I definitely didn’t start the day this morning thinking I was going to meet a former US president. Probably the very last thing from my mind was that I would be meeting Bill Clinton, but as soon as I returned home from my morning walk and learned he was doing a book signing just down the street, I ran out the door.
Of course, I had to think of something witty to say to him when I finally had a chance to meet him. There are the typical comments about his presidency, his wife’s work, but I wanted to think of something different…and viola….I could ask him about my favorite topic of all….eating gluten-free! I knew about his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, having a gluten-free cake at her wedding, and about Bill Clinton eating healthier since his quadruple bypass in 2004, so I had a perfect conversation starter. There has been some chatter in cyberspace about whether he was gluten-free, so I wanted the answer.
I have never met a head of state before, so I was extremely excited and didn’t know what to expect. Would they be behind a glass box? Would I be frisked? Would I get to take a picture? But if a leader of the free world eats gluten-free, I want to know about it.
I found out quickly, we would have to wait in a very cold line to go inside the bookstore to be able to get President Clinton to sign a copy of his new book, Back to Work, and shake his hand. No cameras were allowed, which was probably a good thing since I was definitely not camera-ready. I was determined to get a question in there. I know his book has absolutely nothing to do with eating gluten-free, but being a journalist, I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. I mentioned to a couple of people in line what I was going to ask, since I was pretty sure no one would take my question, and I received some pretty strange looks.
It always fascinates me to meet people who seem larger than life, and he is definitely included in this category. When I finally had my chance to meet President Clinton, I shook his hand, he signed a copy of his book, and I asked him if I could ask him an “off the wall question?’ He said, sure.
I asked him, “I know your daughter had a gluten-free wedding cake, do you eat gluten-free as well?”
President Bill Clinton responded that he tries to. He went on to tell me that he is vegetarian and dairy-free, but that he does eat fish once in a while. He continued by explaining he has a wheat allergy, and that he eats wheat-free as much as possible, and likes to eat gluten-free. However, he did explain that Chelsea is “vigilant” about eating gluten-free. We definitely could have kept talking about gluten-free eating, but with hundreds of people behind me waiting to meet him as well, they were getting impatient and I had to move on.
So, what did I take away from this short encounter? That President Clinton, himself, does not have celiac, but that he does indeed have a wheat allergy, and probably dairy as well, though I didn’t actually hear him say the words “dairy allergy”. I find it so fascinating that people who have food intolerances are easily engaged in conversation when it is something near and dear to them, and President Clinton was no exception.