These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Dare I Rant?

Posted on March 10, 2013 by Naomi Bilmes

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From my blog:
I need a man, not a monkey.

I need a man, not a monkey.

I am usually a very tolerant person, especially when people are trying to understand human diversity. I will kindly explain that, no, Connecticut is not New York and that, yes, I would rather watch reruns of “Gilmore Girls” than new episodes of “Jersey Shore.” I will gladly explain that I would much rather bake with a guy than go to a bar with him, and I’ll even accept his offers to get things for me from high shelves.

But this weekend, I reached a limit. There comes a point when I can no longer make jokes about all the things I should make jokes about.
The scene: Friday night dinner with a few Pardes students and a wealthy British family.
The subject: Being gluten-free.

It all started off innocuously enough. My hostess called me during the week to say she would be investing in a gluten-free challah, and not to worry because there would be fresh fruit for dessert (misconception #1: gluten-free people do not always want to eat fruit. Imagine that everyone around you is eating chewy, fudgy brownies. You sink your teeth into a firm, green pear. See how that feels? Healthy – yes. Satisfying – no.)

2OR3

At the meal itself, statements exalting the glory of the gluten-free challah simply rained from everyone’s mouth – but no one would deign to try it. “Oh, that’s the gluten-challah,” they would say. “How intriguing! Pass me the normal one.”

Throughout the meal, I was told what I could and could not eat (I had no idea that matzah balls were off limits!), and everyone took pride in telling me that being gluten-free is so common these days aren’t all the products out there just amazing?

In an effort to be a good guest, I had baked a dessert and brought it with me. When I presented it to the host, he announced, “Oh look, Naomi brought her own dessert!” I quickly piped in with, “No, no, there’s enough for everyone!” Despite my attempt at inclusiveness, when dessert rolled around and I placed my gluten-free coffee cake on the table, my host winked at me and said, “We won’t be eating that now, will we?”

4

Before you all jump down my throat about being overly sensitive, please try to understand where I am coming from. I really appreciate your curiosity and flexibility when it comes to dietary needs. But as with any issue, the constant reminders can eventually chafe – especially when the issue is so strongly associated with physical pain and emotional challenge.

I started eating gluten-free one year ago. I had had tests for Krohn’s disease, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, celiac disease, and intestinal bacterial overgrowth. I was diagnosed with none of the above.

Nonetheless, thanks to Kate Scarlata’s FODMAP theory and the aid of a dedicated nutritionist, I decided that cutting out certain foods might help my intestines – and gluten was one of those foods. After six weeks of eating no gluten, I conducted a gluten-trial: eating a bowl of Great Grains and Grape Nuts for breakfast. Three hours later, I knew gluten needed to be banished from my diet.

So gluten is gone, but many of the problems still persist, which is why I don’t really like telling people that I am gluten-free. Whenever I tell someone I don’t eat gluten, they assume that gluten is the only problem and now I feel all better. So not true. Gluten is about 1/8 of the problem and I still have pain most of the time. I constantly feel it, hide it, and work through it. It affects my sleep, my eating, my concentration, and my social life. Believe me, I wish rice flour could solve all these problems – but it can’t.

5

So what do I ask of you? Simply to think a little bit outside of your box. Not everyone who is gluten-free is a diagnosed celiac. This doesn’t make his or her problem any less real. What is real, however, are that person’s emotions, so please consider them.


But now, I will lighten the mood a bit. For Purim, the only British girl at Pardes wrote a hilarious speech about all the dumb questions people ask her about England. In that same vein, here are actual things people have said to me about being gluten-free. Below each statement or question is the way I would like to respond. Below that is what actually comes out of my mouth. Enjoy.

A Day in the Life of the Gluten-Intolerant
A Play in One-Act

Person who likes to make generalizations: “So you’re a celiac.”
What I would like to say: Stop making generalizations.
What I actually say: “Nope, I’m just sensitive to gluten. Lots of things make my stomach hurt, and gluten is just one of them.”

Scariest Mishloach Manot ever.

Scariest Mishloach Manot ever.

Concerned Jew: “Oops. I made you a Mishloach Manot but I didn’t put any celiacs inside.”
What I would like to say: Thank goodness! I hate it when people kidnap gluten-intolerant people and tie them up in holiday-related packages.
What I actually say: “That’s fine. It’s the thought that counts.”

Person who is generous yet forgetful: “Do you want a piece of my (gluten-laden) muffin?”
What I would like to say: Remember all those conversations we had about my gluten-intolerance and your nut-allergy? Do you see me offering you a Reese’s?
What I actually say: “No, thank you.”

Person who always wants to know what everyone else is eating: “That’s gluten-free? What’s in it?”
What I would like to say: Do you really want me to list all 27 ingredients?
What I actually say: “Sugar.”

Pessimist: “What can you eat?”
What I would like to say: Plenty. And it’s probably a whole lot more natural than what you eat.
What I actually say: “Fruits, veggies, quinoa, buckwheat, chicken, fish, potatoes, corn and rice products, eggs, nuts…”

No wheat in buckwheat!

No wheat in buckwheat!

Alert skeptic: “Wait, isn’t there wheat in buckwheat?”
What I would like to say: Ok, I’ll admit that one is tricky.
What I actually say: “No, buckwheat is actually wheat-free.”

Curious sadist: “What happens if you eat gluten?”
What I would like to say: I get constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating and spend lots of the time in the bathroom. Actually, I spend lots of time in the bathroom no matter what I eat. But you didn’t need to know that, did you?
What I actually say: “My stomach hurts.”

Dunce: “Does pasta have gluten in it?”
What I would like to say: Seriously?
What I actually say: “Not if it’s rice, corn, or quinoa pasta.”

Person who feels guilty that the whole eating this is easier for him than it is for me: “Passover must be so easy for you, right?”
What I would like to say: Right. Because corn, soy, and legumes have suddenly become kosher for Passover for gluten-free people.
What I actually say: “Right.”

Sweet! Money AND an iPhone!

Sweet! Money AND an iPhone!

Person intent on feeding me: “Do you want an apple?”
What I would like to say: Only if it has $100 inside.
What I actually say: “No, thank you.”

Person who tries to sympathize with everyone: “Did you know that my (insert name of family member or friend here) is also gluten free?”
What I would like to say: No. And I don’t care. Unless that means that you have a surplus of rice cakes and would like to give me some.
What I actually say: “Oh, really? How quaint.”

Celiaphobic person: “I would die if I couldn’t eat gluten!”
What I would like to say: That might be for the better.
What I actually say: “Oh, no, I’m sure you could handle it!”

Insensitive clod: “These cookies are only for glutards.”
What I would like to say: That word is NOT funny. Everyone agrees that “retard” is not okay, so why would “glutard” be okay??
What I actually say: “Thanks for the cookies.”

Insensitive clod #2: “Don’t you miss challah?”
What I would like to say: F*** you.

Note that the last example does not have a sample of what I actually say. This is because I have yet to think of a constructive reply to this statement and, in response, I usually just fake a smile and seethe inwardly.

If you see a question on the above list that you might have asked, don’t despair – it happens to the best of us. You can be at peace knowing that your provided me (and hopefully some of my readers) with a good laugh.