Ten Thousand Days

Couscous Crisis

March 4, 2019

Photo: Jo Sonn

Day 1655 – Day 1661

My friend Bruce (the brat) (Brat being Jackey’s suggested word) suggested that I break my writers block with the word antidisestablishmentarianism.  I think he chose the word because it is long and would help my word count.  However, I’m in favour of a separation of church and state.  I believe everyone has the right to worship (or not) in their own chosen religion and that the state, which represents all of a nation’s citizenry, should not fund institutions that promote only one religion.  So, writing about antidisestablishmentarianism (the counter political movement that opposes those who oppose the separation of church and state) would be a short post.

Instead, I will carry on and incorporate Hugh’s word ‘sad’, and Richard’s word ‘want’ as I lament the passing of couscous from my life.

Recently, I wrote about my issues with food sensitivities.  I’ve been trying to be positive and grateful for all the food that I can still eat.  However, having to refrain from eating gluten, dairy and soy is quite a cluster when you look at the ingredients of most foods in the grocery store.  By choice or chance, I’ve ended up cooking all of my food at home and struggling to eat out.  I ate out last week and was immediately sick, because the ingredients did not list mayonnaise and it was not detectable to me.  I had told the waitress my dietary restrictions, but it seems she was also unaware that the dish contained mayonnaise.  If the mayo was truly mayo (eggs and oil), I would be fine.  But modern commercial mayonnaise contains cream, in many cases, to improve the flavour.  I’m not sure if there is wheat or soy on top of that.  Wheat is in the most unlikely places – tomato soup, for instance.

Because I can’t eat out, I have been trying to bring the kind of flavours into my cooking that I’d normally save for dining out:  Moroccan, for instance.  Last week I made a delicious butternut squash and chickpea stew with Moroccan seasonings.  I didn’t have any couscous and so I made some sprouted rice and quinoa to serve with it.  It turns out that sprouted rice does not agree with me.  And so, I had to dump the whole pot into the garbage.  Because I have to plan ahead and food prep most, if not all of my meals, I sought out couscous and looked forward to eating it for my lunch today.

It wasn’t until I was in my car, arriving in the parking lot to work that I had a niggling doubt.  I got out my phone and asked Siri:  “Does couscous contain gluten?”  Alas, I am sad to report that it does.  There are gluten free alternative couscous on the market, but these are made with corn.  Because most corn sold in North America is genetically modified, and since I am sensitive to GMO corn, this also is something I cannot eat.

I don’t recall the last time I ate couscous.  I used to eat it a lot in London because I made sweet potato and red onions with couscous quite often.  I just hadn’t really thought of buying it here because Moroccan seasoning is not available in the stores here (indicative of a small Moroccan contingent in the pacific northwest, I guess).  But, having made my own seasoning mix, I was so excited to have a whole seasoning palette open up to me again and I was really looking forward to cooking with couscous again.

Knowing that I will probably never be able to eat it again, it’s all I want.

And so, gratitude is becoming vitally important.

I wrote many posts in my first year of this practice about being grateful for the simple comfort of a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup.

All of that is off limits to me now.

It may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but I remember how sad my mother was when she was told that she had to go on a low sodium and low fat diet.  She had to give up avocados and she loved avocados.  She acted as if life, as she knew it, was over.   I never really understood the big deal until now.

Today, when I had to throw out my lunch, and faced, afresh, how difficult it is to replace it with anything store or restaurant-bought, I’m grateful that even though I can no longer eat most canned foods, eat in most restaurants, can no longer pop out and buy myself a sandwich for lunch when I’m running late or go to the drive through when travelling, I can still eat avocados.

I had an avocado and two slices of gluten free bread for lunch.  I’m grateful for the bakers who have figured out what flour combinations and guar gum would work to create a gluten free bread.  It’s not the same, but I can get used to it.  I’m grateful for olive oil margarine that contains no dairy or soy.

Even with all my gratefulness, my inability to ever eat couscous has me a little sad.  Last week I was feeling rebellious about cheese and hot chocolate.  It crossed my mind to eat them despite doctors orders.  That is, until I accidentally ate mayonnaise, and it made me so sick.  This couscous crisis of mine reinforces for me that practicing gratitude, joy, oneness and service is not about overlooking or minimizing our challenges.  We have to accept the hand we are dealt and do the best we can with it.  But, before acceptance, comes mourning.

Food is central to our lives, our identity, our memories and our ways of coming together and of celebrating.  All of those things are forever changed for me.  Like my mother, I can see how life, as I know it, is over.

But, I know there are others out there that have similar constraints and after I allow myself a few moments of feeling sorry for myself, I will move on from this couscous crisis, and somehow tell myself that couscous is not very good anyway, that it is bland without all sorts of seasoning and flavourings and I will convince myself that rice is a far better grain, all around. I will continue to offer suggestions and accept recipe advice to others, in forums, who face the same issues as I.  I will be grateful that my want is not for food itself.  I am deeply grateful that I have access to healthy and nutritious food, even if particular foods that I enjoy are no longer healthy for me.   I will be grateful for unsprouted rice, the staple grain of peoples and cultures around the world, and I will try not to think of how water intensive it is to grow.

Photo: Juan Cruz Mountford


For what are you most grateful today?


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  • Reply Urspo March 9, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    Yes it is a sad thing to give up foodstuffs. It is hoped what we can consume can still give us comfort.

    • Reply Tania D. Campbell March 15, 2019 at 11:25 pm

      I was away this week and I ate Ethiopian food twice. It was so tasty and satisfying and totally gluten, dairy and soy free. One adjusts, but first one must mourn what passes away.

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