Food for ThoughtJune/July 2009 Issue

Living With Food Allergies

Living Without - Synonym: Forgo, give up, abstain from, skip, avoid, pass up, decline, demur

No matter how you say it, living without requires sacrifice, will power, spine. It takes a willingness to go against spontaneity and impulse, those gratifying moments that make life more satisfying, slightly decadent and, yes, delicious.

Given the chance, few of us would willingly eschew. We would gladly give up the label reading, the constant vigilance, the extra expense of special diets and chemical-free living. We would kiss the just-say-no mentality good-bye. Who among us would deny the simple pleasure of milk in our coffee or the luxury of good fragrance on our skin? For me, the idea of biting into a silky cupcake, miniature marvel of butter, sugar and gluten, any time the spirit moves is a pleasure so palpable, I can almost taste it.

But we’ve learned to adjust, be resourceful and rein in our impulses. And isn’t restraint the very thing we need more of in these troubled times?

No one ever loses something dear without receiving a gift in return. The challenge is seeing it. Ask any artist or poet where inspiration comes from and you may reach a deeper understanding of the concept of give and take. Life often compensates in breathtaking ways.

Restraint offers unexpected rewards. There is renewed health (granted, health isn't too sexy—until it’s gone). And there is the capacity for appreciation, small victories, sweet as stolen kisses.

Harder to see, but there just the same, is moderation, patience and self-control —qualities in short supply at this period in time. A teachable moment, in my opinion.

Because we can’t mindlessly order a casein-laden cheeseburger, a quick slice of pizza or waste our precious paychecks on products full of chemicals, we have a unique opportunity to decide what we really want. We take the time to ask ourselves if the expense and bother are worth the reward or the risk. In a sense, we hunt and gather the way our ancestors did—conscious of our needs instead of our desires. We come down on the side of what nourishes, not what numbs.

As America grabbles with its habits, we who live without have already learned the hard lesson of not having everything we see.

My mother, who went through the Great Depression looking like a movie star, prepared me, albeit unwittingly, for the gluten-free life. Her devotion to quality over quantity has never been more relevant. I can still hear her saying, Buy one beautiful thing and keep it forever. Repair, don’t replace. She perfected the fine art of forgoing the immediate for something worth waiting for.

As we all cut back on expenses, worry about our jobs and narrow our lives down to the essentials, we know how difficult it is to jettison old habits. But we know living without isn’t a pinched, colorless existence. It is a reassertion of timeless truths, an exercise in exactitude.

To live more mindfully, more aware not just of our actions but the patterns they set in motion, that is the goal.

To live with passion, priority and purpose—this is living without.

In this sea change in the way we consume, work, play and plan for the future, we could all do with a little more of less.


Jax Peters Lowell, author of The Gluten Free Bible (Henry Holt), lives and eats gluten free in Philadelphia. LW

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