A Tribute to Melinda Siegel Frisch

We meet so many wonderful customers who become friends. I often say that because we are always at the restaurant; our customers become our friends and many are like family because we spend more time with them than we do our own families.

Melinda has been a fixture at One Dish Cuisine Cafe, Deli and Bakery since we opened the doors in September of 2012.  Her bright and cheerful disposition drew people to her. Many of you will recognize her, she was in several times a week to get her favorite dishes, usually a Reuben or our Spaghetti and Meatballs, but she loved just about everything we made.  We got to know her friends too. Sue was often a fixture accompanying Melinda to “her place”. We knew her wonderful family,  husband Mike and her children Hannah and Joel. Mike has given me permission to share Melinda’s story and write a tribute to her…he said, “she would love it”.

Melinda’s life was action packed. She was an IAYT Certified Yoga Therapist and taught Yoga at Body Balance and the Yoga Center of Columbia.  She was a former instructor at Loyola College of MD and Golden Heart Yoga. She had her Master of Science in Yoga Therapy and Master of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health from Maryland University of Integrative Health.  In addition she had her master of Arts in Spanish form Middlebury College Spanish School in Madrid and Secondary and Elementary education in Spanish from Towson University.

Melinda had been diagnosed with Crohn’s/Colitis but was still struggling with GI issues and often expressed her frustration that her GI was not listening to her. She believed she had Celiac too, but was not tested for it. Melinda was having many issues and was really trying to manage her diet to help manage her symptoms. She always said, “something is not right”.  Finally, she had enough and went to see another doctor who listened to her and ran the right tests. I did not see her for a few weeks, so I knew something was up. She came in to see me and shared the news with me.

The diagnosis was Stage 4 Colon Cancer. She went through several rounds of chemo and always had such a positive attitude. The last few months were very difficult for her. She was not able to eat and was getting very dehydrated. When she was released from the hospital Mike would bring her here to eat. She would always order her Reuben and we would be so happy to see her eat just one bite. I would ask her what she could taste and she would say she could taste some chocolate and I would send her home with a few treats.

On the way out we would hug and cry and she would say that she was so scared. All I could do is hold her and tell her that I was praying for her and that I loved her so much and that I wished I could make it all go away. This scenario was repeated several times. After she left I would walk back into my office and cry and let out a lot of anger.

I never shared this with Melinda, because I wanted her to remain positive. I felt like I was reliving what happened to my best friend Carole; who had the exact same thing happen to her when she was only 33. Her doctor blamed it all on postpartum issues after the birth of her second child.  It was colon cancer. We buried her at 35 leaving a 3 year old and a 5 year old. I was angry at the doctors who were not listening to their patients. I was angry because this was so preventable!  Why don’t some doctors listen to the patient and run some tests instead of assuming their symptoms are in their heads?

For all of you reading this, I know this is what Melinda would say: “Please, if you do anything, take control of your health! If your doctor is not listening and invalidating you or your symptoms; please, please, please, find one who will listen and run the tests needed to make a proper diagnosis. It can save your life!” I know Melinda would never want to see anyone go through what she had to endure. Take control, see a new doctor and possibly save your life!

Melinda, you were a bright light in our lives and we are so thankful to have been a part of your life. I know I will see you again one day and I’ll be bringing the Reubens with me! I love you and am thankful for your friendship, your wisdom and for sharing so much of your life with us and so many others.  Godspeed Melinda Siegel Frisch…..


Joy Behar and Nascar Super Bowl Ad Slam Gluten Free

Well, here we go again; Joy Behar last week and this week a Nascar Ad will be slamming “Gluten-Free”.  Here is what I think about each:

Last week Joy Behar was showing folks just how stupid she is with her comments about people who are Gluten Free and basically insinuated that even Celiac Disease was B.S.  Yes, I can say “stupid”, it is not a harsh word in this case. The facts are out there about Celiac Disease and she chooses to ignore that, and lump everyone into “FAD Gluten-Free Dieters”.  Ms. Behar  has the opportunity to continue educating herself about Celiac Disease and chooses to continue to show her stupidity. “Ignorance” is a word I save for those who don’t know any better. “Stupid” is the word I use for those who choose not to be educated.  I chose not to write about this or share the clip last week because I did not want to give her any more attention. Either way, in the US we have the right to free speech.  It is a beautiful thing; it lets people see who a person really is deep down inside.

