Bread and Wine and a World of My Own

Bread and Wine and a World of My Own

I just finished my advance copy of Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table. It belongs to one of my favorite genres: the cookbook/memoir mash-up, and it’s good.

For me, this book about food turned out to be a surprisingly emotional read.

Bread and Wine instagram Shauna Niequist

For a little backstory, let me tell you about another time food made me cry.

Last August, my family spent a week at the beach with my parents and my brother. We eat out a lot when we travel together, and this can be tricky for me (gluten-sensitive), and my daughters (with allergies to gluten/dairy and gluten/dairy/soy/ eggs/etc, respectively).

Knowing this would be tough, my husband had spent the week before telephoning the restaurants we planned to visit. Some had literally nothing we could eat; the remaining restaurants said it would be fine.

They were wrong. When it came to our daily meals out, it wasn’t fine: I spent that week feeling difficult, demanding, and high maintenance.

Late in the week, we headed out for dinner, again, a little too late and already starving. Thankfully, this restaurant was on the “fine” list. Upon ordering, we were reassured it would be fine.

Our food finally arrived, and we gratefully dug in. First I cut my kids’ food into bites, then turned my attention to my own plate. As I stabbed my first bite, the server swept up from behind, yelling “Wait!!” and startling me so that I dropped my fork.

“I forgot to tell the kitchen your plate was special,” he said, and whisked my plate away to the kitchen before I could say a word.


He returned a while later with a new plate, pronouncing this one safe. I thanked him; he left. But when I took a bite, I could tell it was not okay.

Again I waited for the server to return. Visibly annoyed, he agreed that my food didn’t look quite right. “The kitchen’s not great about stuff like this,” he said, and asked if I wanted to try again.

I couldn’t answer, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything but cry. I was crying about my dinner, yes, and about a week’s worth of difficulty and stress and tummyaches. I wanted to explain that it was about more than the food–because crying about your dinner is lame–but I couldn’t get the words out.

(My mom told him to bring me a glass of wine. I said no, that’s okay–and regretted it the instant he was gone.)

Eventually, he brought me my dinner. My third dinner. Everyone else had long since finished. I took a few bites and boxed the rest.

It’s been half a year, but that evening sprung to mind in the chapter on feasting and fasting. Shauna tells of a time she followed a restricted diet: no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, no sugar. She followed it for 4 months; she felt amazing (sound familiar?). “But at the same time,” she says, “I felt like I wasn’t living in the same world everyone else was living in.”


Just like that night at the restaurant, Bread and Wine is about food, and more than food.  The book contains some great-looking recipes, sure. But this book is really about what happens when people gather around the table. It’s about food as a bearer of love and forger of connection. It’s about what’s on the table, but—more importantly—what happens at the table.

Jamie Oliver says that food “binds us to the best bits of life.” But what if you can’t eat the food?

I don’t usually cry at the dinner table, but otherwise that night at the restaurant was not an anomaly. Eating at home is a breeze, but eating with others has been tough for a while now. The table has separated my girls and me from others, not connected us.

I hate that.

Bread and Wine has no quick fixes for me (although Shauna’s description of her husband’s gluten-free lifestyle was encouraging). But it reassures me that even though the communal table is a tender spot for me right now, it’s not time to give up. It’s worth it to gather there with others, even though at times I’m bound to feel difficult, demanding, and high-maintenance.

What happens at the table is worth it.

Is it hard sometimes for you to embrace what happens AT the table? I’d love to hear your story in comments. 

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  1. I get you all the way. I have to deal with dietary restrictions now, and again and again I see how important our shared food culture is as a bonding tool. I have a dear friend who, years ago, started on a journey of trying to discover the best way for her and her family to eat. She has alienated so many of her loved ones as she has passed through various theories — focus on grains and vegetables, focus on proteins and fats, no to dairy, yes to dairy, no to coffee, yes to coffee, no to supplements, yes to supplements — and somehow she has never grasped how much people avoid talking about anything to do with food or health with her, even though she considers herself to be an expert. And do you have any idea how much of conversation ends up touching on those subjects? I have to believe that whatever health benefits she may have achieved haven’t been worth what she’s lost in relationship. One good thing about it — she’s taught me how I DON’T want to handle my own dietary needs. Still, it’s a problem.

