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Hey! I’m Not "Allergic" to Wheat…
- By Paul Jackson
- Published 08/11/2008
but I know that living without them takes a knack.
The term “allergy” doesn’t really apply
when my immune system begins its attack.
I can get sensitive to other foods—so sly
are my body’s defenses when they’re out of whack!
I am, or have celiac (Greek for abdomen)—
no allergy but an autoimmune disease,
such that I cannot eat a type of gluten.
So on my order, hold what’s macro-processed, please!
Or better yet, I’ll bring my meal from the kitchen,
my haven from the restaurants—those minefields—
amid the big-box grocery stores, my oasis.
The power of that on which I dine wields
an early grave or healthy homeostasis!
Shall I continue down an awful rut
of cancer, leaky gut, and osteoporosis?
Or shall I eat with respect for my upper gut?
No, I don’t want to risk gastrointestinal pains
or the effects of further malnutrition
upon ingesting gluten from those three grains!
I’ll miss Mom’s cooking, but I’m firm in this position.
For, when such gluten—which is called gliadin,
protein complexes in wheat, barley, and rye—
has passed the stomach into the small intestine,
my immune system reacts in ways that defy
the understanding of modern medicine:
destroying the digestive folds, called villi,
with endomysial antibodies.
And this destruction, the body’s self-attack,
is different from all wheat allergies,
or enteropathy, or sacroiliac.
Now, as for starches, I can eat rice, wild rice, corn,
buckwheat, sorghum, mesquite,
teff, arrowroot, and tapioca; but neither einkorn,
malt, (sprouted) barley, rye, nor wheat.
I can eat quinoa, millet, montina,
flax, and amaranth; but neither spelt, orzo,
durhum, udon, couscous, matzo, kamut, farina,
seitan, emmer, semolina, nor farro.
And, I may or may not be able to eat oats;
if I am, they must not be cross contaminated
by nearby wheat, whence gliadin floats.
My oats must be carefully sourced and crated.
Attacks can also happen on the other systems
of my body—that’s quite unlike most allergies!
And, Celiac has over 200 symptoms;
someday I will collect as many recipes.
I may be any age and either male or female.
When diagnosed, I was a child—if by the textbook!
I may be very plump or as thin as a rail;
in either case, I don’t wish to attract the next look.
Or I may appear just like any other person,
and even be unaware that I have this disease
until its symptoms have already worsened—
its complications brought me to my knees!
Or I may not even have a single symptom,
except a slight anemia, perhaps.
Americans have shown a lack of wisdom:
Three million undiagnosed cases—walking death-traps!
In the United States, it takes eleven
years to rule out or diagnose this malady.
But this determination is made by age seven,
had you been born and raised in Italy.
I know that for most folks, the term “gliadin”
is neither on their minds nor their vocabulary.
It doesn’t pose as great a danger as bin Laden,
controlled by a well-funded constabulary.
Americans—three million of them—face a threat
unknown to almost all of them—that’s scary—
until they’ve had the screening they should get.
Get screened if you have chronic diarrhea
or other symptoms showing malabsorption;
if for lack of iron, you have anemia;
if you have got abdominal distention;
or if you’ve lost weight by the classic formula—
though weight gain’s a possibility with distinction!
Get screened if your stature’s on the shorter side;
if for you, puberty was or is delayed;
if a woman who’s given babies shortened rides,
and if your efforts to conceive are unrepaid.
Get screened if you have persistent cold sores;
if you have irritable bowel syndrome;
if even passing by wheat agriculture
excites your respiratory symptoms;
if, in your relationship with your body,
the autoimmune system does all the talking;
if you sense pin-pricks in your extremities;
if you have trouble keeping balance while walking;
and if enamel’s missing from your teeth.
A screening may show that Celiac was mocking
another ailment, while present underneath.
Gliadins, as any gluten, are gummy
and may be stretched or otherwise compressed.
