Goodbye Bread (and Other Wheat Products)

I am one of those lucky souls who does not have any allergies. However, I am also one of those unlucky souls who suffers from chronic stomach aches for some unknown reason. For this reason, over spring break I decided to cut out gluten as a food (and thought) experiment to see if this would help my stomach aches. I often feel bloated or gassy (sorry...tmi?) after eating heavily doughy foods such as pizza or a big sandwich, so I figured perhaps gluten was the answer. My best friend from home has been gluten free for about 5 years now, so I inquired what were the best gluten-free brands to stock up on. Some, I already knew and loved despite still eating gluten in other areas of my diet. I stocked up my kitchen cabinets with a few options and began the experiment.

I lasted three whole days.

Being gluten-free is hard, guys! There are money foods which we automatically associate with gluten -- bread and pasta -- but there are so many other random foods and snacks which suddenly you have to eliminate. Not to mention cross-contamination at restaurants or in baked goods at your favorite cafe. Many of my weekly staples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner were suddenly a no-no: no more crackers, baked ziti, spinach ciabatta, or cereal. Suddenly, the options available in my refrigerator for lunch were slim and when I went out to eat, I was limited to a few selections, mostly salads which is not always what I am craving. While I have noticed an increase in gluten free options in cafes and restaurants -- cooks now realizing they must also cater to a growing population of gluten free customers -- many locations still do not provide this as an option. I suddenly had great respect for my friend who has navigated through restaurants with this food identity for so many years. While I have second-handedly experienced it in the past, as I often researched possible restaurants and cafes to go to for lunch or dinner with my friends, keeping an eye out for gluten free options, I was never actually in the position of having to choose between an expensive meat or fish dish or a dismal salad.

As an unfortunate bonus to this lifestyle, my friend is also in college where she reports that the gluten-free options available in the dining hall is slim, which is partly why she chose to live in apartment-style living this semester, so that she would have access to a kitchen. Connecticut College is not much different in its offerings. While there is a gluten-free station -- and by that I mean a refrigerator or table if you are in Harris -- the options are still slim compared to what is offered to the lucky souls who can eat gluten. Gluten free pasta and bread is available, in addition to rice cakes and pretzels, but the quantity and quality of options is just not there. This unfortunate reality is understandable as gluten free goods are often more expensive -- typically you must pay an extra $2 to $3 dollars at a cafe if you want your sandwich or panini on gluten free bread. What makes this factoid even more ironic is that usually the bread is smaller than normal bread, so you are paying more for less. I still remember a particular hilarious lunch outing when my friend ordered a sandwich on gluten free bread and her latte mug was bigger than her sweet potatoe, goat cheese, and spinach veggie sandwich! The irony.

I too was part of this game for a brief moment when I bought a pricey double chocolate chip gluten free muffin from Tatte Bakery & Cafe in Beacon Hill over spring break. I will eat pretty much anything chocolate so I enjoyed the muffin, but it was a little dry. Not awful, but I am sure a gluten muffin probably would have tasted better. This, in addition to not being able to eat my favorite bread (When Pig’s Fly) and abstaining from my mom’s whole made waffles, not too mention chinese food and pizza -- I mean, what was I going to do when I went abroad to Italy next year? -- spurred me to reevaluate my gluten free experiment. Had I noticed a significant improvement in how I felt after eating gluten free meals, I would have continued. Unfortunately, this was not the case and I began to reflect upon why I should continue to torture myself. The answer was a resounding “stop.” So I caved in and ate delicious bread with my avocado toast, feeling slightly defeated, but mostly happy to be back. I am sorry if this is bragging to anyone who is gluten free.

My search is still on for why I have stomach aches, but my gluten free experiment did give me perspective. Cutting out gluten, even for just three days, made me realize how lucky I am to be able to eat food with this ingredient as it makes eating out and at college a lot easier. Not to mention -- again -- bread. Simply, bread.