As I sit down to write this I can’t help but feel as if it is a confessional. As if I am apologizing for some sort of grave infidelity and I am worried about the mortification that will follow.
I am so sorry Wheat, I just can’t do it anymore. No, it’s not you. It’s me. I don’t think we can be just ‘friends’ sadly, it’s better if we end it here.
My wheat “breakup” speech has played over and over in my head, and as sad as this sounds it is nearly as uncomfortable as some of the real conversations I’ve had.
I have recently been diagnosed with we think is an autoimmune condition (we’ll discuss what this means shortly) that has plagued different generations of my family in a variety of ways. Most recently, my Father, Brother and now myself have fallen victim to a condition known as Hyperthyroidism.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the throat, it is responsible for a variety of bodily functions chiefly metabolism and hormone release. (Hyper)thyroidism refers to an overactive thyroid gland with a variety of symptoms including tremors, hair loss, diarrhea, excessive sweating, racing heart, anxiety, and nervousness. It is the less known counterpart to Hypothyroidism, which I personally know much less about, save, that it is more common.
Presently, the Vilaca clan has three members suffering some level of Hyperthyroidism, a very rare event according to the health care professionals I have spoken with. This has led to the current hypothesis of Autoimmune Disease.
Autoimmune (AI) Disease refers to a condition where the body’s natural immune system has lost the ability to differentiate between foreign and natural tissue. The antibodies will begin to attack any cells that look similar and your genetic weak link will be exploited, in our case the Thyroid gland.
There is relatively little information about AI conditions in the traditional medical community and as a result, people tend to suffer the condition much longer than necessary before an appropriate diagnosis. As a side note if you believe that you are suffering from what is potentially an AI Disease I strongly recommend a book by Dr. Tom O’Bryan titled the Autoimmune Fix. Available online here or at your local bookstore.
As a means of combatting the disease, the standard protocol calls for the immediate removal of Gluten / Casein from your diet, forever. I will post a separate blog all about Gluten, Casein and gut health but to save those that have no interest I will leave it at removal.
Armed with this new information and hoping to send my AI Disease into remission I have forsaken gluten and casein forever. I am going on week 3 and felt that it was time to write about this new journey, having started to reconcile with the decision, helped along immensely by Paul Graham’s novel, In Memory of Bread: A Memoir. Faced with a similar diagnosis this upstate New York English Professor documented his struggles associated with forsaking gluten. Regardless of your personal connection to the topic, it is an excellent and engaging read.
As I walked out of the office, having been told to break up with gluten my internal movie theatre was a revolving door of all the wonderful moments we had had, each more torturous than the last. At least 15 minutes was dedicated to every variety of bread I could name and some I could not, Rye, Boule, Sourdough, Croissant, Baguette, Bolo du Cacao, Brioche, Rolls, Ciabatta, Laffa, Bazalam. In the span of a few minutes, I had torn across the European countryside and into the Middle East. When I finally talked myself down from the bread ledge I was hit with a second wave.
Beer. Mugs filled with the Golden/Amber liquid on top of a wooden table, foam running down the side from an amateur-ish pour. Brands swam through my head and I thought back to all the times I have enjoyed a beer and my relationship with it. Being intoxicated for the first time in my friend’s basement on Molson Ice (truly an abomination to beer), hiding a case of James Ready under the steps because I couldn’t bring it home, drinking beer while camping with my Dad where rules didn’t apply and later falling in love with the craft brewery experience.
In the span of one appointment I had been asked to sever ties with bread and beer and in doing so close the door on two of the best relationships of my life long before the romance had dried up. For those who do not suffer from a Gluten sensitivity it is difficult to understand, I know, I would never have been able to comprehend the ramifications. It is not merely the sacrifice of the substance but the social aspects that accompany it, I have some amazing friends who would readily compromise and adjust but in doing so I lose part of the essence of that experience.
These two substances have been in existence for nearly as long as we have been keeping records (probably before) and are so tightly woven into our social fabric that it is nearly impossible to imagine them not finding a place on the table. Ripping off a chunk of fresh bread, squishing it against a piece of cheese (Casein spites me again) and washing it back with a cold pint is an afternoon I will never turn down.
So how did I say goodbye to bread and beer? Poorly. These loving relationships deserved a send-off of epic proportions. They deserved fine dining and friends, then soft music and a low burning fireplace for the final goodbye. A long slow kiss and a lingering handhold into the night.
Instead, my farewell party is one of the more embarrassing culinary experiences of my life, a sticky note on the kitchen table. I just don’t think the magnitude of what I was giving up had fully hit me yet. I came home, tossed two pieces of toast into the toaster (the last two in the bag- perhaps a sign) and cracked open a bottle of beer we had tucked in the back of the fridge. I can’t even tell you the brand, maybe Kronenberg 1664, maybe. I sat down in a chair, savored the beer and munched on a piece of buttered toast. When the beer was done I drank another and then tossed the empty bread bag into the garbage and the beer bottles into the recycling bin.
It was an anti-climax farewell to companions that deserve much more, in retrospect, I should have headed down to Pizza Libretto ordered one of everything while doing my very best to drink their entire tap of rotating draughts dry. Yet on the other hand, perhaps it was best that I said goodbye to them in their most basic form, how I first met them. Bread warmed by heat and plain French beer, not infused with pumpkin or coffee.
As I am now faced with the proposition of never again experiencing those sweet pleasures I am forced to re-assess my relationship with food and culture. Sylvie recently asked me to read something she had written, “Food is a mixture of pleasure, nourishment, guilt, comfort, culture, experience and habit.…” I couldn’t agree more, going to a quality restaurant, a restaurant that cares about your experience will send you forward and backward simultaneously. The taste of roasted turnips will return you to the past, to your Grandmother’s house in the fall, reminding you of the love she put into her cooking. While also altering your future, creating a new reference for all turnip dishes that are not only linked to Grandma but also friends.
I have lost two of these time machines, our most iconic foods. How do I reconcile this loss? I don’t know but I am certainly going to try to find out and I want you to come with me. I promise to dive into this new lifestyle fully and will continue to share my experiences and struggles along the way. If you are in a similar position we can help each other, hopefully, you are not.
I am on a quest to drink crisp GF beer and eat fluffy GF loaves, to share them unbeknownst to “normal” friends and have them greeted as if in their true form. We will be embarking on a Documentary series in the New Year, exploring the gluten sensitivity epidemic, and how to lead a normal life despite restrictions. Exploring how we can maintain those parts of culture that we hold so dear and if it’s even worthwhile.