About five months ago, I discovered that I have developed a wheat intolerance. For anyone who knows me, they will understand that this revelation is about as devastating as finding out that your beloved family pet has died, or that Downton Abbey is due to finish at Christmas (I still feel choked whenever I think about it). Being a university student and a lover of anything carb-based, I’m still reeling from the news. I constantly debate: what am I supposed to make for dinner? Pasta, bread, pizza, pastry and, worst of all, cake, are all out of the picture. I stare with longing as my housemate shoves a cheap pizza from Sainsburys in the oven, the timer set for 20 minutes, as I begin the long process of chopping up vegetables for some homemade soup. Now, I’m sure for anyone who doesn’t understand the sacrifices which must be made by sufferers of a food intolerance, you are probably questioning: why doesn’t she just buy wheat free alternatives? If only the answer were as simple as the question.
I’ll begin by explaining my new shopping experience as I pop to the local Co-operative round the corner from my house. With my friend’s wheeled shopping trolley in one hand (no judgements here please) and a list in the other, I enter the shop thinking that I’ll be back in time for Downton Abbey which is due to start in fifteen minutes. After all, I’m organised, I’m prepared, and, sadly, I can no longer be tempted by the mince pies on offer by the till. The first item at the top of my list is quite simple: bread. After all, who can go without it? While accepting that I need a gluten free alternative, I was not ready for the shock of how little choice I would be given. I stood in front of the shelves with rows and rows of different brands of bread. From Hovis, to Warburtons, to Kingsmill, I did not see one offering a gluten free option. In an age where today, 1 in 133 people (compared to 1 in 2500 a decade ago) are diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, you would’ve thought that the big brand bread giants had found an answer to our long struggle. Apparently not. I was walked to a different part of the supermarket by a shop assistant and shown three tiny shelves, barely large enough to accommodate one loaf of bread, let alone a range. Luckily for the Co-op, however, not even one could be found. “Oh, we must have run out”, I was told by the bored and unhelpful teenager. Run out… RUN OUT?! How is it fair that a whole area of the supermarket is dominated by about ten different kinds of white bread and not even one small gluten free loaf can be found? I then looked at the price label beneath the empty shelf and my outrage grew further. Although some of their own brand white farmhouse bread can be bought for a cost-effective 75p, the wheat free bread I was unable to purchase would have had me stretching to more than £2. I’m a student! What makes these supermarket giants think I am happy to be paying almost triple the price for bread which tastes half as nice as the real deal?
I’ve even attempted making my own spelt bread which has caused more than one of my housemates to declare that I am turning into the perfect housewife. Placing the dough next to an electric heater in my freezing cold student house, however, soon made me realise that this is a lot more hassle than it’s worth. For this reason, on more than one occasion I have slipped up and given into the call of gluten. Whether it is a drunken choice in the local pizza takeaway after a night out, my head resting on the counter while the ‘D2 special’ is made up for me, or a completely sober one in a restaurant with some friends, I find it impossible to totally cut wheat out of my life. All I can say is thank god I’m not a celiac. The next time, however, I find a person telling me they have taken up some fad diet and have gone wheat-free to lose a few pounds, I don’t think I will be able to stop myself from embarking upon a full blown rant. I haven’t given up wheat as a lifestyle choice. I’d like to see how they would deal with the bloating and the cramps.