Imentioned something about a sandwich after yoga the other day. Holy God, the reaction from the yogi I was speaking to. ‘You don’t eat wheat?’ she didn’t so much ask as accuse in horror. As if I had admitted setting fire to stray cat. ‘Wheat is poison,’ she said. What did I reply? ‘Arra, stop exaggerating and leave the loaves alone?’ No. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I know.’ Because only the other week when I was staying in a B&B, the owner complained that she didn’t know what had happened but suddenly every second guest wouldn’t go near her toast. The words ‘wheat allergy’ hit her each morning, even at the offer of her prized homemade soda bread. Meanwhile, the boxes of traditional big lumps o’ wheat breakfast cereal moulder on the sideboard. Then a party caterer mentioned to me that she never realised there were so many coeliacs in Ireland — wheat-free is the biggest hit on the hors d’oeuvre front these days. At this rate, if they had a coeliac gathering for The Gathering, it’d be one of the most successful events of that whole get-together codology.
I’ve been told myself by a homeopath I am allergic to it. ‘Your energy will be great and the weight will fall off you if you just go wheat-free,’ he said. Great, said I, and I fully intended to, until the next time someone offered me a bun. Wheat, in Ireland, is like corruption, alcoholism and depression: it’s everywhere; it’s just part of who we are. Flour- based products are the foundation of our hospitality: you’ll have a sandwich, will you take a biscuit with the cup of tea in the hand, the scones are just out of the oven.
When we’re on tour, we find the friendliestrun theatres figure that a Nuala might be hungry after the drive down from Dublin. You arrive in, they mention ‘a bit of something’ and tea, left in the dressing room for you. You can be guaranteed it’s not of the green salad and quarktofu- quinoa ilk. It’s invariably a heap of sandwiches: a sliver of cheese or ham between two bits of sliced pan is part of our famous hundred thousand warm hellos. You’re not going to reject it with a faddy allergy? You are not, no.
It’s part of the religion. He took the bread, broke it and, no, he didn’t say, ‘See this? It can be quite harsh on the lining of your digestive tract; allergies to it are very common. If you suffer from things like IBS, it could be the cause, so in general just avoid. Use rice cakes instead, in
‘Wheat, in Ireland, is like corruption, alcoholism and depression – it’s everywhere; it’s just part of who we are’
memory of me.’ God, I hate the tyranny of things being bad for you. If it’s not coffee, it’s cheese; if it’s not chocolate, it’s kung pao chicken, fried rice and half a bottle of wine — but enough about my staple diet...
The funny thing about wheat is that it used to be good, but like so many formerly good things, it’s bad. An apple a day used to keep the doctor away; now, boo, they’re full of sugar and acid, and can ferment in your gut and turn your belly into a keg — so be careful, okay? You could go to work on an egg, then the yolks were raising cholesterol, then they weren’t; who knows what they’re up to today. Beef, don’t talk to me: it was good, then bad, then good again, Now it’s horse. ( I read the other day Ikea’s moose lasagne was withdrawn across Europe because it was found to contain traces of pork: to my ear that sounds like being upset because your squirrel patties contain traces of starling.) Milk was mighty, then bad because it was full of fat, cow antibiotics and allergy-causing lactose, then appalling because it was the root of all breast cancer, allegedly, but to me it was always just God’s way of saying ‘enjoy your cup of tea’. Oh tea, that’s supposed to be bad for you, too... Can’t even remember why, but probably because it’s lovely.
The serious yoga people avoid it. And wheat, and meat, and Star Bars, Minstrels, Tayto and kung pao chicken and half a bottle of wine. They juice, eat organic, are most likely vegan. And they look amazing: svelte, muscle-defined, the physical manifestation of fitness and good health. I’ve been doing yoga for seven years and I don’t look like that. At all. But I am fit and healthy: I can, for example, stand feet apart, grip my ankles and bend over so that my forehead is touching the ground directly between my dead-straight legs. But it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to do if you’re out in a bar, you’re waiting to get the barman’s attention, you eye a male you fancy, and you figure you’ll casually show off your not-immediately- evident fitness to excite his interest. No. Chances are all the average Irish bloke would appreciate about your yoga prowess is that he can take the opportunity to lean over you and get his order in first.
They say you are what you eat; the real yogis are bean sprouts, celery juice and wheat-free. I’m more a big plate of thick-cut cheese and ham sandwiches slathered in full-fat mayo, Tayto on the side and a cup of tea in the hand. Yum.