Now we have a Nascar ad that will run right after the super bowl, insinuating that those who are Gluten-Free are “soft”.  A petition was started by the Gluten Dude asking that the ad not be run.  I am a Celiac and I do find it extremely insensitive, but I don’t think it is right to ask others to pull an ad because some are offended. We are protected in the US by the right to freedom of speech.  Let them say what they want.  I think that there is a much bigger issue here for the Celiac Community and this should be our wake up call.

If the ad said something bad about Islam, I think it would get pulled.  If the ad made insulting comments about those with Cancer or ALS, it would probably get pulled. Why? Because it would be seen as insensitive and making detrimental comments about those who are ill or about someone’s religion. Well, to me, ethically it is wrong to say those things, but not illegal in this country.  That is the wake up call for those with Celiac Disease.  Why, you may ask?

The public attention seems to be concentrating on a “Gluten-Free Diet” and not on Celiac Disease. That is where the problem lies. The casual fad dieter who is gluten-free; but suddenly not gluten-free when they really want to try that gluten filled piece of cake, are the very people who are hurting our cause.  If those with Celiac Disease were being singled out and attacked, then I would take issue with it, but I still don’t think we have the right to ask a network not to run a commercial because we disagree with the content; back to the “free speech” we are entitled to in the USA.  If you think about it, what they are really slamming is “gluten-free” and to me it is really slamming the FAD Dieters (“gluten-freebies”, as I call them), not those with Celiac Disease or very real Gluten Sensitivity or a Wheat Allergy.

Our Celiac community needs to band together and start educating the public about the seriousness of Celiac Disease and it’s many other serious complications. That is the wake up call and that is where I think our Celiac Foundations and Celiac Researchers should put a good portion of our donations.  We need a two fold national awareness campaign that talks about the seriousness and complications of undiagnosed Celiac Disease. One targeted at educating our Doctors and one targeted at educating the general public with emphasis on the importance of Blood Test and Endoscopy and Biopsy for diagnosis as well as recognizing Dermatitis Herpetiformis rashes and the skin biopsy for proper diagnosis (those with DH are often negative on blood and intestinal biopsy). That is where I think we are missing a lot of Celiacs, they aren’t getting a Biopsy and the DH is being missed or they are just going GF and not getting tested at all. (it is estimated that 85% of our Celiacs are not even diagnosed yet and 10-20% of Celiacs are negative on blood and positive on biopsy)

I would put my money and effort into that type of awareness campaign. If you go to my website, you can see that I have already put my money where my mouth is. Look at the Resources Page on our website and the FAQ Page where we explain Celiac Disease, Dermatitis Herpetiformis and Food Allergies. It takes a village of all of us, the Celiacs, the Celiac Foundations and the Celiac Researchers to get the real word out about Celiac Disease and that the GF Diet is a lifelong Perscription (Rx) for those with Celiac Disease and not a fad diet. Obviously the general public and media are not getting our message!

So, am I personally offended? No. What some person or company says about the gluten free diet is not a reflection on me, it is a reflection on them. We have two choices here. Sit around and whine about it or do something about it by bringing awareness of Celiac Disease and its many symptoms and serious complications to the headlines!

Maureen Burke, Owner, One Dish Cuisine Cafe, Deli & Bakery
Gluten-Free, Allergen Friendly – Welcome Back to the Table

PF Chang’s Being Sued Over $1 Surcharge on GF Meals:

Yes, you read that right.  It’s OK, I was shell shocked for about 30 seconds, then when I read the story; I was still shell shocked.  Normally there would be something in the article that made some sense.  I searched the article several times; trying to figure out where the common sense was. Where was the “law breaking”  that could lead to a viable law suit? Well, I came up empty handed every single time that I re-read this article.

“Wow,” is all I could muster, but I rallied my brain and believe I can give you a common sense synopsis of this “catastrophe waiting to happen” from the perspective of the owner of a  completely GF restaurant and as a Celiac.
California woman says that “PF Chang’s violates the civil and disability rights by forcing gluten-free diners to pay higher prices and does not add surcharges for accommodations on it’s regular menu items and that because a gluten-free diet is medically necessary for individuals with celiac disease, gluten-free patrons have no choice but to order at higher prices”. Then it goes on to state that “surcharges for gluten-free items are claimed to occur even where the items at issue may be naturally gluten-free, such as vegetable dishes”.  ” This is arbitrary and unequal treatment and they are discriminating against consumers with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act”.

