When a Foodie is Forced to Eat Gluten-Free

A Circuitous Route to a Mini Mention of Jivamukti Cafe

“I am just trying to get from one yoga class to the next,” my friend Hilary texts me, as we have our virtual chat, bemoaning the MAGA bomber, the killings in Pittsburgh, our inciter-in-chief. I, too, anchor myself in yoga, every day after I wake realizing that this vile man is still president. Then there are all the other inchoate anxieties that threaten to swamp me: can I handle this new gig? What about the 50% increase in our health premium? Do we have coverage to visit mom this weekend?

 I do a twenty minute yoga routine, “Zen in Your Den,” from an old Exercise TV video. It is the only health habit I have been able to ingrain and stick to; I have done it most weekday mornings for two or three years now, and the Chef does it often, too. While I have been an utter failure at meditating, I feel that spending twenty minutes attending to my body is meditative. It narrows my perimeter to only what my arms and legs can reach, and while anxious thoughts may arise, looking at the world upside down in downward dog makes them drift away.

 So what does yoga have to do with food? This attention to my body is not just a luxury, unfortunately, but something of a must, as someone who lives with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic intestinal illness characterized by flareups and remissions. Yes, I’m admitting here that I’m a intestinally-challenged food writer, and it has not been an easy act to maintain. This summer an intestinal infection and strong antibiotics set off symptoms of irritable bowel that have lasted for months. My GI doc had no answers but my internist handed me three sheets of paper detailing a low FODMAP diet.

 Elimination diets are a special hell for a foodie and this one is the worst. FODMAP stands for—are are you ready for this—Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols, carbohydrates (sugars) that are found in foods and are osmotic, pulling water into the intestinal tract, so they may not be digested and absorbed well and—yikes—could be fermented upon by bacteria in the intestinal tract when eaten in excess.

 My doctor blithely handed me this chart and said, “Just stay off all these foods for six weeks, and gradually add them back in!” Hello!!?? Stay away from all things with wheat, from apples, avocados, broccoli, beans, beets, mangos, coconut milk, and of course milk and soft cheeses and on and on? But you know what: when you’re suffering enough, you’ll give anything a try. The Chef was amazingly accommodating, cutting out pastas and serving risos, polentas and leafy green salads.

Having treats while out and about was a challenge. One day I went to investigate a French Japanese café, Patisserie Fouet, my friend had told me about. There wasn’t a single seat to be had, but the thing is, the only food within my Snack Attack budget was the creamy cauliflower soup ($5.00) my friend had raved about. Everything there, it seemed, was a FODMAP. I was on my way to the Strand when I saw a sign for Jivamukti Café on Broadway, across from the Regal Union Square cinemas. Hmmm. I couldn’t figure out where this hidden café was. And then I looked up, to the second floor to see a glassy sign advertising Jivamukti Yoga Studio and Café. I expected this vegan café to be overpriced and forbidding, but it was warm, and smelled of sweaty bodies, in a good way. Some intriguing menu items were within my snack limit like the no FODMAP $5.00 elotes—roasted corn with vegan mayo, lime and cayenne or the high FODMAP ayurvedic bean soups ($7.00).  I ordered a matcha latte ($5.00) made with soy milk and a gluten free cookie ($2.50) with some kind of heavenly faux cream sandwiched between. The cookie was small but packed with nutty flavor, and was all the treat I needed.

 Still…still, dear reader, while I maintain my yoga routine, I’m a flop at FODMAP. I kept to the diet for only two weeks (with some cheating, I confess) until I told the Chef I’d had it. It helped that limiting these foods was not really making a noticeable difference for my gut. In these moments, though, I realize how lucky I am to have a husband like the Chef. We both live to eat, and he also lives to cook, and yet, he was carefully crafting “No FODMAP” menus for us, day after day, scolding me when I lusted after a bunch of verboten farmer’s market beets. This is love, his attention to my body.

Jivamukti Cafe
841 Broadway (btw E. 14th and E. 13th Sts.)