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June 29, 2011
Are there ever days when you want to whine about being on a special diet? Well, join the club!
Gluten free has been all the rage lately. With so many new products coming out and restaurants touting gluten-free menus, it seems like gluten free is everywhere. Yeah, okay. So does that mean that I’ll get better at looking away when my friend eats her Caesar salad with yummy croutons while I eat my lettuce and two slices of cucumber? Plain. No dressing. No croutons.
After I suffered a recent bout of severe cross contamination at a restaurant, the owner actually recommended that I order the turkey plain next time with nothing on it, just to be sure. Nothing on it? I might as well get a quarter pound of sliced Boar’s Head from the supermarket and eat at home.
It used to be that absolutely no one had ever heard of celiac disease. Now, only a third of the people I talk to look at me like I’m nuts when I mention my special diet.
“I can’t eat that because it has gluten in it.”
“What? Glue? There’s no glue in this.”
“No, glu-TEN. It’s a protein in wheat flour.”
“Oh, flour. She can’t have anything with flour.”
“No, I mean, yes. I can have flour--just different flour, made from things like rice and buckwheat.”
“Wheat. I thought you can’t have wheat?”
I know it’s easier to be gluten free now because there are so many gluten-free products available. But the truth is, living gluten free is sometimes anything but easy. Whether you’re 6 (like my daughter, who also has celiac disease) or 36 (like me), eating sans gluten in a gluten-filled world can feel like you’re going against nature. Sometimes I feel like the salmon swimming upstream. For my daughter, I drive 45 minutes to the nearest Whole Foods just to pay $8 for a package of breadcrumbs so I can make chicken fingers that look like the ones that Jenny’s mom will be sending in for lunch at school tomorrow.
On good days I say, wow, I’m so lucky I don’t have stomachaches anymore. (Well, at least when I eat at home.) And on not-so-good days, like when someone brings in Dunkin’ Donuts to work for everyone… Well, those are the not-so-good days.
I constantly ask my sister, a long-time celiac who happens to work at our family’s bagel store (Yes, that’s right. My family owns a bagel store. What with four celiacs in the family, this is the height of irony), “Don’t you miss eating gluten?”
My sister says, nope, you get used to it. Used to what? Never eating out again without worrying that a bomb will go off in my stomach? Never getting to choose between 50 kinds of cereal for breakfast? Never having a plain bagel, scooped and toasted, with tuna, lettuce and tomato?
I do not get a jealous twinge when the other teachers at school scarf down pretzels or pick at the coffee cake in the teacher’s lounge. And if you believe that, I’ve got a gluten-free restaurant I want to sell you. The truth is, that green monster pops up all throughout my day.
When the mothers standing by the cookie table notice me eyeing the food and ask, “Do you want some, Sharon?,” I have the perfect response. Actually, I have several responses that I practice at home: “No, thank you.” “It’s not gluten-free.” “I’m not hungry.” They work—except on those emotional days when my rational self is overpowered. Then it’s a shake of the head followed by a lump in my throat.
“No, thank you, damn it!” That’s what I’d like to say.
Heck, why do I sometimes still feel this way? Why do I still miss gluten? Sometimes I wonder, is it the actual gluten itself that I miss--or the freedom to eat whatever I want?
I guess it’s kind of both.
Well, at least now it’s getting easier. Because there are so many new products out there and more restaurants are offering gluten-free menus, right? Plain salad, anyone?
Do you ever feel this way?