The Urban Sherpa - a blog by Christopher DeWan

(nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Costume...)

Read Work and Other Essays, a collection of nonfiction by Christopher DeWan.

You Are What You Eat rating=3

Wheat field in Pennsylvania

I'm in my parents' home. We're cooking a holiday dinner made up of some version of the foods I ate growing up, which no longer have anything to do with the foods I eat today. "You are what you eat," they say, and I wonder if that means I have nothing in common with the boy I once was, who grew up here eating pasta and roast chicken and canned vegetables. "You are what you eat," and now I eat self-righteous, prissy foods, and I don't know how to talk to the people from my home town, except about the weird things I eat.

For instance, right now I'm drinking a gluten-free beer. There's some school of nutritious thinking that says people, and in particular people of European descent, aren't all that well equipped to digest the proteins in wheat. For 100,000 years, we didn't eat wheat, and then for 3,000 years we did, and now we put wheat in everything. But our bodies are still essentially the bodies of the foraging cavemen from 100,000 years ago, so eating all of this wheat causes ... problems. To get around these problems, I've stopped eating wheat—a primary ingredient in beer. So, if I want to "grab a beer," it now has to be a gluten-free one.

"What are you drinking?"

"Ah, it's a.... It's called a 'Redbridge'...." (I'd just as soon not admit I'm drinking a special-needs beverage, so I refer to it by name—but answering like that feels disingenuous, like telling someone you went to school in "Boston" to avoid saying "Harvard.")

"Never heard of it. Any good?"

"It's alright...."

This is why my conversations never seem to go anywhere.

"Never heard of it."

"Yeah, well.... It's alright."

"You're not from around here."

That was quick. Every conversation I ever have arrives at this point sooner or later, but this was faster than usual.

The confusing thing is, I actually am from around here.

"No, I'm not from around here."

It's nice, around here. It's very pleasant—trees and rivers and rolling hills and deer. I like visiting. But it's never quite been for me.

"So, where you from?"

He's hit on the crux of it now. Nowhere's ever quite been for me.

I tell him the name of some city where I used to live, and we talk about it for a while. Yes, it's nice there. Yes, I'm a bit of a fan of that sports team. No, I missed that game.

"Take care," he says as I leave.

"I'll see you," I answer in reply. But I won't see him. Even in the incidental conversation, I get it wrong.