My Gluten-free Vegan Manifesto

by TheRadiantHuman

When I tell folks I am gluten free and vegan (I suppose the more appropriate verbage would be “practice gluten-free veganism” as to not define myself), I sense that they also hear the following addendum:

You are unlike me, so I judge you. Your omnivorous appetite exemplifies your sadistic attitude towards animals. Your gluten ingestion signifies both your disdain for your own personal health and your proclivity to succumbing to the succubi of that most evil of pliable protein substances.

Wow. Pretty loaded statements, am I right? And they are about as accurate as claiming that Dolly Parton has a boyish figure.

I chose to follow the GF vegan lifestyle because it is what my body demands of me at this point in time. I went GF on New Year’s Day, as I had been experiencing digestive issues and figured I may as well give it a try. I had tried GFreedom a few years ago, which ended in a disastrous night of nonstop projectile vomiting (and I have only vomited three other times in my life, once as a baby and twice during college during the stage when I drank to get drunk, nuff said; I am not a puker) due to a GF bagel, but I went about it the wrong way: instead of emphasizing whole foods (vegetables, fruit, and rice/quinoa) I simply stocked up on the current wave of GF foods now making a presence on grocery store shelves: GF bagels/cookies/chips. Not exactly ideal. Again, not saying that is the “wrong way” (let’s refrain from assigning moral values to food please, leads to all sorts of issues and I believe is also contributing to the nation’s current situation with health and diabetes), it just wasn’t and isn’t right for *my* body.

That being said, I do find the eco-friendiness (as I support a CSA, thus eating locally and seasonally) side effect of following a vegan lifestyle to be an added bonus. Therefore I support those who choose to follow a vegan lifestyle on account of their ethics concerning animals.

However, I find that the subject of food occupies a peculiar niche within current American society. It is simultaneously a very personal thing and a very social social thing. My choice of diet is very personal. I would be lying if I said I don’t sometimes miss being able to eat things like pizza and popovers and scones, and being able to get some Ben and Jerry’s with my friends. I don’t miss them too much, but I do sometimes (especially when the scents of baked sugariness wafts over to Fleet Feet . . . daggum you Breadworks!). Not to mention the anxiety of going out to eat with friends (dates? I have learned to try as best as I can to avoid meals as dates unless I’ve been dating someone for a while!) and feeling like a total spaz when inquiring the server about GF vegan options and sussing out the potential for cross contamination. I also feel awkward when I have to ask roommates to not be careless when they make things like pancakes, as seeing the flour form clouds over their stirring bowls and land on our shared cooking surfaces honestly freaks me out a little bit because I know what happens when I am exposed to gluten: my digestive system stops functioning and my body subsists in a severely wilted state for at least a day or two. I read a woman’s blog, and she framed it in a way that I completely empathized with: she shared that as someone with Celiac disease, gluten, for her, is poison. Some may see that as hyperbole, but it’s not unlike sugar for those with Type 1 diabetes, or peanuts or bee stings for those severely allergic to either of those.

I also don’t revel in GFreedom and put myself on a pedestal because of it. To be perfectly honest, needing to follow such a lifestyle on account of how gluten affects my body can not only be frustrating due to the social aspects, but also completely sucks when my digestion acts up due to exposure. Feeling a lack of control over one’s body and feeling like it is, in fact, the enemy is a terrible feeling that no one deserves. Yet I have observed that a number of people, not having personal experience with a similar sensitivity, have almost antagonistic attitudes towards the need to amend their habits to allow some of us to participate in certain activities without fear of feeling terrible. A prime example: this past summer, I rejoined the staff of an excellent summer camp that instructs children in activities such as kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing while also emphasizing the principles of Leave No Trace. Near the conclusion of the summer, there was a camper with severe peanut and other food allergies that has been unable to participate in “normal” kid group summertime activities due to those allergies. In preparation, his parents not only held meetings with the staff and directors, but they also supplied snacks in order to create as safe an environment as possible for their son. And what was the reaction of some of those staff members? Saying that the parents were being excessive. Groaning and rolling their eyes when saying they had to stay for a meeting with the parents. I am not meaning to imply that these staff members are heartless, I simply think they lack understanding for the situation.

So yes, back to food’s unique role in society. While it is supremely personal, it is also tightly woven in our social fabric. Special event? Food is a centerpiece (weddings, birthday parties, holidays, etc etc etc). Simple gatherings of friends. Schools and extracurriculars. When someone’s dietary needs deviate from the majority, they do not go unnoticed. I simply hope we can reach a point at which we recognize that food’s core responsibility is to nourish our bodies and therefore help us live happily and healthily, and that every body has unique needs with regard to that nourishment.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that this point is not meant to arouse any sort of pity. I do truly enjoy GF veganism! (And it’s fun to play around with baking recipes to make them GF and vegan!) I simply hope to enhance others’ understanding of such dietary needs as well as remind them that one person’s dietary choices are personal to them, not an attack on others. So if your reply when I tell you I am GF and vegan is “I could never live without red meat!” I will in turn respond “I’m glad that it works so well with your body. Have you ever tried buffalo steak with rosemary?”

P.S. No flame wars please. I am trying to foster community and understanding, not detract from it, thanks!