ANNE GILDEA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - REAL LIFE - anne.gildea@mailon­sun­day.ie

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.

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