Pin It

Eat Before Dinner: A Gluten-Free Manifesto 

click to enlarge pizza-f-_2500_.jpg

It's been 11 years since I wrote my first gluten-free piece for Chronogram, called "Hold the Bread on that Sandwich Please." As usual, we were way ahead of the wave. Gluten-free was an obscure topic in 2006. It's now a bona fide trend. In fact, it's become an industry. It's become a controversy.

And it's also become a joke: such as the person who goes to great lengths to make sure that their dinner is absolutely, entirely free from a single molecule of gluten, only to order the ordinary crumb cake for dessert. In case you're one of those people, please stop. You're free to inflame your cells, mess up your immune system, be an emotional mess, and strip your upper intestine of its ability to absorb nutrients. But you have no right to make life more difficult for anyone else, or cast the rest of us as phonies.

If you own a restaurant, or work as a server or prepare food, thanks for putting up with these people. There are actually those among us who need to keep gluten out of our bodies, or else we can have serious problems—long-term and immediate.

Here's the thing to remember: Being wheat-free may not seem like a big deal to you. But to someone who is honoring this diet, the whole universe of prepared foods becomes hostile: It's literally toxic.

Sharing food is an important aspect of social life. The feeling that gluten-sensitive people have, particularly those with celiac, is that of being excluded and left to starve. Everyone else can enjoy things that you cannot, and this is happening all the time. It's so bad that I've often had to eat before dinner, if I have a hunch that the only thing gluten-free will be the celery. Yes, I will literally eat dinner before going to a dinner party. If I can get to the person preparing the food, usually they're happy to help, though this is not always possible.

If I'm traveling, I'll make sure I have some gluten-free snacks in my bag. Gluten-free people cannot "grab a slice" or "run out for a sandwich." Rather, we have to map out the neighborhood, do research, and gain experience in order to be able to eat more or less normally. Note that in 2017, we have many more options available. There was a day when the only gluten-free stuff was Rice Krispies and these things called Rice Wafers, which made matzo seem like a delicacy. Today, even many ordinary supermarkets have hundreds of products that are certified gluten-free.

I was diagnosed with celiac when I was one-year-old, in April 1965. My life was saved by my Grandma Mary, and by Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose book,Baby and Child Care warned of a celiac problem known of for hundreds of years. The treatment is to stop feeding the kid wheat, barley, and rye—grains (which I will call wheat products for the purposes of this article) that contain a protein people with celiac cannot process. For an excellent introduction to the science behind this, visit

There are no drugs to treat celiac; and if there were any, I would not be interested. This is a condition that's entirely manageable using diet, which means knowledge and discipline. There are also lower-grade gluten sensitivities, which do not fit the definition of celiac. Others are experimenting with going off of gluten, which is a worthy goal. Gluten serves no productive nutritional purpose.

It's either a contaminant, or used for aesthetic purposes; that is, to make a pastry feel and taste like a pastry, or to put the crunch into the crispy. As you get gluten out of your diet, you'll start to figure out the difference between a need and a want. Another is how wheat, particularly low-quality, hybridized wheat, infiltrates our entire food system.

Getting the wheat out is not about making a dietary change. Rather, it's about getting an understanding of food, lifestyle, and where the two meet. You will learn how to scrutinize a menu or food package. When you're eating in a restaurant, you might find yourself playing a game of deducing the one thing on the menu you can eat. When reading a package, there's an easy way to know for sure that something contains gluten: if the ingredient list is too long. You don't need to read the long lists; you can assume they have gluten. When the ingredients are a few lines, read carefully and you may discover that they left it out.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Virgo New Moon and Solar Eclipse: Movement First, Then Change

    How often have you tried to think your way into a new state of being or belief, or tried to think yourself into feeling healed? Thoughts are amazing tools for many things in life: planning, research, analysis. But often, when it comes to fully shifting our experience of ourselves, they are only part of the process—and sometimes not even the place to start.
    • Sep 10, 2015
  • Your Body-Mind and Mercury Retrograde

    Have you noticed anything going particularly awry, or any near misses that got your attention in the last couple days or so?
    • Apr 28, 2016

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America @ Family Partnership Center

Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America

Fri., April 28, 6-9 p.m. — A screening of presented by the LCBTQ Community for Racial Justice and...

View all of today's events

Latest in Planet Waves Weekly

  • From Universal Lover to Love Warrior
  • From Universal Lover to Love Warrior

    Most people I know are feeling pretty raw and overwhelmed by the state of the world and the never-ending parade of things to be shocked by, and to fight against or mourn. If Venus really is morphing from "universal lover" into "love warrior," remember that the word in common is love.
    • Apr 27, 2017
  • Hurry Up and Wait
  • Hurry Up and Wait

    Painter discusses taking things slow in the coming weeks when it comes to making any decisions.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • Feeling Your Way Into a Softer Revolution
  • Feeling Your Way Into a Softer Revolution

    Painter discusses how the movement of the Sun and its tie to the horoscopes effects the world around us.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • More »

More by Eric Francis Coppolino

  • Aquarius

    Find out what's in the stars for you.
    • Apr 1, 2017
  • Gemini

    Find out what's in the stars for you.
    • Apr 1, 2017
  • Libra

    Find out what's in the stars for you.
    • Apr 1, 2017
  • More »

Hudson Valley Tweets