“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger.” John 6:35
Bread is pretty important. Its main component, wheat, is called “the staff of life.” That’s a bold statement. Look at almost any label on the foods in your pantry. The majority of them contain wheat in their long list of ingredients. Most of our favorite foods are made with some form of the grain. Pasta is made from semolina, which is a form of wheat. Gumbo is made with a roux, which is a slowly pan- roasted blend of butter and flour, again – wheat. Pizza crust is wheat. A big juicy cheeseburger is served on a toasted bun – made of wheat. Even Japanese and Chinese food is full of it; soy sauce also contains wheat. Indians eat naan. Mexicans eat tortillas. Brits eat scones. Middle Easterners serve everything with pita. All of it is made with wheat.
Jesus wasn’t messing around when he called himself the “bread of life.” Every culture understands its vital role in sustaining our survival. Even peace depends on it. To show our willingness to communicate and negotiate with others, we break bread together. So, what happens when one cannot eat wheat?
Over the last several months, I’ve been experiencing stomach problems. I’ve tried numerous medicines, prescription and over-the-counter. I’ve spent untold amounts of money on tests, only to be told that the gastroenterologists don’t know the cause. I hired a nutritionist who offered little in the way of answers. I gave up food after food after food, until I gave up. I stopped all the medicines and went back to eating what I felt like. Within a month, I developed hives all over my body. My primary care physician suggested I might have a food allergy. When we ruled out dairy and corn and nuts, I was left with wheat as a likely culprit. I began a wheat-free diet, which is basically going gluten-free. I’ve been avoiding wheat for a month now. It’s past time to reintroduce the grain to see how I react, but I haven’t been able to get myself to eat it. It’s not that I’m afraid of wheat. It’s that I’m afraid I’ll find out that I can no longer eat it.
The past five weeks have been tough. I can’t eat a sandwich at lunch. I’ve been putting my gluten-free lunch meat on a rice cake for an open-face sandwich. It tastes fine, but the ingredients fall off when I take a bite. I’m eating lots of rice. I’ve found corn tortillas without gluten, and I’ve learned to make gravy without flour. Most chain restaurants have a gluten-free menu now, but I now go through restaurants’ offerings by eliminating anything with wheat in it, and picking from what’s left. It’s not much fun. Going to other people’s homes is trickier. Fast food is a nightmare. I’m not going hungry, but I feel deprived.
I’m going to try something with wheat in it today or tomorrow. So, in a few days I’ll know. But right now I can live with the possible illusion that maybe it’s not the wheat, and that my stomach just decided to get better on its own, and that I got hives from something else.
I miss bread. I understand why Jesus served it at the Last Supper. I understand why Victor Hugo created his masterpiece, Les Miserables about a man who is hounded and hunted his entire life because he was driven by starvation to commit the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. And I understand why every culture around the globe eats it in one shape or another.
I want to eat with them.
I don’t want to be so careful about everything I eat. I don’t want to be special. I don’t want to call attention to myself. I don’t want to be gluten-free. When told that the people of Paris didn’t have bread to eat, Marie Antoinette famously replied, “Let them eat cake.”
That sounds pretty good, about now.
But, more than anything, I want to be healthy. And if it’s wheat I can’t have, I’ll survive. I’ll learn new ways of cooking and baking. I’ll get over being embarrassed about asking what ingredients are in the food I want to eat. And I’ll get used to not eating like everyone else. I’ll be okay, because I’ll still have the bread that matters. I’ll still be able to partake of the” bread of life” and with Him, I won’t go hungry.