Tag Archives: expensive gluten-free food

Is the gluten-free tax break broken?

Tax season is upon us! This year, even the IRS is procrastinating: because of last year’s shutdown, the opening date has shifted to January 31st, although free-filing opens today. But I never submit my tax forms until the very last possible moment, anyway. Instead, I spend every day till the drop-deadline thinking, “I should really do my taxes.”

Some people like to get it over with. Me, I prefer a constant, underlying, slow-burning stress culminating in a miserable, last-minute sprint to the finish line, followed by form letters from the IRS demanding I fix the sloppy errors I made. That way, I can enjoy tax season year-round. (Just another instance of that procrastination problem I’m working on.)

Since the deadline is April 15th, it’s nowhere near time for me to do anything about my taxes, but I’m at least thinking about them.

This year, my mind is on the gluten-free tax deduction (more info on that here). How worthwhile is it to count up my medical (including more expensive food) expenses, figure out if they exceed 7.5% 10% of my adjusted gross annual income, and file that extra piece of paper on the last day possible?

[Edit, 1/25: According to the IRS, it’s actually 10%, not the often-cited 7.5%, which applies only to those who are, or whose spouse is, over 65 years old.]

Since this was my year of diagnosis, I might be in a good place to qualify: My medical expenses included about a billion copays for doctor’s appointments and exams. A billion times $30 definitely exceeds 7.5% 10% of my income.

Plus, though I rarely buy packaged gluten-free food products, I do pay more for certified GF grains, beans, breakfast cereals, etc. I also buy staples with no direct analogue, like my largely unused package of xanthan gum, which are entirely deductible. (For items like sorghum flour, I’m less certain: there’s no direct analogue, but wheat flour is close. Anyone know the deal?)

If my record-keeping last year had been a little more organized than stuffing all of my receipts into my tote bag, allowing the tote bag to get rained on, then throwing out the mass of soggy paper, I could tell you if those extra pennies added up enough.

But I know I’d hit the benchmark if I could add in other hidden costs of a gluten-free diet that the law doesn’t address. For example:

  • The difference between the cheapest beer and the cheapest GF drink choice at every bar. This is always at least $1, and at Housing Works I recently paid $7 for the house white—more than double the price of a $3 PBR. At least it went to a good cause.
  • All the chocolate I’ve had to buy myself when I feel sad about having a disease
  • My smartphone, whose purchase I justified primarily to be able to research foods on the fly (though I use it for way more)
  • Gluten-free restaurants, which are always, always, always more expensive than the restaurants I used to frequent
  • Any of the far-too-generous number of dollars family and friends have laid out to allow me to feel safe eating at their homes
  • The all-new pans, containers, utensils, pantry staples, etc., that I bought in case the old ones were contaminated
  • My time—which is money, if not all that much in my case—spent:
    • Cooking my own meals, even when I really, really want takeout
    • Reading package labels, researching online, and calling manufacturers directly
    • Explaining to people why I can’t eat X, Y, and Z
    • . . . and why I can still eat Q, R, and S
  • Damages for my years spent sick, miserable, and undiagnosed

All that considered, I’d only really be happy paying no taxes at all—a gluten-free free lunch—or, maybe the government could pay me to be gluten-free. After all, improved health makes me a more productive member of society. The eligible write-offs don’t even begin to cover it.

Is that so much to ask? (Throw in the NCGS folks, too, whydoncha.)
Original photo @ Darya Mead | Flickr

Of course, I know everyone has to make purchases they wish they didn’t, spend time doing stuff they’d rather not, and generally speaking lead a life that doesn’t allow for enough pursuit of happiness. Having celiac disease isn’t the worst way to have to do all that, and, without getting too far into politics here, I’m happy enough to pay taxes in theory (in practice, I wonder where they’re all going).

Though I’m not sure it’s entirely “broken,” I probably won’t go for the deduction this year. There’s a good discussion of how worthwhile it is on No Gluten, No Problem, which helped talk me out of it. Even if I dug through my bank and Amazon records for something approaching receipts in the case of an audit and tallied it up, I’m not confident I’d find the gluten-free tax break worth my time. Besides, I don’t pay a lot of taxes anyway. I’ll just do what I do best and think about it instead.

