6 June 2013
Its tough being a dietary cripple in a world that pays little attention to producing food for people. So who do the producers produce food for? Why profits, of course!! Wheat flour is added to many foods, I can't think of a good reason why, except as fillers or as thickening agents. I don't know if the use of this ingredient was economic or an integral part of a recipe that depended on this as a key element.
I have had celiac disease symptoms for 44 years. Once it was determined what had been causing my gastric distress, I quickly learned to avoid eating anything with gluten in it. This included developing a critical eye to reading the ingredient listing on package labels. I also learned about cooking, what ingredients are used, why they are used, and what the effect is on the cooking process. While there are other ingredients that can act as thickening agents, they may be cheaper in bulk, have unique or different effects on the flavor or consistency of the results. Then I found that there were federal subsidies for wheat farmers but none for those who produce arrowroot or cornstarch (well there are corn subsidies, but not cornstarch). While in the early years of my celiac adventures, the impression that I was facing an uphill battle. It began to look as if I was truly an outsider in every sense of the word. Hardly anyone I knew had heard of not being able to digest
Most folks had no idea what gluten sensitivities were or that anyone could have difficulty with such a common, ubiquitous food. I often had questions to answer that ranged from honest inquiry to honestly not knowing and truly incredulous. People wanted to know if I swelled up like a balloon with just contact, as in handling a sandwich. Other people had such difficulty understanding the concept they were asking if I could eat potatoes. Really? Potatoes! It soon began to feel as if I had some orphaned disease.
I learned that the number of people who have gluten sensitivities is one in 150, pretty pervasive. Now, I understand there is a blood test that can be used to determine if someone is negatively responsive to gluten, it measures antibodies. Many people are possible sensitives but are asymptomatic – at the present. Wheat naturally is a cathartic agent. To some degree most humans digestion tends to turn a little loose when wheat is eaten. But the nature of this is not as disastrous as when one has celiac difficulties.
Personally I have discovered that avoiding gluten is not that difficult, except when visiting restaurants. It was during those excursions that I really felt as an outsider, so many foods are made or prepared with wheat flour. I used to inquire of the waiter if I had any concerns before ordering, if my order was gluten free. Most restaurants didn't mind checking for me. Gradually more eateries began to have more gluten free foods, soon the menus began to list which foods were gluten free on the menu by each item. Then the menus were declaring that they were gluten free on the covers. Grocery stores began stocking gluten free labeled items and soon there were whole isles dedicated to gluten free foods. Suddenly everywhere gluten free foods were appearing, it was a very quick change. Suddenly I no longer felt like some kind of interloper in my own community.
Then I end up in the land within a known world, nursing homes. I have been in two facilities during the last year and a half. While there are some differences, there are very similar aspects. Each facility has a dietician with whom I have a meeting explaining my dietary restrictions. In each case they give the impression that they understand. In both cases the method of providing gluten free meals is to practice elimination serving. Oh yes there are some gluten free foods served regularly, like rice crispies instead of oatmeal (yes I know that oatmeal has no gluten in it, but it is recommended for celiac suffers to avoid it as the same equipment used to process oats is used to process wheat, and there is thestrong possibility of cross contamination) In one facility the decision was made somewhere that I would get cream of rice everyday for breakfast. Now I like cream of rice once in a while, but every day!! One has to wonder if someone was pissed off or if some kitchen gnome was so entrenched in the production of their duties that they never considered how mind numbingly monotonous this could be. Peanut butter and or brown sugar would often be sent up, which I would eagerly mix in the gruel like substance. Sometimes for variety I would canabalize the little jelly packets included to be spread on the gluten free bread/toast that was sent up too.
The consistency of the cream of rice was variable. Sometimes it was so stiff that it was like sticky sand in the bowl. A spoon slipped into it could remain at a rakish angle if let go mid-swipe. Other times it was loose as porridge, all runny and dripping off the spoon when dipped up for the next mouthful.
The present facility often substitutes instant mashed potatoes for items on the lunch or dinner menus that I can't eat. One perfectly rounded scoop of instant mashed, served up relentlessly as predictable as the next tick on your quartz timed, battery operated clock. Instant mashed is a pretty bland food, it often has the same flavor of cardboard as the box it is shipped and stored in. It would be possible to mix in some onion, shallots garlic, cheese, dill, or some little meat on occasion to make the instant mashed more palatable, but this is not done. Come on, lets try a little creative expression here. Not a chance. Almost every day, twice a day in some cases (lunch and dinner)the same bland lump of well sculpted, perfectly round starch, designed to be short term filling but in no time at all, productive of a sugar spike, leaving a ravenous hunger in mid afternoon.
Instead of sending up some instant mashed, the sense I get could be just as well received as if a nice hand written note was under the lid of my next serving that read “Nyeah nyeah, this is all we think of you. Eat this.” soon I could not believe the regularity that the instant mashed was arriving, it was at once simultaneously humorous and galling. There were not enough words to describe on continuing onslaught of instant mashed.
I began making photographs of my meals as they arrived. Rather than vocalizing about the march of the potatoes, I thought that I would let the images do the talking.
These are the pictures of all the instant mashed that have been served to me since the 26th of May this year. I began to grow suspicious of so many servings of the same thing after a while, so I began taking pictures. To me this series points to a definite lack of imagination, let alone concern for trying to not be monotonous. I don't know if this is by design, as I am housed on the rehab floor where everyone is expected to stay a while and recondition themselves before going home. This sort of consistency certainly seemed designed to motivate someone to leave sooner rather than later.
I'd want to leave too, if I just had a home to go to. Meanwhile I look at the meals as calorie loading episodes, just like your car doesn't particularly which brand of gasoline it is filled with. This is food to survive, not to thrive. I suppose that I shall have to look elsewhere for my thriving.