When you are diagnosed with Celiacs you say goodbye to many things. You must say goodbye to bread, to pasta and to easy, stress-free dining. On the other hand you also say goodbye to poor health, to weakness and to pain. Is family tradition amongst this list? How hard should you work to sustain tradition despite the gluten-free diet or should you simply let go of old traditions and make new ones? The issue of traditions conflicting with the gluten-free diet seems most pertinent during the Holidays. What does your family do for Christmas dinner and does it support your gluten-free diet? Here is my story.
I come from an incredibly family oriented Italian background. At some point during every Holiday season the family gets together and spends hours in the kitchen making ravioli for our Christmas dinner. The recipe and process are part of a very old family tradition that brings Bonaduces from across the country together. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, the summer of 2008, we were so busy trying to figure out how to be gluten-free on a daily basis that we didn’t think much about my gluten-free future. My first Celiac Christmas there wasn’t much for me to eat, it was as if our family ravioli recipe should somehow be exempt from my GF diet and we didn’t plan ahead.
In the following years we tried many alternatives that would accommodate me while still preserving the family tradition: a side of GF gnocchi (failed), separate GF ravioli (failed) etc.. Eventually we found that the easiest solution, one that tasted good and completely avoided cross contamination, was to make GF lasagna a day before we made the ravioli.
Although this solution is fairly satisfactory there are still some issues at hand. For one, we make the ravioli at my parent’s house which is where I stay during the Holidays. This means that the house is filled with flour, the kitchen is completely dredged in flour and must be cleaned thoroughly to the extreme and the air is a potential contamination risk for days. Secondly, I am excluded from the family gathering. I can’t be around people cooking with flour, check out this post for more information about the dangers of air-bourne gluten! The family gets together and bonds over the process and reminisce about family stories while I have to go keep myself busy outside.
Should gluten-free people impose their lifestyle on the family to the point of altering time-honored tradition? In a way, it makes very little sense for a Celiac to continue a gluten-based tradition because Celiacs is genetic! The family is biologically unfit to have such traditions! Where do you draw the line between science and sentiment?
I don’t know the answer to this problem. The best way to sort through the issue of tradition and Celiac Disease is to speak openly and honestly with your family. I know that my family would be terribly sad if we stopped with the ravioli tradition, I understand that and so for now I am happy to make GF lasagna on a separate day, in a separate kitchen to protect both myself and the family tradition. Despite my spoken pragmatism, I do hope that one day we can change the family tradition to something that I can take part in.
As always, I hope everyone has an enjoyable and relaxing Holiday season! The key to holidays and being gluten-free is staying calm and communicating your needs to your family. There is no clear nor easy answer when it comes to deciding what to do about gluteny traditions when a family member is diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance. Try not to get upset about the things you miss and, instead, get excited for the new things you can bring to the Holiday season like delicious GF lasagna, GF gingerbread etc etc! Take pride in your ability to make the holiday gluten-free and show off your culinary work to the extended family during the holidays! They will both be impressed by your work and will slowly come to better understand your needs as a Celiac.