Gliadins, after passing through my tummy,
rob me of my ability to digest.
Those barley, wheat, and rye crumbs make me feel just crummy.
Gliadins make the wheat-dough pliable
and able to contain the air injected into it—
almost as elastic and viable
as I’ve become adopting a gluten-free diet!
Yeah, so much “gluten” talk is deniable,
injecting me, too, with hot air—but I don’t buy it!
My body’s fickle needs are modifiable;
so if a food is clearly gluten-free, I’ll try it.
While gluten has neither odor nor color,
in processed foods it is ubiquitous, eclectic.
Along the edge of cold cuts, it’s a filler
of the mold—just so it looks symmetric!
It’s added in proportions just to texturize;
that foods once had wrong textures would not surprise me!
And in a liquid food, it’s used to stabilize—
perhaps that’s so, but gluten doesn’t stabilize me!
The additive is fine when micronized as wheat dust,
but not so fine by me when it is used by
most food makers, in whom I don’t place complete trust.
(A grumpy celiac, you’d rather not be accused by!)
I’m watching every label and each calorie—
avoiding gluten as I make my own sweet crust.
I’m tending to my dietary needs as carefully
as anyone who likes or needs to eat must.
But I am challenged to watch what I cannot see!
So no immune reaction’s set in motion
by going off my diet, I’ve had to learn the ropes.
I want to shop safely for my toothpaste and lotion,
and I cannot lick stamps or envelopes.
Wheat dust—since it has an airy, elastic feel—
prevents the oils in dried herbs and spices from clumping.
A substitute is xanthan gum with flaxseed meal
or eggs whenever I am baking something.
And, gluten’s also used to thicken many sauces
and condiments—tell that to other people
who fail to understand what all the fuss is!
(Sit back and watch them dig themselves into a deep hole.)
While to the senses it’s hardly detectable,
the additive is popular. What’s stranger is
it doesn’t make food more or less delectable
except to me—to whom gliadins are dangerous,
yes, even in the tiniest amount!
It’s also added to food for the change there is
on the label showing you the protein count.
Please share how versatile an additive it is
with someone who doesn’t understand
a gluten-free diet can pose a challenge,
and that I’m safer buying food of certain brands;
and keeping all my nutrients in balance.
While others went out to eat, I sat home by the stove.
In January, I’d longed for crust and crumb.
So I went shopping for Bob’s Red Mill and Maple Grove
and invested in a bag of xanthan gum.
A teaspoon of the gum, of Rumford baking soda;
corn and potato starches, one half cup of each;
and just a quarter cup of corn meal—I showed a
knack in both gluten-free action and speech.
In February, I made my first flour mix
of rice and tapioca—three parts each;
and one part corn starch; and I’ve learned some tricks,
but baking pastry’s still beyond my reach!
I once looked in the mirror, and my tongue was crimson:
For iron, I eat beans, clams, or a peach.
Everyday, I eat a few nuts or seeds with raisins;
and every week, one or two servings of spinach.
If packaged, boxed, or canned, it’s processed food;
whatever brand, that it be gluten-free is urgent!
Al Fresco’s sweet Italian sausage suits my mood;
polenta, San Gennaro or Food Merchant.
Or I’ll eat franks by Shelton’s, Trader Joe’s,
H. N., Whole Ranch, Wellshire, or Cantella’s;
boil one; warm the corn or rice tortilla that I chose;
and wrap it up with minced onion and red-leaf lettuce.
Unless a vegiac, I eat fresh meat; for I’ve become
a carnivore who trusts the butcher’s hand
for meat that’s processed at a minimum,
that’s labeled, or that has a gluten-free brand.
For meat, water, and salt, I’ll buy Tyson chicken.
Pacific, Shelton’s, Trader Joe’s, or Wolfgang Puck’s—
beware of other meat broths gluten’s used to thicken,
regardless if they’re premium or deluxe!
My strength’s returned as I have gotten nourished;
I’m vigilant for vitamins and minerals.
