Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Bread-less Boston Thanksgiving

It is evening before Thanksgiving, and I am gearing up for my first turkey-day with friends rather than family and, also, without bread. That's right, no more bread for me! At least, not of the wheat-containing variety (ie, the good kind). A couple months ago, during a none-so-pleasant stomach flu that was persisting into it's third week, I received a positive blood test for Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which eating gluten destroys the lining of the small intestine, resulting in malnutrition and stomach pain. It requires a genetic predisposition ("Hey baby, I'm genetically predisposed to you . . .") but can manifest itself anytime during one's life, and is often triggered by stress (uuhhhh, as a fourth year phd student I have no idea where I'd get that from).

There is no cure. The only treatment: a lifetime ban on gluten. (Good job MIT. In addition to taking away my pride and my sanity, you have now also succeeded in taking away my ability to eat BREAD!)

I was actually incredibly relieved to have the diagnosis. I have been struggling for months with unexplained fatigue (I asked my doctor for a mono test at the beginning of the summer. She said it was allergies and handed me some Zyrtec. And a pregnancy test - because at MIT medical, all ailments are a result of pregnancy. Seriously, dudes, I dare you to go to the clinic complaining of nausea and fatigue - someone will ask you when your last period was) and it was nice to finally know the cause.

And, somehow, maybe not by accident, I have just never really liked bread that much. Rolls? Nah, I'll stick with mashed potatoes. Donuts? Rather have a Twizzler (Ooops, they are also made of wheat. Uh, I'll take some chocolate then). Pasta? I'll go with the tacos instead.

Finally, one more reason not to feel too sorry for me (though, some pity is always appreciated): I live in Cambridge, MA. There are two Whole Foods, two health food co-ops, and one Trader Joes within walking distance of my house. A pizza place that makes it's entire menu using gluten-free dough (i.e., with rice and sorghum flour rather than wheat). A bakery/cafe with freakin' gluten-free take-out dinner options. Not to mention, tacos - with corn tortillas - are always gluten-free (and lord knows how easily I could live on nothing but tacos).

Anyhow, this Thanksgiving I'll have to skip the rolls and pass on the mac and cheese, but I'm cooking a wild rice side dish, mashed potatoes, and some gravy with corn starch rather than flour - and lord knows as long as there are mashed potatoes and gravy, something is going right in the world.

For those who are curious, and to clear up some misconceptions:

Gluten-y foods: Anything containing wheat, rye, and barley. This includes bread, cereal, pasta, baked goods, and beer (nooooooo!), plus just about every processed food made in America (beware of "vegetable thickener"!) and also just about every restaurant item made in America (as I've discovered from a couple highly disappointing "gluten-free" dining experiences)

Gluten-free foods: All kinds of rice, beans, quinoa, potatoes, corn, sorghum wheat, and buckwheat.


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