Do you apply for the gluten-free tax deduction? Will you this year? Are you a procrastinator or an early bird? And what hidden costs of gluten-free get on your nerves?

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Tell me a sprue story about…grocery shopping

In the wake of the FDA finally announcing gluten-free labeling rules (read about it here, here, and pretty much everywhere), I’ve been thinking about grocery shopping even more than usual, if that’s possible.

In the spirit of celebration, I’d love if you would share YOUR stories about gluten-free grocery shopping—make them sad, funny, infuriating, short, long, general, specific, anything you want…as long as they’re “sprue.”

Gluten-free aisle

Photo © Memphis CVB | Flickr

Here’s mine.

For me, shopping with celiac in tow is only slightly more stressful than it used to be (and still likely not as stressful as having, say, a toddler in tow—or with both, a plight with which some of you are familiar).

That’s because even before I went gluten-free, my grocery shopping trips were already interminable processes of pausing, considering, picking up, rejecting, and repeating. I blame this on:

a) calorie consciousness, which adds time spent reading labels and doing little calculations like, “X calories times Y servings per equals WTF HOW CAN THERE BE THAT MANY IN THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for more reasonable choices;

b) money consciousness, which adds time spent chewing over this option versus that option and more little calculations like, “X dollars divided by Y servings equals WTF HOW CAN IT COST THAT MUCH FOR THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for sale items (something that now takes less time, because it’s simple: the gluten-free items are NEVER on sale);

c) lack of spatial awareness or visual memory (I can’t see images in my mind, perhaps due to mild dyscalculia, which would also explain why the aforementioned calculations always take me so long), which adds time spent wandering slooooowly down aisles looking at each item and hoping that one of them will magically turn out to be the thing I came in for, which I sort of thought I’d seen before somewhere, but in which aisle or store I couldn’t say;

d) vegetarianism, which adds time spent scanning ingredients lists for gelatin and trying to remember which cheese brands use microbial rennet (and trying to nail down once and for all my viewpoint on animal-derived rennet—a philosophical dilemma that also, incidentally, adds time to my shopping trips);

and I could go on.

In other words, with or without gluten, I suck at shopping. With so many hem- and haw-worthy items in mind, I dawdle my way through the aisles. When I finally emerge from a Whole Foods or a Fairway or a TJ’s, I feel a bit like a mortal departing the fairy underworld, leaving behind halls bursting with enticing and enchanting food, and having no idea how much time has passed in the outside world.

I lug my bags home in a daze and often find, as I sort through the treasure, that in a sudden panic after too much time spent deliberating I managed to buy several items I do not need, will never use, or cannot use (such as, recently, those two boxes of granola bars whose first ingredient—oats, even gluten-free—is one I do not eat). Perhaps I do this unconsciously to form a link between myself and those magical realms; I must return, you see, to make the return.

Despite all this, and even though nobody likes a slow shopper during the afterwork rush hour, I always make it through with my sanity intact. And even after a rough trip when nothing is certified and everything is overpriced, I don’t feel discouraged for long.

Because…I must admit…I like grocery shopping. I like discovering interesting new ingredients, I appreciate marketing slogans and packaging strategies, I enjoy checking items off the shopping list, I indulge in people- and cart-watching, I sniff the bottoms of pineapples like a pro, I savor the sudden chill of the freezer aisle and thrill to the sight of a good bargain, and, above all, I know it’s all in service of a great cause: delicious gluten-free, vegetarian, (mostly) thrifty, nutritious, home-cooked meals.

Worth every second.

Don’t forget to share your story about gluten-free grocery shopping for you or others. Alternatively, tell me how you feel about the new labeling rules. Are they everything you hoped they’d be? (Links to your own blog posts on the subject are, of course, welcome.)

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Why I Celebrate Celiac, and you should, too (plus: giveaway!)

