How the Numbers Add Up

When my daughter, Amanda, was diagnosed with celiac disease 16 years ago, we were told about one in 2,500 people had it. Then an important study found that actually one in 133 people have celiac disease.

Being a word person — honestly — the numbers were still hard for me to picture clearly. How many people would that likely be in a room, in a school, in a stadium, in a country, in the world?

But I got a better focus when I went to the fifth birthday party for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in Philadelphia last week.

Nearly 1,400 people packed the concourse of the Wachovia Center, usually home to the Philadelphia Flyers ice hockey team, to feast on gluten-free nibbles offered by 35 Philly-area restaurants. When you see a group that big and enthusiastic, all focused on the gluten-free diet and lifestyle, the numbers take a new shape and meaning.

What they meant on this particular evening was a crowd welcomed and catered to by mainstream chefs. Each restaurant reportedly had to prepare at least 1,200 samples of whatever dish they were offering. The chefs were not shy about trying new and exciting things. There was octopus salad, and duck and lobster with macaroni and cheese. All delicious. Even better each restaurant committed to permanently add gluten-free dishes to its menu.

There’s one more important thing to say about that night and numbers — NFCA raised $340,000 for programs to spread awareness of celiac disease. That can only mean an even bigger crowd next time. Congratulations to NFCA and happy birthday!