Learning to Adapt to a Wheatless World
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 00:09
As an adopted child raised in a predominantly Italian household — my mother is fully Italian and my father is half Italian, half Chinese — I grew up surrounded by loudness, heavy accents, hand gestures, cheek kissing and, most importantly, food. The Italians rewrite the food pyramid. Complex carbohydrates come only in one form: pasta. There is simply no need for vegetables if there is tomato sauce, and cheese covers your daily intake of calcium and vitamin D. My entire childhood was a constant cycle between pasta with marinara sauce, spaghetti and meatballs and eggplant parmigiana (not parmesan).
Despite all of my excitement to leave the nest and spread my wings at college, I could not fathom coping with cafeteria food. No more home-cooked meals might as well have marked the end of happiness in my stomach. I wouldn’t dare wait in the long line for mediocre pasta in Leo’s, and I would be able to splurge at true Italian eateries only when my parents visited. I longed for Christmas break, partly because it was a reprieve from work and partly because of the delicious foods. I ate each meal like it was going to be my last, enjoying every morsel of home cooking, little knowing that they would be my last bites of pasta.
My first day back at campus, I received the phone call. I’ve never had my heart broken before, but I quickly found out how it feels. My doctor broke the news to me: I could no longer eat gluten. A simple blood test showed that my gluten level was four times higher than the normal amount, indicating a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. I could not imagine my life without gluten or how it went undetected for so long. I ate pasta at least three times a week as a part of my Italian diet, so how could I suddenly be allergic to it? But more importantly, how could I live without it?
If Leo’s was inedible before, it became exponentially more difficult to find something — anything — I could eat. My new diet consisted of salad, chicken when it looked edible, fruit and the occasional frozen yogurt. There was nothing left to look forward to. I was lost, confused and — most of all — hungry. While all of my friends indulged in Leo’s toaster-warmed chocolate chip cookies, I was left with a bowl of fruit. The dietician at school tried to help, but the tiny gluten-free refrigerator wouldn’t cut it for the next four years.
Feeling downtrodden and hopeless, my friend who studies at American University suggested that we should explore Washington, D.C. in an effort to lift up my spirits. We met up in Dupont Circle and somehow stumbled upon Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. After walking around the bookstore, we decided to stay for lunch. Expecting another disappointing meal of salad and fruit, I was pleasantly surprised to find a variety of gluten-free foods, including chili, which I ordered for lunch along with flourless chocolate cake.
Just like I’ve never gotten my heart broken, I’ve never fallen in love at first bite until the day that I ate Afterword’s flourless chocolate cake. It was the first time in months that I felt like a normal human being: I could order what I actually wanted to eat and it was just as delicious as I would have hoped. Its perfect combination of dense, chocolaty cake with raspberry sauce drizzled on the plate transports you to a chocolate coma heaven. Biting into that chocolate cake revived the happiness in my stomach and in my life and gave me hope in discovering new gluten-free delicacies in the future.
Christina Wing is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. GLUTEN FREEDOM appears every other Friday in the guide.