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Book: Gluten-Free Girl (How I Found The Food That Loves Me Back & How You Can Too)

July 18, 2010
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I was starting to read The Children’s Book (A.S. Byatt) and then this arrived at the library for me (I requested it). Since we are only a couple of weeks into the Great Gluten-Free Experiment, I thought I would check it out. I have been reading her blog for awhile so I was already familiar with the premise: Girl is raised on junk food. Girl gets really, really sick. Girl gets diagnosed (finally) with celiac. Girl goes gluten-free. Girl discovers “real” food. Girl learns to cook. Girl starts really good blog. Girl falls in love. Etc.

It’s a good story. And it’s a decent book (unlike most blog-to-books I’ve read recently).

I skimmed a lot of it because I recognized some of the chapters as taken directly from the blog (which I’d already read). Nothing wrong with that — she can really write. I really enjoyed the first chapter, in which she talks about the 70s junk-food she was raised on. I was not raised on junk food (in fact, exactly the opposite), but I enjoyed the vicarious thrill of her memories of orange gelatinous American cheese, sugary Lucky Charms, doughy Wonder Bread and salty TV dinners. I was always so envious of my friends whose homes were filled with those foods. They seemed so exotic to me, so fun and bright and salty and yummy. Of course now I’m completely grateful for my whole-grain healthy diet when I was young, but back then, a plastic-y grilled American cheese sandwich was something special.

So then she talks about being a sickly kid, and having test after test after test to determine what was wrong with her. She continued to eat gluten all the way through her 30s, getting progressively sicker and sicker. Until finally, someone suggested celiac disease. A light went on in her head: YES. And indeed, she was diagnosed with celiac disease and hasn’t looked back since.

I wasn’t really sure of the focus of this book. It’s basically a foodie memoir with a gluten-free focus and a romance at the end. Well-written and enjoyable, something felt “off” about it to me nevertheless. I think she couldn’t decide what the book was about. It jumped around in time — backwards and forwards, recipes here and there. A memoir chapter, full of essays about food and friends, and then a chapter glorifying gluten-free grains, with a recipe or two thrown in. Still, overall, not bad for a blog-to-book.

However, I was really annoyed by the extreme foodie-focus. It started with the chapter called “The Ten Noble Tastes.” I get that this is about her, and her love of food, even if it has to be gluten-free. But this was food porn. Seriously. I am all for real, quality ingredients, purchased locally whenever possible. However, I don’t pay $25 for a bottle of olive oil, and if I’m using butter, regular California butter works just fine. I don’t need to buy “…butter from France that has sea salt pounded into it.” I suppose I’d like to, but I get twitchy and have to check the receipt if my weekly grocery bill goes higher than about $60.

And on and on and on. The very best chevre, purchased as a staple. Truffle salt on popcorn. Pomegranate molasses. I get it. Yum. Super-duper yum. But seriously? I know she is not rich, and I know quality ingredients make a difference, but unfortunately I have one foot in the camp that says food is fuel, and although I love food and I love to cook, the gratuitous fawning over fancy foods sort of turned me off. And I even like fancy foods. I’m all for truffle salt. But regular old kosher salt or sea salt works fine for me most days.

She and her honey (“The Chef”) love food and want to bring good food to the masses. But this idolization of food really gets me sometimes. I know it’s important. I think junk food is junk. I get it. But the love lavished on the brilliance of smoked paprika was a little bit over the top.

I guess for me it all comes down to buying the best-quality ingredients you feel you can afford. Maybe she feels she can afford this. It’s an investment in her health, I suppose. She’s making up for never being able to eat a real croissant, ever again. Okay. And don’t get me wrong, I’d love to eat at her house. I guess it’s just the insistence that everyone should eat like this. Not everyone can. Not everyone wants to. Real food is essential to everyone. Fancy food is not. But maybe it’s just me.