  2. Eden says:

    I totally agree. This is exactly an issue I am struggling with right now too. No gluten, no dairy and no sugar. I do okay with the gluten and the dairy but the sugar just seems to divide me from everyone and so I’ve given in and been baking more treats and sharing and trying to cross the divide and connect to people by offering treats that are semi-okay for me (honey, maple syrup). To the point that two family members have stopped me and reminded me that I am allergic to sugar (even honey) and that I am DIFFERENT when I am ingesting it. It is that noticeable (poor energy, really emotional, angry, negative).I get tired of feeling like the weirdo around food. In my own home, at my own table I am fine but in any social situation (church, work, neighborhood) I can eat very little.

    So, thank you. There are many of us out here. And I get tired feeling alone on this one too–high-maintenance, demanding or difficult.

    • Anne says:

      The problem of food making people sick is not confined to the first world, although the wealthy certainly have the funds and resources to do something about it. But there is tension in those choices.

    • Jeannie says:

      Huh??!! Imagine thinking, “Hmm, which should I do on this blog I’m visiting: contribute constructively, stay silent, or launch a drive-by insult? I’ll choose Door #3.”

      Fortunately, this blog is usually heavily populated by non-haters, which is why I drop by often!

    • Amy, I’m sure you care deeply about third world problems. That is an admirable concern. Considering that was your first response to Anne’s post today, I would say you are angry about the sufferings of others — and rightly so! But please don’t direct that anger toward Anne or other bloggers. If you try blogging for a while, you will see that being authentic is gut wrenching. I’m always nervous about sharing my struggles because I KNOW someone out there is having a harder time of it than me right now. But Anne has speaks to the heart of many, many people because she has the COURAGE to share her struggles openly. We know she’s real. And Amy your struggles matter too. You shouldn’t feel bad about acknowledging them, just because others are suffering more than you. 🙂

  3. My oldest sister has celiac disease (no gluten), plus a laundry-list of other allergies that give her a very limited diet. At first, she wouldn’t eat with anyone because she always had to explain why she couldn’t eat, why she was just drinking water – and no, you couldn’t just take the lemon off the glass, why she brought her own food everywhere. Now, some 10+ years after her diagnosis, she has learned how to live with it, to enjoy her time with others around the table. It’s not a big deal now, because it’s normal for her to be cooking her food downstairs, while we are upstairs cooking ours – in the end, we all eat together, and that’s what matters. It’s an adjustment, but it can be done. When she’s home, we go to the short-list of restaurants where she can eat, but she also makes it clear that the important point for her is that she is spending time with family. Bottom line – she says she’d rather be “high maintenance” than be sick all the time, and we’re okay with that because we love her. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Carrie, that has to be so tough. I love that her belief that the most important point for her is the time with her family shines through.

      Side note: is she allergic to lemon? We’ve just (like maybe 6 weeks ago) uncovered a lime allergy for my 7-year-old through the elimination diet she’s been doing. Not orange, lemon, or grapefruit: just lime. I have no idea how this is going to play out when we go out to eat, and I’m curious to hear more about your sister’s experience.

      • She’s allergic to citrus (including lemon), red food coloring, potatoes, most nuts, and a whole lot more that I can’t keep track up – but those are the biggies (in addition to the gluten issue – which is what was making her SO sick). Her one area of gratitude – she hasn’t developed an allergy to dairy. YET. 🙂 She’s always struggled with allergies (seasonal), but the food allergies started in her 30s, got worse in her early 40s, and finally got straightened out in her 50s. 🙂 I’m kind of waiting to see if I do the same (please God, no!).

        • Anne says:

          Oh, yikes! That sounds like a minefield. I’m even more impressed now about how she’s navigating those issues. (Crossing my fingers for YOU.)

