I’ve noticed a trend recently when dining out. When I ask about gluten-free options or order my food a certain way I get this question, “Is this an allergy or a preference?”

I’m never quite sure how to respond. For me, neither option applies. I do not have an allergy to wheat or gluten but I do have very real and very specific issues when I eat it. I would never call it a preference since I don’t feel I have a choice in the matter. If I eat it I’ll get sick. I’d label mine and intolerance but I’m sure the guy behind the counter doesn’t really care to get into my symptoms or the negative test results I’ve had when being screened for celiac.

So what is with this new question? Honestly, the first time I heard it I was a little offended. My first thought was, “Neither! And it’s none of your business. Just prepare my food the way I asked you to.” Now, however, I’m beginning to realize that it’s the food industry’s new way of seeing how sensitive you are. Essentially they want to know if they’ll kill you if there are bread crumbs that come in contact with your salad or if you are just trying to eat low carb or cut calories.

Are restaurants are going about this properly? Are they treating gluten-free as a trend similar to low fat, low carb or paleo? Do they realize there is a specific risk involved for many people who follow gluten-free diets that is more akin to a life-threatening food allergy than a desire to cut calories? Though I hate the question, it does allow servers to address the consumer’s risk tolerance and shows that maybe they understand that there is a difference between a preference and a health risk – a difference between wrapping the sandwich in lettuce and having a designated gluten-free prep area.

“Allergy or preference?” I don’t like the question but are we at least headed in the right direction toward a better understanding of our GF needs?