There was also the obligatory chapter about how she used to be a vegetarian but her body wanted meat, so blah blah blah. Whatever. I’m not a super-strict vegetarian (or a super-strict anything, actually) but that’s a lot of dead animals. On and on about succulent flesh (gross) and how she grew to love red meat again. I guess I have to agree with Michael Pollan on this one: too much meat is not good for anyone. And frankly I think the current trendy emphasis on well-butchered meat is yucky, indulgent, and irresponsible. American culture places too much importance on meat, and of course any foodie will tell you that they only eat local organic grass-fed etc., but the rest of the world doesn’t, and the large-scale meat industry is pretty horrific. I think it’s fine for some people, in small amounts, especially when it’s organic grass-fed kosher blah blah blah. But it’s dead animals. Dressed up in fancy sauces, but it’s still dead animals. And that’s yucky. (sorry, meat-eaters)

Anyway.

Her romance at the end is pretty sweet, and her website is terrific, so overall I liked the book. I just get annoyed with food porn. I like good food and I like fancy ingredients sometimes. But plain-Jane works just fine for me most of the time.

(I do have to agree with her about the chocolate, though. I really can’t even bother with bad chocolate anymore. It’s just not worth it. Except for peanut M&Ms. Sometimes nothing else will do. See? Not really strict about anything. So sue me.)

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2010 11:27 am

    ooh im so glad you reviewed this. ive had this book in my hand numerous times, almost bought it, then put it back. all the things youve mentioned that you didnt like, are the things i predicted i wouldnt like about it.

    i read her blog from time to time. i basically like it. but sadly, i feel like she (and a lot of the other bloggers in her *circle*) are members of a club i just could never belong to.

    i love food. i love fancy food. i love it when i have a few extra bucks in the budget and i can go into whole foods and buy expensive cheese or whatever. but its not necessary for a happy healthy life.

  2. July 18, 2010 7:32 pm

    It’s worth checking out from the library, but unless you HAVE to go gluten-free, it’s probably not necessary to buy. It was interesting (and now, unfortunately, i want truffle salt, whatever that is), but the extreme foodie cuckoo-for-fancy-food thing kind of irked me. She does make some good points, however.

    The rustic-homemade-foodie club would be a nice one to be a part of, but I’m with you: I think I’m going to be pressing my nose up against that glass for a long time to come. With an occasional stinky cheese treat, or maybe some really good vinegar for salad dressing.

    I agree: fancy food is great, and fun, and yummy, but not a necessity.

  3. July 19, 2010 3:37 pm

    I think the key to everything is moderation. And for the record, I just read cookbooks — like novels. I don’t really get around to making anything new or revolutionary. Thanks to my CSA, I am trying so many new vegetables. It fun and as a bonus, it’s good stuff.

  4. July 20, 2010 12:28 pm

    Good review.

    Some folks get way preachy about their food choices. I’ve even had some friends boast of their ability to eat unending amounts of pure rubbish and how it’s great. *eye roll*

    We spend a lot on food. It’s a choice. I’ll buy really good cheese and beer and such. And we get the organic blah-blah meat. (I wasn’t grossed out or offended. We eat meat and enjoy it despite the dead animal factor.)

    Meh. To each their own. If they get off on food porn more power to them. Personally, organic French truffle butter has never really done it for me.

  5. July 20, 2010 12:33 pm

    Jodi: I agree. Moderation is the key to everything!

    Dani: I don’t even mind the meat stuff — I’m not hardcore about anything. I come from a family of hunters, I’ve helped butcher, it’s the cycle of life, etc. It’s not my choice, but whatever. But the *glorification* of meat (along with the glorification of olive oil, truffle salt, etc.) bothered me. Totally eye-roll-worthy. 🙂

    That said, yummy food is yummy. I am totally on-board with yummy food. It’s the insistence that EVERYONE must have this expensive food as a staple, that bothered me most, I think.

    Or, maybe I’m still just crabby. 🙂

  6. July 21, 2010 12:06 am

    I hope your GF experiment is still going well! Your rant on meat had me laughing hysterically. I hate the glorification of meat too. 🙂

  7. July 21, 2010 10:19 am

    It’s going very well! So far, pretty easy-going. Pizza crust seems to be the only fail so far. Know a good pizza crust recipe?

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