Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Riddikulus! Gluten, boggarts, and powerful magic

Are you sick of the Harry Potter references yet? No? Good, because there’s more where that’s coming from.

Recently, as I was cataloging the changes to my malleable psyche effected by my celiac diagnosis (nearly six months—that magical number—ago!), it occurred to me that were I to encounter a boggart in a dark alleyway, wardrobe, or Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, it would probably now take on the form of a gigantic piece of wheat bread shedding crumbs as it staggered toward me on crusty legs. (Before, it definitely would’ve been bedbugs.)

WalkingBread_original

This is a sticker I received in a Breaking Up With Captain Crunch giveaway. Too good not to share.

If you, like me, devoted years of your child- or adulthood to reading and internalizing the Harry Potter series, you already know that the only charm to defeat a boggart—a shape-shifter that instinctively takes the form of its opponent’s greatest fear—is Riddikulus. The charm, as dear Professor Lupus put it, “is simple, yet it requires force of mind.” You must close your eyes, concentrate hard, and dream up a way to make fun of your greatest fear. Once the boggart has taken on its new and hilarious form, there’s just one thing you must do to vanquish it: laugh.

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That walking bread? Give it a big toaster-burnt spot in the shape of a mustache. Or envision a gigantic toddler picking it up and gumming it to smithereens—with a bib to catch the crumbs, of course. Or speckle it with freezer burn, open up a big air hole in the middle, and imagine it as gluten-free bread from the nineties—which, from what I hear, was either very funny or very scary. Cross-contamination, schmoss-contamination, and boggart begone!

Photo © kaylacasey | Flickr

Photo © kaylacasey | Flickr

At the NYC Celebrate Celiac event this past Saturday (more details to come), I talked to a bunch of great people, and speaking about my blog helped me to put into words a mission statement I hadn’t concretely realized before: Gluten-free is for life, so you’d better start finding ways to laugh about it.

Whether you’re newly diagnosed and afraid you’ll never fit in or eat well again, or a seasoned g-freer who dreads the idea of a waiter chirping, “Whoo-oops, I thought you said vegan!,” chances are if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity you’ve got a gluten-related boggart or two. It is my hope that my posts do less to feed your demons and more to dispel them, using the most magical weapon at our disposal: laughter.

I’m not saying being gluten-free is fun—I’m just saying it’s funny. It’s comical that I get twitchy about passing a dish of wheat noodles at the dinner table or standing too close to someone eating a bagel on the subway. It’s silly that I have to keep a sponge in my desk drawer and carry it to the sink to wash dishes at work. It’s hilarious whenever someone asks me, “What happens to you when you eat gluten?”

For me, every time the concept of Gluten-Free For Life starts to seem serious or scary, I can find a million reasons—starting with the word gluten itself—to laugh about it instead. I hope you feel the same way about celiac, or NCGS, or whatever else ails you. After all, as Dumbledore would certainly agree, to the well-organized mind, it all is but the next great adventure.

By the way, in case you were wondering: Yes, this blog is written pseudonymously by J. K. Rowling.

Tell me what your boggart would turn into, and how you’d defeat it. What’s the funniest thing to strike your gluten-free fancy recently?

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So…was the popcorn gluten-free?

For those of you who have been eagerly awaiting word on the Arrowhead Mills popcorn question, I have an update. I finally got around to calling their customer service line yesterday (there was no great rush since I had, after all, already eaten it all).

Photo © Joakim Wahlander | Flickr

Photo © Joakim Wahlander | Flickr

The woman I spoke to—following some appropriately corny hold music—confirmed my suspicion: the popcorn is not made on dedicated gluten-free lines or in a dedicated facility. However, she assured me that they follow “good manufacturing practices” of sterilizing lines between runs, etc. She said that any of their products that have already been found to contain less than 20 ppm gluten would have the gluten-free symbol on the bag, and that they’re working on testing their way through all of their products. They have not yet tested the popcorn.

I asked, “So, conceivably in six months’ time, the popcorn might have a gluten-free symbol?,” but she said she didn’t know and couldn’t speculate on the timeline. Fair enough, because I’m sure the last thing any company wants is some blogger hopping online and posting false promises that, say, all of their products will be gluten-free by 2020. Plus, unless I stumbled across a Time-Turner, it’s not as though knowing their product will be confirmed gluten-free in six months would do me any good.

I wondered why they would test some of their products but not others, and why it takes so long to test everything. Is testing for gluten that expensive and/or time-consuming? Does anyone have any insight into this?