In my last entry, I asked how I should celebrate my newly low antibodies. (The response was nearly unanimously in favor of alcohol—but I’ve kept my perch on the wagon for now, thanks very much.) This post is about celebrating something just a little different: celiac, itself.

When I got my first-ever celiac bloodwork results back in January and started sharing the news (one relative or friend at a time, shyly, haltingly—prior to my Internet-overshare era), the reactions were generally positive, along the lines of:

“I hope that’s it, so you’ll have an answer,”
or, “Awesome, you’ll finally feel better now!”
or, “Just wheat, rye, and barley? That doesn’t sound so bad.”

Then I’d start rambling about cross-contamination, and strict diet for life, and six months to two years to feel better, and I watched the faces slip and fall. The replies changed to:

“Maybe I don’t hope you have it after all,”
and, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,”
and, “That’s terrible.”

Which is correct?

Well…obviously the best, most celebration-worthy thing would have been to never get sick in the first place (or—if you believe those insufferable “no sunshine without rain” folks—to get sick, be miraculously cured, and live the rest of my life with a renewed appreciation of my own good health). Being sick is not, you know, preferred.

But, as a second choice, a disease with a relatively foolproof cure—even an excruciatingly slow-motion, longterm cure—is way, way better than a disease or syndrome with no known cure. As long as I’m a good little gluten-free girl, my health is (knock on wood) far more likely to improve than worsen. That’s something to celebrate.

Of course, since I’m not feeling tiptop yet, it can be tough to get my celebratory feelings going. For inspiration, I can always visit the smart and often funny posts around the blogosphere on the “good side” of celiac (like this one, this one, and this one). If you’ll indulge me in jumping on the bandwagon, though, here are the top three tangible things I celebrate about celiac:

1) Community. I know everyone has said it already, but that’s because it’s true. The online celiac and gluten-free community is super supportive and full of passionate, intelligent, interesting voices. As a resident of New York City, land of “hate thy neighbor” and “not here to make friends,” I sometimes feel a bit community-spirit-starved. Sharing my thoughts and hearing all of yours is a real treat.

2) New adventures. This blog, the gluten-free grocery aisle, fascinating followup tests…all previously uncharted territory, all kinda neat. (Yes, even the tests. Spending a morning blowing into a balloon every twenty minutes to measure gut bacteria is something that everyone should experience at least once, preferably preceded by fasting.) If I hadn’t gotten celiac disease, there’s a strong possibility I would still have no idea that buckwheat groats are, like, the best grainlike substance ever. I would also probably not have a bag of xanthan gum in my pantry, as I do now (albeit, I must shamefacedly confess, an unopened one).

3) Savings. What? Gluten-free food is expensive? Okay, yes, some of it is. I too have had those six-dollar mini-muffins and air-filled bags of chips. But you know what else is expensive? Eating out in New York. And you know who doesn’t do that? Baby celiacs. This is why my student loan collectors also celebrate celiac.

Add all that to the prospect of—any day now, fingers crossed—my fully restored health and vigor, and you’ve got yourself something to, at the very least, tolerate and, on a good day, celebrate. But how (besides the obvious, you buncha lushes) to celebrate?

That’s easy. Come to the New York City Celebrate Celiac event! Hosted by Gluten Free Calendar, it’s happening on Saturday, July 13th, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Affinia Manhattan Hotel in Astor Hall. I’ll be there to meet any of you who can make it, and I’ll be unveiling some fun new blog-related stuff while I’m at it. Here’s some extra info on the event at the NYC Celiac Meetup page. If you live in the area, mosey on down for performances, activities, vendors, collective effervescence, and, most importantly, my autograph.

Kidding! But I really would love to say hi face to face. That’s why I’m pleased to be giving away 10 tickets to the event. At $5 a pop (or $4, if you buy online here), they’re pretty affordable as is, but if you, like me, have been blowing through your I-don’t-eat-out-at-restaurants-anymore fund, every little bit helps. And, hey, that’s five more dollars you can spend on merch. Not that that’s what blogging’s all about.

