Tag Archives: gluten

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. 


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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Sprue stories: The Bedbug Edition

Photo © Bloody Marty

Photo © Bloody Marty

Last summer, I had a bit of a scare. As I lay in bed one night, my leg became oddly . . . itchy. I scratched, but the itch returned. My hand crept down again and again, even though I told myself I was making it worse. Finally, I yanked off the covers and took a peek. There, on my leg—on MY leg—were three small bumps, all in a row.

My heart seized.

Google, which I raced to check, confirmed that the three-bump pattern was linked to bedbugs. I stripped my sheets, flipped over my mattress, and found, around the edges, small black bits that I was certain resembled the Google images of bug-infested beds.

Google also told me it was not recommended to vacate the premises or sleep in a different room, which risks spreading an infestation. In a rare instance of disobedience to Google, I refused to return to my room. Instead, I sat huddled and horror-stricken in my dining room at my computer late into the night.

The following days were bleak. I’m not proud to say I threw out a whole lot of things, washed and dried everything else several times and then kept it all in trash bags, getting dressed at my front door because I was so scared I might spread the bugs. I dragged my roommate out to buy an expensive vacuum from Manhattan’s only 24-hour hardware store, I thought about nothing but bedbugs, I told several people we had bedbugs, and I even canceled a visit to Buffalo to see my sister because—again—I feared spreading the bugs. I slept little and cried a lot. In short, I completely lost it.

And then we didn’t have bedbugs after all. The inspector came, looked at the “samples” I’d been collecting, looked at my mattress, and laughed. The “infestation” on my mattress was dust, collected over a year of not vacuuming the mattress. The samples were of, well, baby beetles and cockroaches, which is still gross but better than the alternative. The panic I’d undergone was just that: panic. So . . . phew. Embarrassing, but . . . phew.

Good things that came out of my bedbug scare include:

– I threw out some old clothes that I had no business wearing in public anyway.
– I bought a vacuum.
– I learned a valuable lesson about finding out before freaking out.

I also learned a lot about bedbugs. Now that I’ve learned a lot about gluten, too, I want to talk about how much they have in common.

First, a few differences.

Bedbugs are not found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats (though look out for grain weevils).
– Gluten cannot move around of its own volition (though flour particles can drift around in the air for a while, according to some sources).
– Bedbugs do not give bread its characteristic elasticity and stretch.
– Gluten does not suck your blood.

On to the fun part: the similarities.

Both are very small.

But it’s a myth that bedbugs are microscopic. They are more like the size of that single crumb that can take someone with severe gluten sensitivity out of action for days or weeks.

Both affect some people and not others.

Bedbugs are picky creatures. Monogamous, even. A couple can sleep together in the same bed every night and the bugs might attack one of them but not the other. Relatedly, bedbugs cause reactions in some people and not in others, and the range of response severity is wide (some rare people are even allergic to the point of anaphylaxis). Gluten, too, affects some people and not others; a couple might eat the same pasta dinner every night and the gluten might destroy one set of intestines but not the other. And for those lucky affected individuals, symptoms range from minimal to life-threatening.

Both disproportionately affect travelers.

Bedbugs can be spread through staying in hotel rooms and taking buses and other modes of transit, where they are dislodged from luggage or traveler’s clothing and hide out awaiting you. Brooklyn writer John Hodgman claims that the first thing he does upon returning home after a trip is strip naked and wash the clothes off his back—and that this is what every careful human should do to avoid bedbugs. Similarly, as we all know, traveling is difficult for those with gluten issues. You need to pack safe food to bring with you or locate gluten-free dining establishments, or else risk encountering gluten along the way. There has been some concern about the bedbug epidemic’s effect on New York City tourism, and in my opinion the small number of gluten-free-only establishments per capita here in the Big Apple should scare away tourists, too.

Both can cause an itchy, painful skin rash.


Rash caused by bedbug bites

Dermatitis herpetiformis (triggered by gluten)

Dermatitis herpetiformis (triggered by gluten)

Yes, I chose less severe images than I could have.

