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The good side to all of this is that by avoiding wheat and its cousins and derivatives, you eliminate nearly of all the foods in the Western diet that are the worst for us, the most fattening, and the least nutritious. The difficult side is that partaking in food is one of the most important social activities that we humans have. When a person is on a restrictive diet, it comes with a social stigma of not being able to eat what other people are eating. I remind my friends about this; I appreciate that they sometimes come up with gluten-free options at a dinner, but that is different than being able to eat the same food as everyone else. Mind you, I grew up in an Italian household, eating rice when everyone else ate spaghetti.
Once you figure out all the ins and outs of restaurants and packaged foods, and figure out who your friends and enemies are, and which foods you can and cannot eat, and make notes of which waiters and chefs will cooperate and which will not, there are still surprises. A Canadian writer informed me last week that the gluten theory of celiac, which has 100-percent acceptance by the mainstream medical establishment and most of the alternative medical establishment, may be entirely incorrect.
“Gluten intolerance is not really enough to explain celiac disease, since symptoms do not disappear when gluten is eliminated from the diet,” writes Victoria Anisman-Reiner, a Toronto-based holistic writer. “In some cases, avoiding gluten restores health and improves digestive symptoms. However, according to [Elaine] Gottschall, it does not result in healing of the intestinal wall.”
She refers her readers to a book by Elaine Gottschall called Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet. The author presents a new model for healing digestive disorders including celiac, with an approach called the “specific carbohydrate diet” that calls for eliminating most carbohydrates and many milk products, along with wheat gluten.
This is like discovering your chocolate bar has wheat in it, but on a very grand scale. Unless one lives on a diet of steaks and crouton-free salads, it’s nearly impossible to follow this diet and eat outside your house.
It is difficult to live like this and not see all food as potential poison. But that would actually be a good idea; at this time in history, all food is potential poison. Whether you’re talking about the additives that go in, such as dyes and preservatives, or the inadvertent toxins, such as the mercury in your tuna fish and the phthlate plasticizers in your bottled water, we do have a food-safety issue. I shudder to think of how you’re going to raise awareness among those who don’t know that pasta is made from wheat. How would you convince someone who smokes and drinks Diet Coke not to microwave in plastic?
All of this has made me uniquely suited to write about toxins that are everywhere in the world—dioxins and PCBs. Sometimes I wonder how I have the strength to face an issue that is so widespread, that is invisible and that few people actually care about—and I finally figured out that I’ve been facing it all my life. I already have to regard every morsel of food as a suspected poison.
This is true even when I’m in the very best company. Recently, I was a guest at a dinner party, and our chef was the owner of one of the most famous gluten-free restaurants in the city, which serves tiny, little $18 pizzas and recently got a rave in the New York Times. He knew I was celiac because that’s how I found out what restaurant he owned. When we sat down at the table, dinner was impeccable: except for the gravy, which was made with flour.