Generally speaking most of you know me as a pretty healthy person. I don’t eat meat. I’ve cut back drastically on dairy. My friend’s mother and, I like to think, my friend Tina Ostwald once told me “the whiter the bread (rice, grain, etc), the sooner you’re dead.” I exercise for pleasure. I exercise for health. I medidtate to try and keep stress levels low-ish and I do crossword puzzles to avoid Ahlzheimer’s. But I do not, and never will, give up certain guilty pleasures. Selections from this list include:
Red Vines. Nacho Cheese Doritos. Powdered donuts. Pizza. Golden Grahams. Chocolate chip cookies. Funfetti cake. Blueberry pancakes.
But since this season began, I’ve been eating drastically less of all of the above mentioned items. Not because they are bad for me, which they are. Not because I’ve gained more willpower, because I haven’t. But simply because the person I’ve spent most of my social (ie: eating) time with is Jenn. And Jenn can’t eat any of these things. Correction: Jenn can eat these things, but they will make her violently ill and increase her chances of further medical issues down the road. It’s a trade-off I guess.
See Jenn has Celiac disease, and you can read more about that here, which is basically an allergy to gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. When you take a minute to think about all that this really includes, the North American mind is staggered. Bread, in all it’s glorious and wonderful forms including an ‘everything’ bagel, is out. Beer, unless you mean the Asian varieties like Sapporo, is out. Beer and pretzels gone from your diet. The ballpark is ruined forever.
As Jenn’s friend and a person with self-imposed dietary restrictions, I decided to take a hands-on and proactive approach to eating with Jenn. And since eating is a prime component of most of my friendships, taking this step was crucial. First of all, if and when it becomes necessary for Jenn to explain her condition to people, they often exclaim things like ‘I’d DIE without bread!’ or ‘Life wouldn’t be worth living without cupcakes!’ I know how they feel, but neither statement is true and both are annoying to someone who both continues living without bread AND considers that life worthwhile without cupcakes. I sympathize with Jenn on this because when people discover that I’m a vegetarian they say similar things, replacing ‘bread’ or ‘cupcakes’ with ‘steak’ or ‘turkey.’
So I looked into it, and discovered some very good news. Nacho Cheese Doritos are out, but Cool Ranch are in! Red Vines and all other licorice are a no-go, but Sour Patch Kids are completely fine! Potatoes, my favorite food of all time in their various forms, are completely and utterly edible. In fact, since becoming pregnant Jenn could have lived on Potato Skins alone! You can make gluten-free (GF) flour for baking, and better yet, you can buy it pre-made! Sure, it’s more expensive than normal flour but maybe that’s a GOOD thing! It really makes you think twice before making a batch of cookies all willy nilly! Use the GF flour as a one-to-one substitute in your recipe and reduce the cooking time slightly. Voile! Anyone could be fooled!
Eating out includes another set of issues. Obviously Italian restaurants, what with the pre-meal bread and the requisite pasta, aren’t ideal. But Jenn is a trooper, and once in a while she’s up for calling the restaurant ahead, bringing her own pasta, and having them make it for her. Sandwich shops are often also kind of a write-off, because while they could wrap the sandwich contents in lettuce ala Atkins diet, that gets old. But Japanese, Chinese and Mexican food, all with acceptable carbs like rice or corn tortillas, always fit the bill. Salads are available anywhere, and Jenn never says boo as long as she can order one. I’ve expanded my palate to include sushi (don’t roll your eyes, more on that later) and a number of Mexican dishes that I would have balked at previously, all because of my desire to spend time eating with my dear friend Jenn.
There are always snags, when I forget that something includes gluten as a elasticity agent or if I assume something is GF just because a similar food also is. But Jenn forgives me, because she has also had to learn the sometimes tricky art of feeding a vegetarian, remembering to look at ingredients closely and realize that chicken stock is not vegetarian and ‘imitation crab’ simply means it’s some other kind of fish instead of crab. Still meat my friends. This year the team had a large group of girls who loved to get together regularly and, you guessed it, eat. For some of them having two vegetarians and one gluten-intolerant diner was a bit overwhelming and made cooking difficult. But we reminded them that a veggie platter meets everyone’s needs, and pizza sans meat works in a pinch because Jenn will provide her own corn tortillas onto which she scrapes all the toppings. Remember? Trooper.
When I drive back to my old friends in a few weeks, my intake of the foods on Jenn’s forbidden list will surely go up. It’s not good for my waistline, but it’s inevitable since I’ll surely be lazier and less consistent without Jenn around. But more than that, I’ll miss the fact that I could buy a GF pack of cookies and use it as an excuse to spend time with my head in the lap of my friend. Yes, she lets me put my head in her lap. And she even pats my hair. As happy as I’ll be to reunite with my much loved and much missed friends from other places, I’d give up all the gluten in the world to be able to bring Jenn and soon-to-be Baby Arturo with me.