*Let’s look at this according to each claim, I am not a lawyer (“but I play one on TV”), so I am going with common sense 101 on this one: 

 1) “Civil and disability rights violation; by forcing GF customers to pay higher prices”:

Where is she shopping for her GF groceries? Well, GF items cost more.  It is supply and demand and we all learned about that in school. Right now, by my calculations, wheat flour and other products containing gluten are 93% more in demand than GF products.  Only about 7% of the population needs to eat GF (Celiac, Wheat Allergy & Gluten Sensitivity).  Less demand means fewer companies making GF products, which means less competition and that means higher prices for raw materials. The company making the GF product needs to make sure it is GF and has to have stringent manufacturing and testing procedures in place that also equate into higher production and final product cost.

2) “Because GF diet is medically necessary, patrons have no choice but to order at the higher price”.

Well, the plaintiff may be barking up the wrong tree here. In many countries (Ireland is one of them), the GF Diet is the only prescription for Celiac Disease, so they order their GF Food from a pharmacy and it is covered by insurance!  This customer obviously pays more at her local grocery store for GF items, has she sued them? In what restaurant fantasy land can anyone ask for items that cost more and not pay more for them? Back to supply and demand or she can just stay home. $1 is nothing.  GF soy sauce and noodles cost about 5x what the regular version is.  There is also extra training, special plates, extra prep to make special GF Sauces and special prep areas and precautions that happen to make sure the meal is GF and not contaminated when it gets to her.  $1 surcharge is nothing for them to charge for this service and I think she should be happy that PF Chang’s wanted to go to this trouble to serve her a GF meal.

3) “Charges $1 surcharge for GF item but doesn’t add surcharges for regular menu items”.

The charge is for the gluten free aspect and replacing sauces and noodles, etc.; is quite an expense. If someone makes a change to a regular menu item it is usually, “No onions” that means they just leave them out if they are not already in the sauce.  This is a lot different then saying “I have celiac disease and can’t have any gluten or get cross contaminated”.  A whole new ball game begins to unfold when you have to make a GF accommodation in a kitchen that is full of gluten. This claim makes no sense.  Does she mean they aren’t charging people who say “give me extra gluten” or “I can have gluten”?   A special GF request also involves additional labor, special sauces and pastas and additional steps to make sure the item is still gluten free when it gets to her.  I think she should be happy they wanted to make her a GF meal!

4) “Surcharges for GF items even where items at issue may naturally be gluten free, such as vegetable dishes”.

Fantasy Land!  Newsflash: Ordering plain steamed veggies is a special order.  The restaurant probably uses a special seasoning or soy sauce and other custom sauces on them that contain gluten and they are probably prepped up at 10am before lunch and at 4pm before dinner and then cooked to order. When you need them to be made differently they have to use special GF sauces that cost more or stop and prep it without gluten to your order and they have to make sure it is not contaminated.  She may steam plain veggies at home, but that is not the norm in a restaurant! Wake up, again she should be happy they wanted to make sure her veggies were GF.

5) “Arbitrary and unequal treatment discriminates against consumers with Celiac, and Gluten Intolerance and by adding a surcharge it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)”.
Newsflash: The ADA applies to those with Celiac Disease, Autism and Food Allergies, etc.; it does not cover gluten intolerance!  A few years ago the students filed suit against Lesley University and won because the students were being forced to pay room and board but could not eat in the dining facilities and the university was a recipient of federal funds. The students were forced to pay for food they could not eat and won and were awarded damages.  I agree with that ruling.  In this case she saw the $1 surcharge on the menu, ordered the food and ate it. (I am not sure how she “choked” the food down; knowing her civil and ADA rights were “being violated”)
-In summary this case is basically saying:
“I went to PF Chang’s, saw the $1 surcharge on the menu for GF Items, I ordered the GF Food and ate the GF food; but they violated my rights by serving me what I ordered by charging me the $1 that I agreed to pay for the food when I placed the order for it!”
She is asking for injunction against further surcharges, restitution for the surcharges paid for GF items, civil penalties, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Oh, how I wish I lived in California and could get called for Jury Duty! I wonder if I could file suit against the plaintiff in this case for the pain and suffering I had to endure while reading about it?
Maureen Burke, Owner, One Dish Cuisine Cafe, Deli and Bakery, Gluten-Free & Allergy Friendly, Welcome Back to the Table!