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Start the Revolution! Hold the Bun!

Something amazing happened to me today. I ate a panini. I was on my way to a meeting when I stopped at Tully’s on 11th Street and grabbed a hot panini with ham and muenster cheese.

Not amazed? A few days earlier, I popped in for a banana muffin. In the previous week or two, my wife made me cookies from a Betty Crocker mix, I took out a pizza from the local pizzeria, I had a hot pretzel, and I hosted a business dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Still not amazed? You obviously do not have celiac disease. But one of every 133 Americans does. In my circle, I am the one. Unlike my 132 closest friends, I must adhere to a strict gluten free diet or risk malnutrition among many other physical indignities. No wheat, barley, rye, etc. No white flour. No traditional cakes, breads, beer or pasta. Landmines in the fine print ingredients of processed foods and restaurant meals of every description.

In 1978 – at age 19 and reduced to 135 pounds on my 6’2” frame – a doctor who had gone to an offshore medical school literally pulled a book off his shelf and said, “I think I know what this might be.” He consulted the book. He became sure of it and I was “cured”. After dozens of misdiagnoses, my health was restored and my life was changed.

I spent the next three decades futilely explaining myself to waiters and waitresses. I spent tens of thousands of dollars on barely edible gluten-free fare from health food stores. I knew more ways to eat cassava than anyone should. I spent a lot of time sick from misinformation.

But that was then. Now is something different altogether. We are living in the golden age of Celiacs fueled by a Gluten Free movement that is nothing short of a revolution. Bakeries. Restaurants. Cookbooks. Grocery stores. Wait staff and chefs more knowledgeable about the disease than the medical community. Gluten-free food is everywhere. Celiacs are bordering on trendy in 2010 and an awful lot of the resultant GF fare is actually good.

There are even “celebrity celiacs” coming out of the closet. Two of my favorite smart-alecky intellectuals, Keith Olbermann and Sarah Vowell are fellow sufferers as is The View panelist Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Naturally, there are even conspiracy theorists who believe JFK was celiac.

I can’t offer an opinion as to how Tully’s panini stacks up to the genuine article. These Italian sandwiches weren’t readily available in 1978 and I’m uncertain when they hit the culinary consciousness of America. I’m quite sure my GF panini was the first panini I’ve ever had. Still, I can safely say it was everything I had hoped for the last 32 years. I can’t wait for more.

Here’s to my fellow celiacs! Long live the revolution.


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