  4. Audrey says:

    Being vegan, I can definitely relate to what you’re talking about here. It’s totally easy to eat at home, but restaurants are another story. It’s no fun to be drilling a waiter about ingredients as the rest of the guests look on. The least thing I want to be is high-maintenance. It helps me, a little, to remember that at the end of the day it’s just food. Even if my meal doesn’t end up being food blog-worthy, if I focus on the people and the conversation, it was a good meal. Still, I feel you–it can definitely be just plain hard to have dietary restrictions!

    • Anne says:

      “Even if my meal doesn’t end up being food blog-worthy, if I focus on the people and the conversation, it was a good meal.”

      I like this so much. Thanks, Audrey.

  5. Jessica S says:

    I have night-shade sensitivities (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers) which aren’t so bad that I can’t eat them, but I still try and avoid them. It’s not so hard for me as it must be for you, because I can eat those things as long as I don’t eat too much too many days in a row; but I do feel bad when I’m over at friends’ houses who know I have that sensitivity and feel like they have to cater to it. You feel sort of guilty that you can’t just enjoy whatever food there is.
    I have been thinking lately how relational the act of eating is. In my family, eating dinner together is the norm, and I never realized how lonely it must be to live in a family where you rarely sit down and eat together. A few summers ago I went on a mission trip for two weeks, and one of the things I missed most when I got home was eating every single meal together with other people around me. Even though I was only eating alone once or twice a day, I still missed the closeness and fellowship of eating meals with our team.

    • Anne says:

      “You feel sort of guilty that you can’t just enjoy whatever food there is.”

      Sigh. Yes, exactly that. I used to pride myself on being low-maintenance about food. But oh, how the mighty fall…

  6. Elizabeth C says:

    Anne – one of my daughters is severely allergic to peanuts, soy, gluten, corn and sesame. It is so frustrating when we go out to eat because I feel that either the people we are with or the restaurant staff think we are just difficult, as opposed to understanding that it is for my daughter’s safety when I need to question about all the ingredients. I don’t ask to be difficult, but to protect my daughter, her health and ultimately her life (to avoid an anaphylatic reaction). This past weekend we went out to Vietnamese food and I questioned them about the ingredients and specifically told them she was allergic. She was eating a plate of plain rice, eggs and vegetables and she says, “Mom my tongue feels funny and this food doesn’t taste right.” I immediately told her stop eating and walked over to question them on what they cooked the vegetables in, their answer – soy oil! Thankfully she didn’t have a greater reaction this time. It’s exhausting and frustrating. I wish there was a way to help educate others about the seriousness of food allergies. We don’t act this way to be difficult, but because of the nature of food allergies you just don’t know when you might have to use that Epi-Pen and what the results might be. It’s similar when she goes to a friend’s home. I have had to teach her to read all the ingredients on what she is served because often the parents will say it’s fine without understanding that corn syrup, xantham gum, soy lechitin, dextrose, etc . . . are all made with the foods she is allergic too. I always tell them to keep to the whole,unprocessed foods and she will be fine (fruits, vegetables, rice, meat/eggs).

    • Anne says:

      Elizabeth, I can only imagine how scary that must be! Our symptoms are no fun, but they’re not the type that require Epi-pens or emergency room runs. How exhausting and frustrating that must be.

  7. Tim says:

    Crying about your dinner is not lame, Anne. I once cried over a corn dog. That was because what I got was a regular hot dog in a bun instead and we didn’t discover the mix-up until we got home and opened the take out bag.


  8. LK says:

    This is spot on. Since I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivities that cause IBS, I’ve found that eating out can be really difficult. Add to the mix that I’m also a vegetarian and eating out is almost impossible. I really feel best eating a vegan, GF diet but there is literally nowhere in this area where I could eat out like that. So I’ve compromised by eating cheese and eggs and things that may be questionable in nature ( for example – “Ma’am, we’re not sure that this is gluten free. The spice mix we have has a lot of ingredients in it”) when I go out so that I don’t lose that social connection. It results in me not feeling my best and sometimes in bouts of IBS induced by the gluten contamination. I’ve even avoided going on vacation because I’m so worried about it. Luckily I haven’t ended up in tears over my meal yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

  9. Breanne says:

    I teared up just reading about your restaurant experience, that would be SO hard. We don’t have any food sensitivities but we do try to be aware of what we eat and make it whole foods rather then processed.
    I considered it a personal victory when we were able to share a meal at a fast food place (despite my pride in my girls never eating there) with family. We all ate a meal and the conversation around the food was worth it.

