Eating Rich, Living Poor

Unemployed and diagnosed with celiac disease, a millennial who must go gluten-free on a shoe-string budget embraces the concept of eating rich, living poor.

| September/October 2013

  • Figs
    It started disastrously. Three bare months before my partner and I moved, at the start of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. There was no cure, only a strict diet to be followed. No more gluten, which meant wheat, rye, or barley.
    Illustration By Naomi Lees-Maiberg

  • Figs

First, Gather Your Fruits

(Lowest food bill June 2008 to December 2008: $177) 

It started disastrously. Three bare months before my partner and I moved, at the start of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. There was no cure, only a strict diet to be followed. No more gluten, which meant wheat, rye, or barley. Those three ingredients seemed to be in everything. No cookies, no crackers, no soups, no bread, no pasta, no potpies. Nothing. I couldn’t even add soy sauce to my stir fry. It was winter and the cold was already taking a toll on me. Long, cloudy months lowered my spirits. Winter cut through my jacket and bit at my bones.

It felt like starvation.

Those last months before moving are a blur, a struggle with rice and tepid ‘tamale’ pies, food tasting like ash under the weight of despair. I struggled saying goodbyes to friends, the comfort of a meal out or a potluck at someone’s house denied to me. I eked out what I could from a job I hated, trying desperately to balance need against meaning. It was snowing when we left.



The difference between March in Washington and April in California was a season. Spring was in full-throated bloom when we arrived, flowers and bird song permeating my mom’s home. Even as we scrambled to find a new place to live, being surrounded by family soothed something in me. The sunlight helped. My mother, who also had celiac disease, helped. The edge of terror that had been sleeping at the edge of my vision faded, melting into hope.

I wish that was the last of it. I wish I learned food again with my mother and then life went smoothly forward. But the spring we moved was the beginning of the economic crash. It took eight increasingly desperate months to find work.

Jacqueline Laughlin
8/15/2013 3:40:44 PM

what a discovery about learning to nurture yourself, your community, and the planet... thank you




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