A couple of you commented that most popcorn should be safe. Personally, I’ve noticed some issues after eating popcorn, but there’s a good chance my weary GI tract just isn’t happy about handling large bowls of air- and fiber-filled corn right now. That’s not going to stop me from eating it, but I am going to check around for another popcorn brand. Though the Arrowhead Mills stuff might be safe, I’d feel better knowing the popcorn was either tested for gluten or processed far, far away from gluten. I will still buy other Arrowhead Mills products that say “gluten-free” on the bag, because it sounds like they have their act together.

Since the Arrowhead answer was a resounding “I don’t know,” I don’t really know whether or not to doubt my old air-popping cauldron. It’s been starting to die anyway, so I may just take the road of “When in doubt, throw it out” and get a new one.

On to another kind of testing: this morning I got NINE vials of blood taken out of my arm, to find out if my gut is still gutting itself. (The phlebotomist assured me I still had plenty of blood left in me; I’m not so sure.) As I left the lab, I found myself thinking, “Celiac’s blood…that’s got to be an ingredient in some kind of potion.”

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A label-reading lesson from Hogwarts

3I’m here again to remind you that more than magic runs in the blood of J. K. Rowling’s wizarding folks. We talked about Moaning Myrtle last time, but let’s not forget our other prime celiac/allergy role model in Harrypotterland: Mad-Eye Moody.

This is a man who:

  • drinks from a personal flask rather than risking the dining hall pumpkin juice
  • drags around a magical trunk with seven locked compartments, one of which must be stuffed with Udi’s
  • has one magical eye that I’d wager can detect gluten down to 0 ppm
  • isn’t a stranger to skin issues
    . . . or mental issues
  • and, most importantly, knows the value of CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

All signs point to celiac.

Paranoia, double and triple checking, and intense suspicion of even the most innocuous-seeming thing may all be symptoms of paranoid personality disorder, but they’re also critical aspects of living free of gluten or food allergies. This past week, I learned anew the value of CONSTANT VIGILANCE after two separate sloppy errors:

  1. A few days ago, I bought a bag of salt & pepper pistachios from CVS. After eating a handful, I grabbed the bag in a panic to double check the ingredients, as I am wont to do, but this time, rather than resting easy that my first look was enough, I realized that though the optional “may contain” line didn’t list wheat, there were natural ingredients that I hadn’t queried. When I called Gold Emblem (the CVS grocery brand), a representative confirmed the pistachios were gluten-free. Still, I should know better than to eat it before I read it.
  2. Last night, I finished off a bag of popcorn kernels from Arrowhead Mills. Because I’ve been researching pure gluten-free dried beans recently without a ton of luck, it occurred to me to recheck this bag. Sure enough, no “gluten-free” symbol, which Arrowhead states it includes on products made on dedicated lines. I’ve eaten the popcorn over the course of months, simply assuming I must have done my research properly before I bought it. Apparently not. I have to wait till 9 to call their customer service line, but I’m kicking myself already.

If Mad-Eye were here, I know he’d be grumbling, “Elementary food safety, nobody bothers about it anymore.” I know, I know, Professor. Put me in detention, take points from Ravenclaw, but please, don’t let my popcorn have had gluten in it.

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Who’s your favorite children’s book character with celiac disease?

Ah, books. Magical portals all, they give us insight into unknown minds and experiences; they increase our empathy. It’s beautiful. But we also need books whose characters we can relate to and identify with. Books with characters like us.

Where does this leave kiddies (and kiddies at heart) who have celiac disease? Unfortunately, 97 percent of real people with celiac disease go undiagnosed, and the same appears to be the case for book characters—in fact, the rate of diagnosis is even lower. Although 1 in 133 of your Peter Rabbits and Alices in Wonderland may suffer from celiac disease, you’d never know it from skimming your library catalog. And Googling “celiac disease novel” only brings up “Novel perspectives in celiac disease therapy.”

Does this mean there are no celiac characters, though? No! We just need to get out our microscopes. The gluten-wracked protagonists of our dreams are there if only we look deep enough into the bowels of literature.

My favorite is Moaning Myrtle. True, JKR never said she had it, and it’s a little late for a biopsy; being a ghost, she probably hasn’t eaten gluten in years. But, really? Anyone who spends as much time crying in the bathroom as Myrtle does probably has celiac disease.

“Myrtle gave a tragic sob, rose up in the air, turned over, and dived headfirst into the toilet, splashing water all over them and vanishing from sight.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

You see? Even in death, she can’t escape the toilet.

If it’s not celiac, then it’s colitis, or IBS, or Crohn’s. Details! As they say, we must have heightened suspicion that celiac is present. So, welcome to the club, Myrtle. In truth, I wish we had a little less in common, but I’ll take what I can get.

P.S. Am I missing anyone? Are there actually book (or movie) characters with known celiac disease? I will happily apply my celiac lens to whatever I please, but I would love to know if the “real deal” already exists.

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