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I was in recent conversation with a 20-year-old man who is at crossroads in his life when it comes to the decision of entering the workforce with his associate’s degree, or returning to school to get his bachelor’s.
We got to talking about his goals in life, the hours he wants to work, the hours he does not want to work, what he finds interesting and what he finds completely boring.
Personally, what I find fascinating about most people is that they do not realize how unique they are, because they live with themselves each day. The unique aspects we each carry, become mundane to us.
Chris’ story is special because he can date his “life goals” back to adolescence, only, not in the way you are probably expecting.
Chris Stitz, 20, was diagnosed with Celiac disease when he was 10-years-old. Celiac is a disease where the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten—causing pain and difficulty digesting foods with gluten in them.
Stitz and his entire family, parents and two sisters, transitioned to entirely gluten-free family meals to accommodate Chris’ disease. The most important part about actively eating gluten-free, he said, is checking the labels on the foods you purchase.
“There are things that contain gluten that you never would have expected,” he said. “Reading labels has forced me to see ingredients that I have never heard of before, learning what they contain and actively pointing them out in my food.”
When it came time for Chris to decide what he was going to do with his life post-high school graduation, one thing made the most sense—food.
He enrolled in Frederick Community College’s hospitality, culinary and tourism institute, an American Culinary Federation (ACF) approved program that prepares students for work in the culinary and tourism field. The program is two-years long and is acknowledged by the ACF as a place that ‘teaches culinary correctly,’ Stitz said.
“I want to enjoy good food too,” he said. “Just because I cannot eat gluten doesn’t mean my meals can’t taste good. I wanted to learn how to cook, not only for myself, but for others who suffer from their own gluten intolerances.”
His knowledge about ingredients and food only expanded during his time at Frederick Community College, he said, noting that “maltodextrin” is something he and other Celiac patients must constantly avoid.
If you do not know what maltodextrin is, you’re not the only one.
Ever heard of a malt milkshake? “Malt” is a shortened form for maltodextrin—a compound derived from wheat and found in random items such as energy drinks, some soups, and sprinkles.
“While in culinary school, having Celiac put me ahead of the crowd for the first time in my life,” Stitz said. “It helped because I was already extremely knowledgeable on the cross-contamination that can occur in a kitchen and the names of ingredients people normally do not correlate with gluten.”
Cross-contamination happens when something (in this case, food) is unintentionally transferred from one substance to another, and causes harmful effects. For example, let’s say someone is vegan and they order a veggie burger. If that veggie burger is cooked on the same skillet, and with the same grease as a normal beef patty, then that is considered cross-contamination.
The same applies to gluten, only it is trickier to avoid, Chris explained.
McDonald’s fries, for instance, are coated in a “wheat, beef flavoring,” according to their website. The wheat derivative makes the fries non-Celiac friendly, and, to continue with our vegan example from above, they are technically not vegan-friendly either.
“A vegan can’t even eat a French fry if it comes from McDonald’s,” Chris said. “When would you have ever stopped to think that a vegan could not eat a fried potato?”
Chick-Fil-A, another fast-food favorite, has adapted their menu to be more inclusive to those with Celiac disease, or gluten intolerances. Stitz frequently orders Chick-Fil-A’s grilled chicken nuggets, the grilled chicken club and, luckily for him, their French fries.
“Most restaurants have it specifically labeled if their foods are fried in the same grease as others, but it is always worth asking to avoid a flare up,” he said. “Chick-Fil-A was one of the first fast-food places that used separate oils to fry their French fries.”
There is more to life than fast-food, though, and Chris has worked a few restaurant jobs as a cook and speaks highly of the experience he gained in those facilities as well, though, he wants more.
“If suddenly everyone in the world had Celiac, the first thing I would do is stop using wheat-derived foods and only use corn-derived foods,” he said, laughing.
Stitz reminded me that, while eating gluten-free is often considered a healthier lifestyle, it does still come down to what you consume.
“Just because something comes from corn, does not mean it is ultimately better for you than something that is made from wheat; they can be just as bad, really,” he said.
Many people, however, do have gluten allergies or intolerances that do not result in Celiac disease; others avoid gluten to help with dieting and weight loss.
“I think there is definitely a market for the gluten-free world,” Stitz said. “It is just a matter of getting people educated enough to understand why it is important.”
What most people do not understand about Celiac, he said, is that it is not an allergy, but the villi (hair-like projections that absorb nutrients) in the small intestine is killed-off by gluten, causing the sharp pains and digestive issues experienced by those diagnosed with the disease.
As Chris continues to chase his passion in culinary while and his Celiac each day, he remains certain there is a way for him to merge the two into a career best fit for him, he said.
Also, an active gamer and computer guru—I suggested he look into the creative, virtual world; perhaps a TikTok-er with gluten-free recipes, educating others about the do’s and don’ts of gluten, food fun facts, etc.
What do you think?
Leave a comment below with your own experience with Celiac disease. Are you diagnosed? Know someone who is? Never heard of it? Let us know now!