Both hide in cracks and crevices.

According to the University of Kentuckybedbugs camp out “along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially behind beds and sofas; cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounted pictures, mirrors, outlets and switch plates; under loose wallpaper; clothing and clutter within closets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.” According to Jane Anderson at About.comgluten hides in the crevices of your toaster, scratches in nonstick pans, pores of cast iron pans, scrapes in cutting boards, and minuscule cracks in spatulas, spoons, and rolling pins. And yes, people do have concerns that both gluten and bed bugs are in your computer (bugs in the warm hard-drive-y area, gluten in the keyboard and mouse, and both, of course, swarming the internets).

Both attract online sensationalizing.

I discovered a whole world I never knew existed (and sort of wish I still didn’t): bedbugger forums. These are places where the afflicted gather to share horror stories about the extent of their infestation, botched exterminations, and quixotic home control methods. They are zones of intense fear and fear-mongering, stoked to ever greater levels, and they are not a good way to avoid the whole stress thing. Your life is over!, many of the posters trumpet. You can run, but you’ll take them with you! Buy a PackTite or all is lost! Similarly, although celiac disease forums often feature reasonable, supportive posts, they also have plenty of hopelessness to go around. If you want to send yourself into a downward spiral of obsessing over your illness, you can manage it by poking around celiac.com. Actually, a very thoughtful and perceptive post on one of those bedbugger forums made the connection quite well:

“I just wanted to say that I have a chronic, potentially debilitating illness and when I was first diagnosed I went to some internet forums and after reading story after story, thought my life was over. But it turns out most people with this illness actually end up living full and painless lives (these days, anyway) but these were not the people posting on the forums! . . . people come together in these support forums when they are not having success solving their problem, or when they need understanding or advice, not when the problem is under control and they aren’t thinking about it anymore. So we are not getting an accurate picture of success and failure here.”

Both also attract media sensationalizing.*

Bedbugs are everywhere! Bedbugs are spreading! Bedbugs are in your local public library! Bedbugs are (ironically) in the Health Department! Bedbugs are in your lingerie! Bedbugs are at home, at work, and at school! Similarly, gluten is everywhere! 50 percent of Americans are sensitive to gluten! Gluten is at home, at work, and at school! Gluten is in envelopes (maybe)! Gluten is in ketchup (maybe)! Gluten is in imitation crab (well, yes, but it’s gross anyway)! Gluten may not be in your lingerie but I wouldn’t count on it! *Some of this is sensationalizing; some of it is just true. But it’s comforting to call it sensationalizing.

Both have the capacity to drive you completely and utterly bonkers. . .

Especially if you’re me. Both are linked to stress, anxiety, and depression. The mechanisms are not completely clear from research in either case, but from a common-sense standpoint, it makes perfect sense. Bedbugs and gluten cause physical pain and are hard to eradicate, a bit disturbing, and potentially thought-consuming. Having them around is stressful? Um, obviously. It’s easy to become anxious that either might be present at any time and in any place, especially with all the hype surrounding both.

. . . but not if you deal with the problem correctly, in about the same way.

Step 1 is to make sure you actually have a problem (by inspection or by diagnosis).
Step 2 is to do your research carefully, not believing everything Google tells you.
Step 3 is to learn to love cleaning.
Step 4 is to put into practice all the necessary cautionary measures you can.
Step 5 is to be patient.
– And Step 6, though really you should be doing this all along if you can, is, as in many things, to stay calm and avoid catastrophizing. Life will go on, even if you do come across bedbugs or gluten.

Remember: Bedbugs bite, gluten bites, but don’t let your life bite.

Now that I’ve finished grossing you out, are there any similarities or differences I’m missing? Have you had any experience with bedbugs? If so, I’m so sorry! Any other tips for handling it?

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Celiac disease is not a game. But it should be!

I’ve always wanted to invent my own board game. As a kid, I was the mastermind behind several new games, including Cops and Robbers II—an elaborate affair involving a three-strikes-you’re-out-via-electric-chair rule (the strikes cleverly tracked by attaching clothespins to the unlucky robbers’ T-shirts)—and Orphans, which was exactly what it sounds like and always starred a resourceful eldest orphan child who thrived in her new pseudo-maternal role (played by me, every time). These games were a hit in my neighborhood (or at least in my own head), but a decent board game was always beyond my reach. Turns out, it’s hard to invent a board game. You need a head for logistics, design skills, and, above all, I felt, an imaginative concept.

Then again, if you pay attention to the board games market, you begin to see that innovative concepts are few and far between. I swear, every board or card game introduced in the past ten years has been a remake of an older game that required no special equipment, a mash-up of several previously published games, or yet another addition to the -Opoly family. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my extensive research, it’s this: forget innovation and just rip someone off.

With this rule in mind, I’ve come up with a new board game called Sorry!—The Celiac Edition.

Photo © schrierc | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo © schrierc | Flickr Creative Commons

For this game, you’ll need a board, pieces, and numbered cards from the game Sorry! (which is, by the way, itself a ripoff of Parcheesi).

Although it could be said that for 3 million Americans, this is already the Game of Life, the game is for 3 to 4 players. Every player except one represents a celiac patient and, unlike in the standard version, receives just one of the 16 pawns.

The remaining player represents Gluten. Assigned based on highest cruelty level as determined by popular vote, this player gets all the remaining pawns.

As in Sorry!, the object is to get your pawn from Start to Home, here known as Health. The players all have their own Start and Health spaces, because every road to health is unique.

Play proceeds clockwise, beginning with the sickliest player—again, determined by popular vote. Players draw one card per turn and move their pawns according to the numbers on the pawn. To move his/her pawn off of Start, a player must draw either a 1 or 2 (or, for added realism, 1 only). Gluten is not bound by this rule and may proceed from Start as soon as at least one other player has a pawn in play.

If Gluten moves one of his/her pawns onto a space already occupied by another player’s pawn, that pawn must be returned to Start and the player begins again. Sorry!

If a player draws a card directing him/her to move his/her pawn onto a space already occupied by one of Gluten’s pawns, the player’s pawn must still be returned to Start, because gluten is gluten, no matter how you come by it. Sorry!

Because Gluten has many more pawns in play than anyone else (it’s everywhere!), most players will likely return to Start many times over. Sorry!

If a player besides Gluten moves his/her pawn onto a space already occupied by another player’s pawn, a card is drawn. If even, the players advance each other’s knowledge of the gluten-free lifestyle and are both allowed to remain on the spot. If odd, they confuse each other with misinformation they learned on the internet and must both return to Start. Sorry!

When any player besides Gluten reaches the midway point on the board, Gluten must take one pawn out of play permanently. This signifies the players’ improved ability to manage a gluten-free lifestyle and increases the likelihood that they will eventually make it to Health.

As in the standard game, when a player’s pawn occupies one of his/her own “safe” spaces, he/she is safe from Gluten but may still draw a negative numbered card and be forced to leave the safe space of his/her own little gluten-free counter in his/her own little gluten-free kitchen.

Also as in the standard game, at various designated “slides,” players may skip their pawns forward a few extra spots toward Health. However, if a pawn encounters Gluten at any point along the slide, it must be returned to Start. Once again—sorry!

Photo © LifeSupercharger | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo © LifeSupercharger | Flickr Creative Commons

An accepted—and encouraged—variant calls for beginning the game with all players (except for Gluten) blindfolded. Players must keep their blindfolds on until they reach the midway point; until this time, Gluten reads their cards and implements their moves for them. Depending on personal preference, the player representing Gluten may choose to disclose information about other players’ progress toward Health and say “Sorry!” when sending their pawn back to Start, or leave the players completely in the dark until they have progressed far enough to take their blindfolds off. (I often feel this is the way I’m playing: unsure of how far I’ve come, what mistakes I’ve made, or whether I’ve even moved from Start.)

