Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

I have health problems, more than I can easily explain in the space designated for one little article. I’ve come to accept that the majority of my life is going to be spent on pills and regimens and, hardest of all, a very restricted, very special diet.I’ve been gluten free for about a year now, following advice from my doctor. Gluten is best explained as something found in wheat, but also several other grains like oats, barley and rye. I don’t have celiac disease, which would make my gluten intolerance much more dangerous and severe, but I’ve found that cutting it out has made me feel much better and has improved my quality of life a noticeable amount.

In theory this doesn’t sound difficult to live with. In practice, believe me, it is. It’s something that’s changed my life in almost every way.

I also avoid dairy, sugar, certain veggies and artificial sweeteners, as well as most nuts, and all meats except poultry. Try going into a Wawa and finding lunch that doesn’t raise at least one red flag. Even wraps have tortillas made with wheat flour. Most lunchmeat is processed with fillers of wheat gluten to get it to bind together. Pasta, bagels, pretzels, soup, cookies and candy are all off limits. I have no idea what they put on prepackaged salads to get them to stay green and fresh looking, but I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t eat it.

Worst of all, nothing is labeled. The issue with feeding myself on the road, a huge one since I commute every day, is not so much finding food, but trusting labels(please note, my decision to commute and not live on campus or in an apartment was made entirely on the basis that there are no guaranteed food options for gluten sensitivity in caffeterias like Lawrence, and that there is no health food store in West Chester proper). Was this product made gluten-free? What are “artificial flavors” and how can I know they aren’t made from something I’m allergic to? Most of the time, I settle on a bag of potato chips, because it has the least ingredients.

I would also like to note that one of the most sacred collegiate pastimes, the Thursday night beer, is off limits. That’s right, you guessed it: most alcohol is made with barley or wheat. When my friends and I go out on weekends, I’m the designated driver.

My point, if I’m ever going to get to it, is that dietary sensitivities and limitations are more common and inconveniencing than the general public might think. Food that’s “safe” is a valuable commodity that can often cost sufferers time and money, not to mention pain if a label misrepresents itself. For many, including myself, choice of food is virtually like taking a drug for health benefit, only the standards for chemicals are far more stringent and monitored than those for things we all eat every day.

In the past few years I’ve come to have a close, personal and loving relationship with the quirky grocery chain Trader Joe’s. All of their food has a small “g” on the front of the package if it is gluten free, and a small “v” if it is vegan. Their labels are easy to read, and honestly state any contaminates their food might have been in contact with (I’ve found that I’m okay with things that are made on shared equipment with tree nuts, even if I do avoid them when they are parts of a food product). The constantly evolving line of food options makes me semi-excited to go food shopping again, always wondering what they’ll try to feed me next. And best of all, compared with the prices of products at places like Whole Foods and Wegmans, I can afford to eat food that will actually keep me alive, not just hurt my insides. Half the time, there are less ingredients in natural foods, and yet they seem to cost more.

There is a dietary revolution coming, slowly but surely. The way we eat what is put in front of us without considering what has gone into it is a dangerous, disgusting practice; perhaps this is why so many of us are getting sick in the first place. But I don’t think that it should put you in debt to eat the food that you need. Labeling foods and making simple foods more available to the general public is not just a concession to those with health issues, it’s an urgent necessity.

Lisa DellaPorta is a student at West Chester University. She can be reached at LD631585@wcupa.edu.

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