I’m gluten-free, my protein sources have flourished,
and so I’m feeling well in general.
My dietician cares that this transition succeeds;
and monitors my nutritional uptake,
ensuring that my diet meets my body’s needs.
Meanwhile, I’ve made my first gluten-free cupcake,
and I am getting out more nowadays.
But for millenia, the Natives cultivated Quinoa;
today I also eat grains like Montina
that just amazes me; and have seen wha-
t the Quinoa Corporation makes in Gardena.
Imbibing Native lore in Nu-World Amaranth
I feel so grateful for Manna from Anna;
attuned to Nature’s Highlights and to Nature’s Path;
and have been caught eating cookies by Nana’s.
Perhaps tonight in my kitchen, I will fix
a dish of Tinkyada or Trader Joe’s brown-rice penne.
Vermicelli, maifun, and Thai sticks—
like all rice pasta—are cooked al dente.
Some days, I have a salad at Subway—
a place where I can be safe from gluten attacks.On other days, I check in with Chick-Fil-A
where it’s also possible to eat and relax.
At In-N-Out, I’ll order up a hamburger
in protein style (wrapped in lettuce instead),
raw onion, and French fries; I then watch that the servers
do not touch or tangle my order with their bread.
Or for a big night out, I go to P. F. Chang’s
and order off the gluten-free menu,
Chinese food in which I can safely sink my fangs
to please my palate, stomach, and my every sinew!
I won’t be able to go out again—or will I?
I will if I may go to Outback Steakhouse
because I know I’ll spare my precious villi.
The baked potato at Wendy’s, I douse
with a cup of Wendy’s old-fashioned chili—
last time I checked on line, it’s free of gluten!
Whoever’s heard of my disease won’t think it silly
that with my salad, I can’t eat a single crouton.
The mental fog dispelled, my thoughts are clearer;
I plan my travels with help from Bob and Ruth.
I get up every morning, look in the mirror,
and see the gleaming white enamel on each tooth!
Together, we can struggle, learn, and grow,
grow healthy, grasping the Enteric Truth.
To celiacs in whom I see someone I know,
I give encouragement at meetings of our chapter.
I’ll swoop down to the nearest El Pollo Loco
for plain, roasted chicken and, like a raptor,
devour it with veggies and plain pinto beans.
Whatever nutrients my body’s searching after,
I can derive some comfort from my new routines.
I eat red palm oil and produce that’s yellow
or orange to get my vitamin A—
lest night blindness make me injure some other fellow!
As an adult, I need 900 micrograms per day.
I eat brown rice or some whole grains, potatoes,
nuts, meats, or legumes for 1.2 milligrams
per day of thiamine, lest I feel pins and needles
on my feet; for I like the way I am!
On my lips and mouth, I don’t like fissures or scales,
which are signs of unhealthy mucous membranes.
Therefore, everyday, I eat enriched cereal
for my 1.5 micrograms of riboflavin.
I eat whole grains, legumes, or fish
for 2 milligrams of B-6 per day, lest my nerves or skin
sustain disorders or anemia I don’t wish.
For 2 micrograms of B-12, cobalamin,
I eat meats, eggs, or milk, or take a supplement
so that my red blood cells fully develop—
lest I should go into a steep descent,
the red blood cells within my body swell up
(and if a woman, lose my shapely curves),
my hands and feet tingle, little acid in my stomach,
look pale, feel weak, and suffer damaged nerves!
Alongside B-12, folate makes red blood cells.
Therefore, everyday I eat raw, leafy veggies
and fresh fruits, hoping to absorb the folate well.
My folate’s in fresh fruit, especially strawberries.
A vegiac may take a B-12 supplement.
I also eat dark leafies for A, C, K-1,
and E—alpha-tocopherol, an antioxidant
ensuring that the battle for my health is won!
