Grain of truth

The life of celiacs (gluten-intolerant people) revolves around food. Perhaps, no other category of people discusses food as much as we celiacs do. Perhaps, no other category of people discusses food as much as we celiacs do.

Harvinder Khetal

The life of celiacs (gluten-intolerant people) revolves around food. Perhaps, no other category of people discusses food as much as we celiacs do. The initial introduction of two celiacs broadly goes this way: how were you diagnosed with the celiac disease, what were your symptoms and how long did you suffer before feeling the relief that comes from giving up gluten from the diet. Thus, one has already entered the eating zone. So, it is natural that when Jeeva Anna George, a celiac, should write a book on her story, a major part of it would deal with food. Her partner in writing and editor, Sheila Kumar, has wisely let Jeeva be, helping her steer the book by smoothening the rough patches.

Also, not just food, we even devour any information regarding gluten-free living. Information is our lifeline…and, unfortunately, it is not always credible. With every new product in the market, we face that all-important question: is it gluten-free? And, the first thing we do is check its ingredients. Then we cross-check on the social media with fellow celiacs, who are always patient in dealing with such queries. With the norms of labeling of food items in India not quite matching the strict standards required by celiacs, for whom even a grain of gluten-containing wheat, rye or barley is enough to cause havoc in their body, this lapse is a big disadvantage. In such a situation, a book rich with the experiences of a celiac is a treasure, a handy go-to reference point. It is no surprise that a whole chapter is dedicated to 'reading labels'. And, since India-centric books on the topic are so rare, Jeeva's A Gluten Free Life: My Celiac Story fills a much-needed gap.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in people in whom the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Strict prohibition of the villainous gluten is the only remedy. Suddenly, so many goodies made of wheat are forbidden — right from the basic roti, to the bhaturas, puris, most breads cakes, biscuits, etc, all are out. As Jeeva laments, “I was thinking with a pang that I would really, really miss doughnuts.”

Jeeva's racy style hooks one to the narrative. Her journey — from suffering as her condition remained undiagnosed for over a year to making a successful business out of that predicament — is fascinating. One feels for the young girl, a Masters in economics from a UK university, as she reveals emotionally how she is forced to give up her job since her sickness had left her with little energy or inclination to drag herself to office. Brain fog, headaches, irritability, diarrhoea — I could relate to these symptoms very well. 

But, after bouncing back to good health following the diagnosis and keeping off gluten, she continued to face setbacks as doors closed on her due to her illness-prone state. Yes, it is common for celiacs to pop in some gluten-laden food inadvertently or by mistake and they are always vulnerable to feeling under the weather.   

The rejections turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the lady as she decided to strike out on her own in 2013. She has built her own brand of gluten-free food business, called Jeeva - Glutenfreeliv.in. The desire to work for and towards the celiac community takes a three-pronged form: Jeeva - Initiatives, Bakes and Guides. She says, "My business is not just about making gluten-free products available to people, it is also offering them information to live a stress-free life, as also spreading awareness." 

With pithy quips of life's lessons dotting the pages, the account would be a revelation to many. It sensitises the non-celiacs towards the difficulty in finding food that suits celiacs, how costly their food is and how cross-contamination is a real threat and so it is important to keep kitchen and facilities clean of wheat. The celiacs gain from the tips given for situations at work or while travelling. 

But the main attraction for the celiacs is the part giving recipes. Jeeva's recipes, firmed up after painstaking trials, for pancakes, appams, pizza, pasta, muffins, momo bags, cookies etc are a treat. These open one to the possibilities of the wonders of so many other grains like bajra, ragi, rice, corn, sorghum, etc. Thank god, for that. Though tough, there's a lot to live by other than wheat, rye, barley and oats. And, thankfully, so many, like Jeeva, are experimenting with producing gluten-free goodies.

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