Eating and cooking is such a big part of our daily lives and often plays a huge role in not only how we define ourselves but also as an important vehicle for us to live our best lives. Because of this, discovering you have a food allergy or restriction can be incredibly life altering. This was definitely the case when Paul Graham was suddenly diagnosed with a serious wheat allergy at the age of thirty-six. He was forced to say goodbye to traditional pasta, pizza, sandwiches, as well as some of his favorite hobbies. Struggling to understand why he and so many others have this allergy, Graham researched the production of modern wheat and learned that not only has the grain been altered from ancestral varieties, but it’s also commonly added to thousands of processed foods. He details his findings in his memoir, In Memory of Bread, alongside his identity crisis and eventual journey to acceptance.
Read on for an excerpt.
When I was thirty-six, I suddenly became a drastically different kind of eater. A genetic predisposition caused my immune system to stop responding to wheat and other glutenous grains as it always had. Instead of sustenance, they were poisons.
For a while I did not perceive any difference. Then severe illness jolted me out of my routine. When I recovered, I found myself in a strange place. It was as if a sinkhole had opened beneath an important part of my life and irretrievably consumed it. I had been an avid home cook and amateur beer brewer; these were the leisure activities that helped me define my place in the world, the things that I enjoyed most with my wife and close friends.
Overnight, I ceased to be someone who could enjoy bread, pizza, beer, and many other foods of cultural and personal importance—at least in the ways I had always experienced them. In a sense, I was no longer the same person. I was like an amateur athlete who tears up her knee and will never be the same runner, or an equestrian who develops an allergy to horses, or a proud homeowner sickened by some substance in his house. I was not, thankfully, making my living in food, but I had long equated good food with good living.
Few if any human activities are as natural and habitual as eating. In fact, it is precisely because cooking and eating food are essential to our survival that we lose sight of how much of our identity we express at the table. We sit down three times a day, if we are fortunate, to eat what tastes good to us, what we can afford, and what we were taught to cook. Our meals focus on satiety, or so it seems. But the core of who we are, where we came from, and what we believe is often (if not always) on the plate in some way, whether dinner came out of the freezer section or the garden.
The changes in my daily routine were predictable, but I could not have anticipated the social or emotional changes, nor the differences in how I would relate to both my own past and, more broadly, human history. And I did not foresee my resilience, or the way longing—the poor cousin of necessity—can be a path to inspiration. Eventually, I did learn these things. Changing how I cooked and ate altered how I saw myself in the world. And so, once again, the table seemed almost—if not completely—full.
Excerpted from In Memory of Bread. Copyright 2016 by Paul Graham. Published in the United States by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Photo Credit: iStock, etienne voss