People often ask me if I eat wheat. This has been going on for, oh, fifteen years? It used to surprise me, because I’m vegan and most people agree that wheat is a plant. At the time, there weren’t many other commonly-known dietary restrictions and it seemed unusual to link my plant-based diet with something more medical in nature. Now, of course, everyone knows what gluten-free means, and it’s more obvious that we are natural allies. That’s why I often cook GF food for my friends.
It isn’t a big deal. I have empathy for the recently gluten-departed because I remember what it was like (and often still is like):
Spending an extra hour at the grocery store just to read ingredients
Going to parties where you can’t eat the food
...and then people keep asking you about it
Having to bring your own food to a gathering, only for others to nitpick it
Going out to dinner and finding nothing on the menu
Communicating with uninterested or actively hostile waitstaff
Getting food that still has something you can’t eat, no matter how carefully you explain
Feeling excluded and resented
Listening as other people put words in your mouth or question your motives
Being “told” you have an eating disorder by random uncredentialed bystanders
There are certainly other groups who feel excluded from social or business settings that involve food, and they know what I mean when I sum up the attitude:
“Eat bacon, eat pizza, drink beer, or get out.”
People are basically like, if you don’t eat the exact same foods that I do, I have no interest in being your friend. And I’m like, but what about sense of humor and taste in music??
Oh well, their loss.
When I meet people who have recently quit eating gluten, I know just what to do. Most of my diet is GF anyway, because almost all baked goods fall outside of the category of what I consider food for humans. I, too, feel cruddy after I eat ordinary foods like white bread or bagels or pizza crust. It’s basically glue. I don’t have a problem with gluten, I have a problem with industrial foods in general.
I don’t refuse to eat these things. It’s more like I walk on by and they don’t exist to me.
Other people may feel a similar feeling when they contemplate eating foods like black licorice, or pineapple on pizza, or soggy cornflakes, or whatever else they think is kinda gross and uninteresting. Baby food, there’s your example. I can watch other (small) people eating baby food all day and not mind, not feel like it applies to me or that I’m missing out. It just... isn’t for me.
Nobody minds if I don’t eat a dinner roll or a croissant or a bagel or a muffin or whatever. Nobody is required to eat anything off a buffet. Any host who pushes past a “no, thank you” to find out why a guest is not eating a specific thing is setting themselves up for an awkward moment. Nobody needs that.
Not that that stops them...
I mean, I AM an animal at the zoo, here for everyone’s third-degree pleasure, am I not?
I’ll never forget being invited for a holiday meal - a stranger who couldn’t afford to fly home - and having twelve people question me about my lifestyle as I resorted to eating the entree I had to cook for myself. Wouldn’t you all rather exchange book recommendations or play Never Did I Ever or something?
It’s a dynamic that always ends poorly. The interlocutor feels like they’re doing their best to engage and take an interest. The newly different, and probably quite hungry, person with the non-traditional culinary habit feels defensive and isolated. Everyone involved would be better off switching to another topic, yet for some reason they don’t. The one who would really like a nice hot meal that doesn’t make them ill, comes across as annoying, preachy, and socially “not a good cultural fit for this office.” The “normal” person comes off like a bully.
A bully with a cold table and a harsh home.
There, I said it.
I love to cook, and I love to cook for large groups. I will never stop bursting with pride when, inevitably, my potluck offering is cleared before anyone else’s dish - and sometimes before I can turn around with a serving spoon. I see it as a basic component of hospitality to offer a crowd-pleasing spread. I don’t see cooking gluten-free as any more complicated than anything else. In point of fact, there are all sorts of foods that are both vegan and gluten-free that anyone would eat, such as watermelon, corn on the cob, or bean dip.
Try as I might, I still get picky eaters. “Normal” people take zero accountability for how picky they can be. They will patently refuse to try any dish with a food they don’t like, sometimes even if they’ve never tasted it in their life. They’ll pick around something like sweet potato or escarole, and nobody ever gives them any flack for their demonstrably restrictive dietary habits.
We’re only in trouble if we do it for medical or philosophical reasons, or, really any other consistent purpose. The only socially acceptable reason not to eat something is because you just don’t like it and you think it’s icky.
Personally I think it’s my right as a consumer to eat or not eat whatever I choose, and it’s the right of any business in a free market to sell and serve it to me.
I also think it’s the right of my friends and acquaintances to eat or not eat, end of story. If they aren’t hungry, if they’re doing intermittent fasting, if they just had dental work done, if they’re embarrassed about their table manners, how can I care? If this is a person I want to feel welcome and comfortable, I’m going along with whatever they need.
This is why I’ll always accommodate my gluten-free friends. I have nearly thirty years of experience scrutinizing labels and reading the ingredients of the ingredients. I already know to use separate serving utensils and prep things on a clean cutting board. There are also plenty of convenience foods I can quickly throw in my cart or pop out of the freezer. It’s fun to watch my gluten-free friends’ faces light up when the realization dawns that they can trust me, they can enjoy a fine hot meal, and they can feel safe to come over and do it again another time. Gluten-free friends are grateful friends!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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