I freakin love hamburgers. There, I said it. Judging by the number of hamburgers that are consumed worldwide I can also only surmise that I am not alone. I’m pretty sure McDonalds didn’t change the “billions served” sign solely because of me, although in my burger hayday I certainly did my part to help. I am telling you about my burger infatuation because it provides you with some integral background information for my little story. You see due to some health questions recently within the family we started investigating a few various issues with food intolerances. After some testing and a Doctors consultation it was revealed that a couple of members of our family do not get along with wheat, or more specifically Gluten, in our digestive tract. No problem, if something doesn’t agree with you then don’t eat it, right? Just like that we were on our way to a GF (gluten free) lifestyle.
For those of you that do not know, gluten is nothing more than an enzyme that is found in wheat. At least according to chemistry it is. According to my stomach it is a tiny ball of demon spit encased in razor blades. So I only have to avoid eating wheat, and life is good! As it turns out, this was not such an easy a plan. Apparently food manufacturers have some time ago figured out that wheat is a very cheap filler and that it should be added to EVERYTHING. I started off thinking that all I had to avoid was bread which, in itself, was a cause of mild panic. Sandwiches, buns, toast and yes, HAMBURGERS were all literally off the table. Ok, I can do this – I am strong, I shall overcome… wait, WHAT?!? I also cannot have any normal baking such as cinnamon buns, donuts, muffins, cookies, cakes or pastries? Relax, just breathe, no problem, I am still strong enough… I think. Oh I have to remove pizza too as well as any breaded deep fried goodness such as fish and chips or prawns or wontons. Ok, this isn’t fun anymore. We are now starting to severely impact my diet along with my will to live. Much like a boxing match with no referee, (or a 1970s TV record album) the hits keep coming; Cereals, salad dressings and puddings were added to the list along with most any kind of processed meats: sausages, hot dogs, pepperoni, deli meat, etc. Instead of simply avoiding one item that I couldnt eat, I quickly found myself searching for things that I could eat. Or perhaps just stop eating and die – that was beginning to look like a viable option.
One of the first things I noticed about trying to avoid gluten is that there are a lot of people doing the same thing right now. There are actually people who are eating gluten free with no real medical reason to but hey, life is about choices and if they feel better not eating gluten then more power to them. It has become the equivalent of platform shoes or pet rocks – it seems like the cool thing to do at the time but history is going to look back and laugh. This is helpful for those that actually require a GF diet in that it has opened the door to more choices as manufacturers and marketing teams scramble to cash in on the latest fad. (Funny how money will drive new products when actual health reasons won’t, but that’s a topic for another day). Unfortunately however it also means that most other people do not recognize a valid gluten intolerance and instead lump you into a group of annoying trend followers, the likes of which cannot order a coffee without sounding obnoxious. Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip anyone? You can almost hear the servers’ eyes roll inside their head when they are asked about GF options. The restaurants also like to ask you if it’s an allergy or a preference, and this is done so that they know how much they should care. On a scale from one to ten, saying “allergy” gets you a care level of 0.5 and “preference” gets you a care level of negative twelve. The respect that we glutenites garner is truly awesome.
Thanks in no small part to the gluten fad there has become a ton of GF options available at grocery stores now too. There are a couple of small yet notable problems with the many products that have hit the market to feed the GF craze. The first is, for some reason when they take gluten (or wheat) out of a product they have to replace that void with approximately seven hundred chemicals, all with names that would make Mary Poppins think “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was an abbreviation. I took a bit of chemistry in school and I have a limited understanding of how things mix together but for the life of me I cannot understand how taking one item out of a formula can lead to the introduction of such a long list of other chemicals to replace it. To put it bluntly, the running joke we have is that the words “gluten free” on a product simply means “chemical crapstorm”. Now one would think that if you have the ability to mix chemicals and make food without worrying about how long the ingredient list is then it would at least be delicious, but you would be wrong. This leads us to the second problem with many GF food products: THEY USUALLY TASTE LIKE CRAP. Unless of course you enjoy eating drywall putty or play-doh, you will most likely find that GF offerings can be a “little off” when it comes to taste and texture. And by a little off I mean awful. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are a few products out there that do manage to pull off their charade and actually do taste very good, but it takes some hunting to find them. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince or something like that.
I have learned a lot about food in general during this new venture of ours. I have also found ingredient lists that have absolutely shocked me with what they contain. On a serious note I urge everyone to read the labels on the food they eat. I don’t mean skim it and pick out a couple of things you recognize, I mean read it to understand it. Look up those words that you don’t know. Find out what you are putting in your body. Remember that a long word doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing but you should at least know what it is, shouldn’t you? I am actually thankful of the lessons that this has taught me about the ingredients in our food…if only someone would combine those ingredients to make me a cinnamon sticky-bun flavoured carrot stick my life would be complete. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go feed my pet rock.