And, lest my bones grow thin, I eat potatoes, cabbage,
and citrus fruit for 60 milligrams of C;
one gram of calcium in beans, fruits, and kale (roughage);
sweet almonds and sunlight for 10 micrograms of D;
legumes and nuts for 0.9 grams of phosphorus;
greens, nuts, grains, and legumes, 2 milligrams of copper.
Except for vegiacs, seafood is good for us;
as are nuts with magnesium—0.3 grams is proper.
And, seafood—if I choose to eat it—will supply
my 2 milligrams of B-6, pyridoxine;
fifteen of zinc, lest I should lack digestive enzymes;
to stabilize my thyroid’s energy, some iodine
(150 micrograms). Magnesium’s
responsible for healthy nerve function
and bone formation with minerals and calcium—
macro- and micro-nutrients wrought in conjunction!
The food I eat is only as hard to find as my genes,
but seldom does my food come with big names or cans.
My vermicelli’s made of either rice or mung beans;
my waffles, Lifestream, Trader Joe’s or Van’s.
My macaroni’s made of corn, rice, sorghum or quinoa.
And my tortillas?—They are made of corn or rice. I read the ingredients for gluten incognita
in maltodextrin, flavoring, or spice.
My carbonated soft drinks are translucent—
365 or Hansen’s makes as big a splash!
It’s not as dreadful as is getting glutened;
while traveling, I carry GF food in stash.
Becoming gluten-free was like full-time employment;
some people cared, while others could be brash.
My life’s progressed, but it’s not all enjoyment.
This shopping gluten-free leaves me short on cash,
so that I can’t afford the Dapsone ointment
that I could use to treat my DH rash.
In the long course of human evolution,
I am a victim of the Agriculture Clash.
My atavistic gut and I got glutened—
those food preparers’ sloppy, careless tricks!
I’ll head back to the haven, my own kitchen;
and learn how to make another flour mix.
Did my genes know about my upper gut since birth?
Am I an evolutionary oddity?
A loving God might have put me on the Earth,
but I still have to care for my own body.
If I had some other disease that people had heard about—
and one they’d not dismiss as a wheat allergy—
they wouldn’t hear my cry of anguish as a pout
because I have to choose food that is gluten-free;
nor think I overeat if I am stout,
or am bulimic if my build is slighter.
Each individual has unique views,
but every celiac has felt like an outsider,
and wondered—reading lists for clues—
if “vinegar” was pure-distilled or apple cider!
Those other people could begin to listen
to my concerns about related diseases
with whose symptoms my body seems to threaten
in such mysterious ways as it pleases.
If other people—non-celiacs—would care more,
I wouldn’t wonder if I’m being selfish.
(Perhaps Enjoy Life cares too much; before I pour,
did anyone suspect a cereal had “shellfish”?1)
If—God forbid—I were knocking on death’s door,
more people would remind me where the B-12 is;
and wouldn’t mistake my sense of confusion
for self-neglecting irresponsibility.
Nor would they overlook the obvious conclusion
that Celiac brings regular uncertainty,
as any cryptic, autoimmune disease.
Not just allergic to the Gliadin-laden Three,
I wish they’d formulate stronger hypotheses!
I’d also ask the U.S. government
for research, education, and lives to increase,
despite this epidemic’s one percent.
To nourish healthy lives instead of cancer is why
three million people should go gluten-free;
they’ll do so, hopefully before I’ve mastered my
technique of baking fruit-filled pastry!
1) According to the side panel of the carton of Enjoy Life’s Very Berry Crunch Granola (good with warm milk or water, btw), it's a breakfast cereal that contains neither wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish, nor shellfish. Who would have thought a breakfast cereal would have any shellfish in it? When in doubt, leave it out—now that's what I say!
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1968-1992: Born and raised in east L.A. 1992-1996: Lived in the mountains of northern California. 1996-present: Living in Fresno in central California. Have traveled outside of California! Travels include the East Coast, the South, and Mexico.
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