that they ruled in favor of the tavern, what can we do? Ironically it’s going to rain in Richmond on Tuesday. Should we all go have a bagged gf picnic on the courthouse steps?

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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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