Last weekend was Lammas (or at least up here in the Northern Hemisphere anyway). While I do adhere to the eightfold Wheel of the Year as observed by Wicca (though not Wiccan myself), Lammas is a particularly difficult holiday for me because it is literally “Loaf-mass”, the grain festival, and wheat and barley in particular. This is the time of year when you see over nine thousand bread recipes circulate in pagan circles, and pagan events where bread is going to be a big part of what’s on the menu.
Among the various health issues I have, I found out this past year I have celiac disease. 33 years of untreated celiac has caused me some health problems. I am very much One Of Those People who has to carefully examine food labels and pray on the rare occasion a friend takes me out to eat somewhere that I don’t get gluten’d because even with a gluten-free menu, things can get contaminated due to a common kitchen. My last gluten episode was in April (accidental contamination) and almost put me in the hospital and after the initial first week of epic fail, I still was not well for about a month. I actually have occasional nightmares about getting gluten contaminated because my contamination episodes have been that unpleasant to experience.
I don’t begrudge others the eating of grain – indeed, I want people to be happy and enjoy what they enjoy – but having needed special food accommodations re: ritual in the past (before I found out I was celiac, which was one more thing), I speak from experience that you tend to get perceived as That Guy. I am The Guy Who Can’t Eat Gluten. I am That Guy Who Has To Be Careful With Anything because even something like, say, a salad – I can’t just “pick the croutons out”, it’s been contaminated. If I’m at your potluck and we’re using the same set/s of tongs for the various food items, it doesn’t matter if I pick the gluten-free stuff, guess what I just got contaminated. I speak from unfortunate past experience – “just a tiny bit” is already too much, where my body is concerned.
It gets tiring to be That Guy who has to be gluten-free, watch the soy because of soy sensitivity, watch the salt, watch the sugar, can’t drink alcohol (let me tell you how fun it is to be the Norse pagan who can’t drink) etc. I would love to just eat “like normal people”. It’s annoying in my everyday life – for starters it’s expensive – and the annoyance gets turned up to eleven when people treat me like a pariah on festivals like Lammas because unless it’s gluten-free bread I can’t make it or eat it, and guess what, gluten-free bread is more expensive.
Some pagan events are pretty good about accommodating people’s different dietary needs, from what I hear, but we still have a ways to go with being mindful as a broader community and doing it in a way where the person who’s gluten-free or soy-free isn’t That Guy, where meat-eaters aren’t lectured for being “wrong”, where vegans aren’t made fun of and told to eat a burger. Whether your dietary needs are by health requirement or by choice – such as conviction, or preference – we should, as a community, try to be more accommodating of our own as well as more understanding. It’s important to not only be aware of accessibility issues with the blind and hearing impaired and physically challenged in our community, accessibility in my experience extends to things like food at pagan events, or when food is brought up in pagan discussions. If we are shaming or mocking each other, making each other feel unwelcome, over the sharing of a meal, the proverbial breaking of bread – which was an act of hospitality in most ancient polytheistic cultures, and still seen as much now – that is a bad place to build community from, and the prevalence of this sort of behavior is, I believe, a microcosm of community problems as a whole.
I’m not saying that we all have to be on the same diet. If I was holding a ritual potluck, there’d be a place for the vegans, and a place for the Paleos, and a place for the gluten-free people, with things like separate tables of food or separate sections on a table with designated utensils to avoid contamination issues. And using food as a metaphor, I may be this weird Vanatruar who also works with demons and is a spirit-worker with a bunch of idiosyncrasies to my practise, but I hope that people from all pagan traditions can benefit from my writing – there’s something for the Asatruar, something for the Druids, something for the Wiccans, something for whoever wants it and can get something out of it. I try to be mindful that I do not speak for all pagans ever, and I try to raise awareness that there’s a lot of different traditions under the pagan umbrella and that’s OK, we all have a place.
You all have a place at my table, just don’t treat me like That Guy because I can’t have what you’re having, be mindful that not everybody is going to be able to have what you’re having, and I’ll do the same for you.