18 September 2007

What they don't tell you in gluten-free school

I went on a little odyssey recently into the gluten-free world. I found much that is good and available, and also experienced how difficult it is to consistently find gluten-free food when you are traveling. But the biggest shock was when I made a cake with bean flour and was totally horrified at the smell of the batter -- it was the most noxious scent I can remember in a long time. I had to finish mixing and pouring the batter while avoiding breathing through my nose.

Basically, I went down this road because we had neighbors who discovered they needed to quit eating gluten, and I was curious when I read about it whether it might explain some things. One book in particular stoked lots of questions: Dangerous Grains. Could eating wheat be responsible for immune disorders, developmental issues, my health issues over the years? Could that be weakening us in a way that we refuse to consider because we are so strongly acculturated to eating wheat that we won't even consider that it might not be health-giving?

My mind reeled at first at the notion that I have simply eaten what our culture has said was good for me. I couldn't help wondering if my buying the cultural myths about eating had prevented me from being healthier and more energetic. Just recently I'd had a little internal loss of faith in refined wheat flour, what we call "white flour," but I had not figured out a way around it. The gluten-free path seemed to have potential: I felt relying on a more diverse range of flours and grains would be a healthy thing I could do for myself and my family.

The mechanics of it weren't so challenging -- there are good flours available in our grocery stores. I spent a week eating gluten free (except for that first batch of zucchini cake, which I baked in pans that I -- d'oh! -- sprayed with oil-and-flour spray). I found it doable, even when I was out. I realized people are just starting to be sensitive to the gluten issue and I could see how people who can't eat any gluten at all are constantly at risk at restaurants and other places where other people's priorities aren't so closely aligned. I plan to keep some gluten-free mixes and things on hand for friends because I like being able to support them.

But it took a little chat with my sweetie to realize that none of us in our family really seem to be one of those so adversely affected by gluten: eating bread never makes us sick. I felt I'd been quite impressionable up to that point. I find myself still wondering, though, whether there's a different way to look at our food. There's food that gets us through the day, sustains us; then there's food that nourishes, that adds to our health. How do we choose the foods fall into those categories?

I still want to explore this question further, but mixing up that beautiful cake batter and finding not the sweet scents of egg and sugar and butter but the vile scent of bean flours wafting up out of the bowl doesn't make me eager to bake the next batch of gluten-free goodies very soon. I'll stick with the occasional batch of pancakes from the Pamela's line of mixes for now and get back to you on further experiments and observations.

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