    Thanks for sharing. And for helping me to see what it would be like on that side of viewpoint. =)

    • Anne says:

      “I considered it a personal victory when we were able to share a meal at a fast food place (despite my pride in my girls never eating there) with family. We all ate a meal and the conversation around the food was worth it.”

      I like this so much. Thanks, Breanne.

  10. Eos Mom says:

    I completely relate! For years, my son was allergic to everything but rice and a few fruits. The few times we ate out we brought our own foods. Even today, when he’s only allergic to wheat and corn, we still rarely eat out. Anyway, in that time where he couldn’t eat ANYTHING, it was very emotional, especially at holidays and birthdays (no cake)–realizing how much holidays revolve around food (hello Thanksgiving!). You do feel that you live in a different world/culture.

    By the way, when we travel, we have to stay somewhere with a kitchen. It’s a necessity (and of course, pricey!). Restaurants just don’t work for us.

  11. Joani says:

    I don’t have diet restrictions and once almost cried at dinner when mine arrived very late – forgotten, I guess?

    My husband found out he was gluten intolerant this past fall – we are blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest with amazing gluten free dining & shopping options, waitstaff, kitchens & clerks who are knowledgeable & helpful. It is really nice to be able to go to these places and not feel high maintenance (we even have an local entirely gluten free restaurant!). But we went to Alaska for Christmas and that was just plain HARD! Dietary planning is now on the forefront of any vacation planning!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, I get this! My husband and I were in California last summer and I was amazed at how easy it was to eat gluten-free. I paid close attention to how well my gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free daughter would do out there, and the answer appeared to be FINE.

      Maybe we need to vacation out there instead of in the American South? (I’m only kinda kidding! I truly think it would be easier.)

  12. HopefulLeigh says:

    Anne, I know this dilemma only peripherally, through you and other friends with food allergies. I can only imagine the limitations. I’ve walked this road with my best friend and her husband after he started his GF diet. It’s been a good challenge for me, as their friend, to find recipes that work for him. Just last week I tried out a GF peanut butter chocolate chip recipe and it was a big hit! I love cooking for my friends and I don’t have a problem changing a menu to suit someone who’s vegetarian or doesn’t like certain ingredients or has a dietary restriction. Sometimes it means I don’t get to serve favorite meals but if the purpose is to spend time together and to extend my hospitality then it’s not about my favorite foods but about what will help my friends feel loved.

  13. Mary says:

    I can identify a bit. I’m just coming off a whole 30 after reading about it here and have now realized I’m soy intolerant. Not such a biggie but I LIVE IN ASIA.

  14. Stacey says:

    You have put my own struggle into words. I am GF and when I was first diagnosed people didn’t know how to handle having me over for a meal. Some people stopped inviting. I now suggest to people the things I can eat, everyone at our church knows to serve us tacos 🙂 Because it boiled down to…I didn’t want to miss the fellowship with my friends over food issues, and it was something we all had to work through. Gathering around the table is so much more then food, but then again the food is what brings us to the table.

    • Anne says:

      “I didn’t want to miss the fellowship with my friends over food issues, and it was something we all had to work through.”

      Stacey, I’m so glad it sounds like you’re finding a way through this, and that your church friends now know to serve you tacos!

  15. Kel says:

    I know the feeling! One piece of the puzzle for you, maybe– many people allergic to soy are also allergic to eggs. But it isn’t really the eggs– it’s the significant amount of soy protein found in the yolks from the soy in the chicken feed. My daughter eats soy free eggs from our friend’s backyard chickens just fine. But she can’t handle any grocery store eggs. If your kid’s soy and egg intolerances aren’t deadly, try soy free eggs if you can find them. Might be able to add them back in!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, interesting. Thank you! I knew this was an issue with salmon (farmed makes everyone sick, but wild is fine) but I never thought about the eggs.

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