Friday, September 3, 2010

I'm Not Cake Deprived, Thank You Anyway

I eat a gluten-free diet, and have for four or five years now. My story as I tell it over and over again to curious folks is that I had various symptoms for years and my friend and roommate with celiac's said she thought it could be a gluten allergy and I should try going gluten-free to see if it helped. So I did. Within 3 days I was going through withdrawals which scared me, but gluten breaks down into an opiate in the body and causes a chemical addiction. After one week, I had twice again as much energy and it was like a fog had been lifted from my brain. After that, it was easy not to go back.

And for those who think cutting gluten out might be a worthwhile experiment, you have to go 100%, not 99%. Not gluten-free except for spaghetti-Os or vegetarian faux-meat. The entirety of the allergen has to be out of your system in order to know if being gluten-free is helpful for your health.

All that said, I am amazed at the deprivation discourse that surrounds being gluten free. There are thousands, perhaps millions of foods that are naturally gluten free. All veggies, fruits, beans, peas, nuts, and grains other than wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats, are naturally gluten free, as are meats and animal products for the non-veggies and vegans (although, to be fair, some folks with celiac's are sensitive to meat from animals fed wheat). Problem is, the American diet is incredibly wheat-based. Bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, cakes, pies, etc. abound in the American diet. I tell people who are going to cook for me about my dietary restrictions, and wheat is often too ubiquitous for them to realize they have made food I can't eat. "Is there any wheat in that?" I ask. "No, no wheat." "Are those crackers on top?" "Oh, yeah, they are. Sorry."

So what is in the special gluten-free section of the grocery store? Gluten-free options for baked goods and other traditionally wheat-based foods. Mixes for cakes, cookies, and brownies. Frozen pizza crusts. Rice pasta. Gluten-free bread made from rice or tapioca or potato starch. I am given gifts of gluten-free cake mixes, flours, and baking cookbooks. Friends and family email me gluten-free recipes, usually for sweets like flourless chocolate cake (I think I have 5 different recipe links for that one). Not that I don't appreciate it, but I don't feel deprived.

I don't need to continue to eat baked goods. I don't need to eat imitation wheat products, just like I didn't feel the need to buy imitation meat products when I became a vegetarian. I don't need to pretend to continue eating the traditional American diet. Instead, I am a culinary traveler enjoying Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, and other rice/corn/bean based cuisines from around the world.

I often meet people who react to my dietary needs as if they are tragic, as they widen their eyes and ask what CAN I eat? Whereas I find that a little bit of restriction has actually made my diet richer and more diverse. I also think I eat healthier now, because I am more conscious of what I am eating and because many of the quick access processed foods are no longer an option. Not a bad thing.

Oh, and I am really really good at eating the filling out of a pie.


LDA said...

I apologize if my giving you the gluten-free mix that Christmas offended you. I will keep that in mind in the future. If I do bring gluten-free baked goods to an event, howeve, please understand that it is because I want to experiment with gluten-free cooking, not because I consider you deprived.

Philosofisher said...

Oh no, the cake mix didnt offend me, especially since you said you thought of me due to the fact that it said "decadent." I thought that was awesome.

It's the larger theme of "deprivation" that I object to.