January 15

Readers weigh in on what they want from restaurants

Feedback on a recent column includes critiques of the writer and of trends in Maine dining.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

I love it when readers give feedback, and boy, did you ever on the Jan. 1 column that focused on food and restaurant trends we like and don’t like in 2014.

click image to enlarge

Reader June McLean asks: “Why can’t restaurants serve a decent cup of tea? Weak tea brewed in lukewarm water is not a fitting end to a fine dinner. Some restaurants in Portland don’t even have tea. Herbal teas do not cut the mustard.”

Press Herald file

I received nearly three dozen emails from readers (and they are still coming in), an unprecedented number at a time when most people usually just vent on social media for a bit and then forget about it. The overwhelming majority were positive, except for a handful of people who were angry at the comments about gluten-free menus. More on that below.

There was also a lively discussion on Facebook that briefly turned into a personal attack on me – mostly, from what I could gather, from young people who work in the restaurant industry who think I am as old as Methuselah’s mama. (That made me laugh. No, I’m not 20 anymore, but I’m still way younger than a lot of your bosses.)

One thing that struck me in reading all the messages was the gulf between what the public wants and what people who work in restaurants think they want.

All that said, in the grand scheme of things the column and the reaction to it was not part of any scientific survey, so take everything that follows with the proverbial grain of salt and the spirit of fun in which it was originally intended.

Let me start by addressing your comments on the suggestion that we’ve had enough of gluten-free menus. We asked: “How many people actually have celiac disease? (About 1 percent.)”

Well, people who have celiac disease, or know someone who has it, let me have it.

Virginia from Wells wrote: “First, people don’t have to suffer from celiac’s to be sensitive to gluten – there are thousands of us who cannot tolerate gluten and really appreciate a restaurant that serves a dish or two that will not make us sick. I found your dismissal of that issue insensitive.”

“The fact that so many restaurants now have food that I can eat is a joy to me,” wrote Helen Coxe of Portland, who has celiac disease. “I wish it were possible for me to eat everything that was on the table, but, alas, those days are gone. Local restaurants seem to be practicing inclusion, a very nice trend. And I have never heard complaints from the chefs and managers I have thanked. Some have gone so far to say their customer base has grown.”

Let me just say that if our little rant was offensive to you, I apologize. It’s my fault for not dropping the tongue-in-cheek banter in favor of clarity and thoroughness.

Let me reassure the folks who think I’ve never heard of celiac disease that not only have I heard about it, when I was a science reporter I wrote about it – long before gluten-free became a national buzzword. I know how hard celiac is to live with (as well as sensitivities to wheat), and when we said we’ve had enough of gluten-free menus, we didn’t necessarily mean they should go away completely.

We were actually poking a little fun at the nearly 30 percent of Americans (according to the NPD marketing group) who have just jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon like sheep and say they’re cutting back on gluten for other reasons – to be generally healthier, for example, or to lose weight.

For people who do not have celiac disease, or a milder sensitivity to wheat, going gluten-free is not like eliminating butter from your diet to lower your cholesterol, or cutting out desserts.

There are plenty of anecdotes, but no overwhelming body of scientific research yet showing that eschewing gluten will help you lose weight.

(Continued on page 2)

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