Waiting for word that I’m ‘food intolerant’


An assortment of gluten-free products. John Kelly calls them his "introduction to the wonderful world of living gluten-free." (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)
John Kelly
Columnist March 4, 2012

A while back, I was diagnosed as being lactose intolerant intolerant. Symptoms include oculo-orbital rotation (what laymen call “eye rolling”) whenever I hear someone say, “I’m lactose intolerant.” I also occasionally manifest pneumo-nasal puff, a.k.a. “snorting.”

Fortunately, the condition isn’t fatal. I try to stay away from people who stay away from milk. I mean, really. You can’t eat cheese? Or ice cream? Come on .

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Lactose intolerance intolerance can also be treated with red wine.

But recently I’ve started to question my bad reaction to people who claim to have bad reactions to dairy products. And that’s because My Lovely Wife has decided I’m allergic to gluten.

Until a few years ago, most people had never heard of gluten. I hadn’t. I always thought gluten was German for “Nice putt.” (I’m pretty sure that’s what Bernhard Langer used to say at Augusta.) I was familiar with the word “glutinous” — and I’ve always tried to stay away from gluelike foods — but apparently gluten is different and it’s everywhere.

Pasta? Gluten. Bread? Gluten. Bagels, shredded wheat, Little Debbie snack cakes? Gluten, gluten, gluten.

I have not been tested for gluten intolerance, but in the way of wives everywhere, Ruth has diagnosed me based on careful observation. According to the Internet, symptoms of gluten allergy can include headache, nausea, eczema, lethargy, chest pains, joint pain, dizziness, swollen tongue, abdominal cramps and mood swings. Depression is another symptom, but that’s probably inevitable when you’re too dizzy and tired to scratch your eczema and your tongue’s too swollen for you to complain.

Ruth’s main diagnostic tool has been what might be called ISS: irritable spouse syndrome. She’s noticed that I get cranky after a big spaghetti dinner. She has decided that the best way to address this is to make me go cold turkey, gluten-wise. Thus we have become familiar with what I call the orthopedic aisle of the supermarket, those shelves full of food for special-needs shoppers, people who I’ve always felt were hypochondriacal whiners.

Oh, the shame.

But you know what? There’s actually something liberating about being gluten intolerant — if, indeed, I am — especially when your wife valiantly offers to do the shopping. There’s a whole gluten-free industrial complex out there, with companies offering wheat-free alternatives to your favorite foods. The names of the companies — Glenny’s, Udi’s, Pamela’s Products — make me think of stout, raw-boned women toiling in their kitchens with scalpels and pipettes to carefully extract the gluten.

Also, like a lot of Americans, I can stand to lose a few pounds. My doctor says I should reduce my intake of carbohydrates. Surely this will help. I’ve always wondered how people can have fat dogs. I mean, the dog doesn’t feed itself. You feed the dog. How can it be fat?

Now I am that dog.

Of course, this could all be a setup, a way for my wife to poison me:

“Eat this arsenic-laced brownie, honey.”

“Is it gluten-free?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

Or the problem might be hers. She might be suffering from some sort of mania, of the sort that grips those girls in “The Crucible.” Ruth thinks our youngest daughter — off at school in England (a nation built on gluten) — may be gluten intolerant. Ruth is seeing gluten intolerance everywhere, like some restricted-diet Al Pacino: “You’re gluten intolerant! You’re gluten intolerant! The whole trial is gluten intolerant!”

There’s more I wanted to say, but I read the other day that cholesterol-reducing statins can cause memory loss, and, well, I can’t remember.

I’m pretty sure I like milk, though.

Wrong Washington

Say what you will about cellphones — that they cause ear cancer; that they encourage loud, annoying conversations; that they’re assembled by overworked, underpaid Chinese people — they’re real good for one thing: calling or messaging ahead to have a spouse pick you up at the Metro.

But should I feel insulted that whenever I text my wife to tell her I’m at the Takoma station, the autocorrect on my iPhone changes “Takoma” to “Yakima”? Who at Apple decided that the eighth-largest city in Washington state is more important than the first (or final) Metro stop in the District of Columbia?

To read previous columns by John Kelly, go to washingtonpost.com/
johnkelly.

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