The first player to reach Health wins—unless that player is Gluten. When one of Gluten’s pawns arrives at Health, it is returned to Start and remains in play. Gluten will never go away, but provided the other players persevere, Gluten never wins.


Tell me about your favorite board game (with a gluten- or allergen-free twist, if you like) in the comments…as long as it’s not Monopoly, because seriously? No one really likes that game.

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A revised hygiene hypothesis (with tips for the hypothetical slob)


Photo © pfly | Flickr Creative Commons

Researchers, as you likely know, are eager to learn why food allergies, gluten intolerance, and celiac disease appear to be on the rise. Many are fond of the hygiene hypothesis, which states, in a nutshell, that decreased early exposure to bacteria—i.e., being too clean as babies—predisposes us to all kinds of autoimmune and allergic BS.

I’m fond of this hypothesis, too. I’ve been known to turn down offers of hand sanitizer, citing it as my reason. Still, I propose that it is incomplete. The full hypothesis should read:

Good hygiene may cause celiac disease, but bad hygiene keeps it strong. 

We all know this on a basic level, and some people don’t even seem all that blown away by it. I’ll mention, shuddering, that having this disease means I’ll need to wipe down countertops for the rest of my life, and they stare at me as though wiping down countertops were something they’d always done. People diagnosed with celiac disease who know how to wield a sponge are lucky; they’re one step closer to good health. But those diagnosees who trend toward the slovenly side must cultivate a neat streak, and (as you may recall from my ode to mess) it’s a heavy leaf to overturn in a day! I would contend that a leading cause for a lack of response to a gluten-free diet, right up there with non-adherence, is poor hygiene.

Sloppy sufferers who have spent weeks on a strict diet and still feel ill may need to look beyond the standard “sneaky gluten” hiding places. For these hypothetical sufferers, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of additional warnings. Please keep in mind that the below suggestions are intended to address a strictly hypothetical celiac patient.

  • If you bite your nails or put your hands to your mouth, you may be picking up traces of gluten. This is especially likely if you don’t tend to make a specific point of cleaning under your fingernails.
  • If you were accustomed to eating breakfast at your computer before diagnosis and if you ever dropped a Cheerio (or several) onto your keyboard, you might be picking up cereal residue every time you touch said keyboard. If you then put your hands to your mouth—say, if you have continued to eat breakfast at your computer—you might be ingesting particles of gluten.
  • If you are a green type who carries your groceries home in a tote bag, and if you have also eaten a hunk of apple cake out of said tote bag on the subway, and if you happen to have not washed that tote bag since before diagnosis, you might be ingesting cake crumbs that are stuck to your potatoes (if you aren’t the most finicky ever about washing your produce).
  • If you have been known to wipe your hands on your jeans when no napkin was available, and if you happen to have not washed those jeans since before diagnosis, and if you continue to use said jeans as a napkin and then put your hands in your mouth, you might be ingesting traces of—really, who knows what at this point.
  • If you are partial to eating in bed, and if you don’t fret too much over dropping crumbs in said bed, and if you haven’t washed your sheets since before diagnosis, and if you bite your nails or put your hands to your mouth in your sleep, your dream about eating cookies may not be so far off from reality.
  • If you drop a fork on the floor and if you decide to use it anyway without washing it first, and if you haven’t swept your floor since—charitably speaking—before diagnosis, you may be consuming forkfuls of gluten.
  • If you have always been an unrepentant slob, and if you haven’t yet changed your ways, and if you still feel sick as a dog, you might want to think about quitting your nail biting and doing a few loads of laundry. One way or another, it’ll probably do you good.

Like I said, this post is all about hypotheses and hypotheticals. The above list is not even a little connected to my personal life. However, you may be interested to know that I did recently quit biting my nails and do a few loads of laundry. Before sitting back down at the computer to eat breakfast.

If you have more hygiene suggestions or tough love for the aforementioned hypothetical celiac patient, feel free to include them in your comments!

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