I have to hide my rice cooker. In it I make illicit sweet potatoes. Illegal cassava pasta. Verboten brown rice and forbidden tofu scrambles.
We are not allowed hotplates or rice cookers, kettles or other instruments of nutrition. When I explain I have celiac disease and get so very sick with minor cross contamination, and my son is vegan they roll their eyes. Pick off the croutons from the salad. The salad which is already smothered in non gluten free dressing. They boil eggs and put them on top. I don’t eat eggs – for some reason they make that rash go nuclear. When I politely say I don’t eat piggies their eyes roll back even further. It is easier just to say we are vegan. Call me superstitious, but they are dirty creatures. I can’t bring myself to do it.
In the end is they don’t have a kitchen free from cross contamination, the people in charge are not willing to listen to how to keep me safe and well, and they don’t take my disease seriously and nor are they willing to learn. In short, they cannot feed me safely in a way that keeps me well, it is just not possible. I am meant to ‘not be difficult’ and eat when I am told to eat. Be grateful for it. More Christian bullshit of gratitude. Grateful for having my risk of cancers increased with each glutening? Grateful for my upset stomach and my horrific celiac rash? Grateful? No thank you.
I can no more eat gluten than healthy people with good genes can eat rat poison.
So here we are, going through a charade every night. I go down, I pick up the ham sandwiches, the salad with bread croutons and the floured and fried fish, and work out a way to surreptitiously dispose of it, while cooking in the bathroom, with the vent taped up and the window open, careful not to cook anything that smells, and hiding everything if there is a knock on the door from a person with a clipboard and a complex about being in charge.
We then sneak our meals. Breakfast we hurry between welfare checks, we sneak food in, gobble down lunch, and carefully cook and eat supper. Eating is something we have to hide very carefully. If we are caught we will be denied service from the shelter and thrown out onto the street. Every night, I go down at dusk and carefully dispose of the trash.
If I want a cup of tea, I have to again go to the bathroom, fill the teapot with boiled water from an electric kettle, and fill my travel mug.
But if you have crack parties two nights running from midnight till 10am, you are just fine. If you have fights outside the shelter you are absolutely ok. If you loudly commit domestic violence in the room next door it is the person who doesn’t want to listen to it who is to blame. My sleep has been denied night after night after night, but can I have a meal which is safe for me, without being harassed and threatened with being thrown out? It would not appear so…
Can my son eat food he is comfortable with and is familiar to him…nope.
So we are back to illegal eating. I throw the window wide so no one smells anything, and we have a scentless menu we prepare food from.
We didn’t have a hot meal for months before I finally said fuck it, and bought a rice cooker and took to hiding preparing food we could eat. We lived on salads and sandwiches, uncooked carrots and tofu with soy sauce poured over it, a little minced ginger and naga negi. We had nice salads, lots of avocados and giggled about being Californian with our raw eating habits. I broke one day after nibbling my way through the second salad of a day when it was cold and raining outside, and the fog seemed to seep into our room and then our bones. I cracked, ordered a rice cooker and the next day made a vegetable stew. We both cried as we ate.
The simple joy of a potato. The deep happiness of a warm meal.
If the providers find our rice cooker we are in trouble, but the two of us have to eat. It is only a rice cooker, we are immensely careful and very clean. The Boy has taken to cooking for me. He makes me risottos and lightly spiced spinach with tofu, cassava pasta with a homemade tomato sauce, and wonderful gluten free pancakes. He enjoys cooking and he is good at it. It is his way of caring for me, of showing me love. He then carefully washes up and puts everything away. It is a strange but lovely experience for him to bring me a tray of food and pat my hand with such gentle filial care. As much sadness as there is in being a mother for me, there is deep deep joy.
I have my banned cup of tea to get back to, and perhaps a little stuffed mochi and feel deeply grateful for what we have to eat. It is just a shame that it is so much harder than it needs to be.