How I learned to love my gluten-free neighbor (and you can, too!)

I never thought I was a prejudiced person. I grew up in a quaint little town with a fresh bakery down the road, one that I loved and cherished throughout my childhood. The smell of bread wafted through the air each day as I walked to school, and I came to associate yeast with happiness (this is not at all related to my beer addiction as an adult). It was idyllic; it was peaceful. Everything changed when one day, I went to the bakery after school to pick some bread up for my mom and me. The person at the front of the line asked a question I had never heard before: “Excuse me, do you make any gluten-free bread?”

“Gluten-free? What in the hell is that?” asked the baker.

“I’m allergic to gluten, and I’d just like to know if you have gluten-free breads or pastries,” the customer replied.

I saw the baker turn red in the face. Holding back his anger, he muttered “get out” through tears of rage.

The customer walked out of the store with their head down, clearly ashamed of themselves. After they left, I gave the baker a look like, “Can you get a load of that guy?” Like really, who the hell is so audacious to announce they’re gluten-free to the world? Some say to love the sinner and hate the sin—but come on. They were right in front of me, displaying that… that filth in public.

I didn’t used to think of myself as hateful; I was just raised to hate people who were gluten-free. It’s unnatural. Your body is supposed to digest gluten. Don’t give me that tapioca flour xanthan gum shit. I want the real shit. The wheat, baby. Because my town is so small, we were just so accustomed to our bakery using the local wheat crop for flour. It’s just how things are done around here, and, frankly, should be done everywhere. Jesus ate bread, and I’m damned sure it wasn’t gluten-free.

Anyways, I eventually decided to go to college in New York. On the first day of orientation, I met my freshman year roommate. As we didn’t yet know anyone else, we decided to get dinner together. She seemed nice, but there was something a little off about her. When we got to the dining hall, I saw her leaving my side as I walked to the main area. I was confused as I saw her head for the allergen-free section. It’s okay, I thought to myself, she’s probably just lactose intolerant. There are a lot of lactose intolerant people. But when we sat down next to each other, I noticed that her food was topped with cheese. “That looks… interesting,” I said, “Why did you get the allergen-free dinner?”

When she responded, “Oh, I’m gluten-free!”, the world went dark. She kept talking like she didn’t shoot a bullet through my heart, but the rest of what she said faded into the background. I was so angry, so hurt. I didn’t know what to think of her. Yes, she seemed like a kind, decent person—but she couldn’t even digest gluten. How could I look past that?

I told her to her face. “I don’t know if I can live with someone who’s gluten-free. What if you look at me while I eat my freshly baked bread? What if you try to feed me gluten-free snacks?”

She looked confused. “I don’t know why this would be an issue to you, since what I eat doesn’t affect you in the slightest. I mean, are you allergic to anything gluten-free?”

“Well, no… I was just taught that it was unnatural to have an intolerance to gluten. It’s how I was raised.”

“Oh… I suppose it can be a bit controversial. I was just born this way. I can’t really do anything about it, and if I ignore it, I’ll have a world of shit to deal with…” After that initial conversation, it took me a while to understand what living with a gluten intolerance is like. I slowly warmed up to her and her bizarre diet. Once she started cooking for me, I began to understand that there is a world outside of gluten. It may be scary and strange at first, but I’ve learned that just because someone is gluten-free doesn’t mean that they’re any less of a person. I now realize the way I was raised is antiquated. My roommate has changed my outlook on people and the world. I’ll leave you with this: If someone you know or meet is gluten-free, don’t be afraid to show them your support. Make yourself known as an ally. God knows they need them right now. Next time you have some bread, send a thoughtful text to a gluten-free loved one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *