I’m not thinking about my last meal because I have any desire to shorten my life. I don’t. I want to eat every meal I’ve read about and salivated over, and I’m not even halfway there. I’m just thinking about my last meal because approximately twenty-five years ago I had to give up peanuts, and a little over two years ago I had to give up gluten. No, I hope to live long and prosper for several more decades, until I am very old. If you are wondering which loss was harder to swallow, the answer is that the loss of gluten was much harder, although the loss of peanuts rankles more. It now appears that they mistakenly diagnosed me with a peanut allergy when, in fact I was allergic to beech or birch trees, resulting in a positive blood test for a peanut allergy. The upshot of this false-positive result is that I have not eaten peanut M&Ms, in their eye-catching large-size bright-yellow bag, for a very long time, and they were my favorite candy. I could instantly vanish into a calm and meditative state as I ate my way through a bag of them, one by one, the smell of peanuts and chocolate wafting around me. Now, having not eaten a peanut for so long and having it drilled into me I must be peanut free forever. I don’t think I could eat a peanut at this point. I would worry, even though there is most likely no reason to worry. Finally, I have more or less made my peace with the peanut-free life.
As for gluten and my avoidance of it, I diagnosed that problem myself. After years of being told that stress, acid indigestion, lactose intolerance, or some combination caused my symptoms, I eliminated almost everything from my diet that could possibly cause those problems, but I continued to eat wheat, barley, and rye. In fact, there were days when I ate nothing but wheat, barley, and rye in the form of cereal, bread, and pastry. Bingo! One evening, as I was eating a delicious crusty rye roll and feeling worse with every bite, a lightbulb went off in my head. I put the half-eaten roll down, eyed it mournfully, and renounced all wheat, rye, and barley. In a month, I felt better than I had felt in years. At that point, I decided to test my hypothesis. I ate a large plate of rigatoni and an entire loaf of crusty bread, and I was fine for about eighteen hours, or just long enough to start celebrating my return to a gluten-containing diet. I was happily making a shopping list and planning various meals that revolved around pasta, bread, and dessert when it became apparent that gluten was indeed the problem, and so it and I parted company forever. I will miss it forever minus one day. On that day, gluten and I will be reunited at last. I will not have forgotten gluten, and I assume that gluten will not have forgotten me, but our problems shouldn’t be a long-term issue at that point.
Back to my last meal. What difference does it make if I eat gluten and peanuts when I am close to death? In fact, why not add a purring cat or two or ten to nestle in my arms, since I love cats but am allergic to them? My childhood dream was to grow up and be a crazy cat lady. It makes no difference at all, and so, right now, while I eat my gluten-free pasta (really very good, thank heavens) and my gluten-free pizza (really not that good, sorry) and my homemade gluten-free waffles and brownies and cookies (wonderful, thanks), and my peanut-free M&M substitutes (fabulous), I plan my last-meal menu. I will send copies of it to my children. Today I decide that for my least meal I will consume a pastrami on rye with mustard, a baguette slathered with butter and jam, a crusty roll with meat and cheese, and a mushroom pizza. I will top all that gluten off with a large bag of peanut M&Ms. And I will hold a cat or two in each arm while I eat or am fed. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe I’ll teak the menu. Maybe someone will invent a cure for gluten sensitivity and even celiac disease. Maybe there will be a pill to block allergic and sensitivity reactions. Maybe. Maybe not. Today, I dream. I dream of gluten.