To win a ticket, just comment on this post letting me know what you celebrate (or what you don’t celebrate, if you insist on being mopey) about celiac. Considering the scant probability of my having more than ten readers in the New York metro area, you probably won’t face stiff competition, but you’re still welcome to follow me and share the giveaway on Twitter to get extra entries and to celebrate our community here in the Big Gluten-Free Apple (don’t forget to include @spruestory so I’ll know).

For everyone outside of the area who’s read to the end of this post, I hope you’ll still join me, virtually, in celebrating celiac…if only because things could be a whole lot worse.

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Pride and Prejudice and Gluten

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a celiac man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the appetite or baking ability of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

Someone, after all, must take on the hard but fulfilling task of baking her way through that fortune, one bag of superfine rice flour at a time.

So begins PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND GLUTEN, the classic novel reimagined to include something scarier than ballroom dancing and zombies alike. 

prideprej

When Mr. Bingley moves into the neighborhood, he doesn’t know quite what he’s getting himself into. He quickly learns he has entered a zone of intensely elevated celiac prevalence, brought on no doubt by many years of marrying one’s cousin and so forth.

Just as quickly, the news spreads that a likely young bachelor has let Netherfield Park. The gritty gifted cupcakes begin pouring in, as do the invitations with postscripts appended in the beautiful script that comes naturally to those women who have spent years practicing, all to the effect of, The buffet will have hummus.

Bingley good-naturedly agrees to attend, and brings along his friend, Darcy, with whom he pleads, hovering by the refreshments table in the grand tradition of non-dancers at balls, “Come, Darcy, I must have you try a bite of this.”

“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest anything gluten-free, unless I am particularly acquainted with the brand. With such a spread as this it would be insupportable. If there were any traditional baked goods, I might consider it, but alas, there is not a cracker or pudding in the room it would not be a punishment to eat.”

Having overheard all, Elizabeth Bennet—snarky before her time and with a measured but abiding pride in her own talent for recipe development, which though passable is widely understood, even by Elizabeth herself, to be inferior to her sister Jane’s—writes Darcy off as the worst kind of gluten-eating boor: too proud of his own lack of immune response to gluten, too prejudiced to try the teacakes at which Elizabeth has slaved away, combining four different recipes and throwing out three batches before she got them just right.

“I could easily forgive his pride,” Elizabeth sniffs, “if he had not mortified mine.”

You may think this story over before it has even begun, but there are twists and turns to come as Jane Bennet and Bingley fall in love over millet scones and buckwheat biscuits, then are driven apart by Darcy’s cynical remarks about their future children’s double genetic risk and the Bennet family’s inappropriate dinnertime discussion of matters gastrointestinal. After a suitable amount of mutual anguish, the two come together again as the beautiful and gluten-free always do.

In between, there’s a spot of trouble for Lydia, the youngest Bennet daughter, involving one Mr. Wickham, a roguish character who never truly intended to keep his kitchen cross-contamination-free. Darcy, it seems, has known all along that Wickham’s promises were as thin as the paper towels he wouldn’t actually use to wipe up his own crumbs. It is Darcy who alerts the family, though sadly not before a glutening catastrophe to which he refers in only the most euphemistic of terms; this is, after all, a novel of manners.

Darcy’s aid in this matter, and then in reuniting Jane with Bingley, endears him somewhat to Elizabeth, but what seals the deal is a letter he sends her with, enclosed, his recent positive biopsy results. It is revealed that his excessive pride was born of his fear that he himself may all too soon be forced to sup on sandwiches insupportable by their fragile bread, and piecrusts made of grains his family would scorn as peasants’ fare. Furthermore, it was persistent gluten exposure that caused his irritability and dour physiognomy.

The twin barriers of Darcy’s gluten eating and terrible personality now removed, there is nothing to stop Elizabeth from wedding him immediately, which she so does. As in the original, they all live happily ever after, except for Lydia.

*

So what do you think? Will Keira Knightley agree to take the lead?

Text adapted from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, now in the public domain. Wheat image from jayneandd at the Flickr Creative Commons. Book cover image stolen shamelessly from Penguin—they can afford it.

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