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The Gluten-Free “Trend” is Not My Friend

For this article, the lovely people at Simply Gluten Free proposed that I discuss the pros and cons of the gluten-free trend. I mean, it’s all anybody seems to be talking about these days, right?

Dude note: If we ever run into each other, let’s make a deal. No talking about gluten. In a world of interesting topics to discuss, gluten falls pretty far down my list.

So I thought. And I thought. And I thought some more. And here is what I came up with.

There are no pros. I detest the gluten-free trend.

I know what you’re saying because I hear it all the time: “Yeah … but now we have so many more options to choose from.”

And to that I simply say, “Feh!”

Let me explain.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007. Before I got the dreaded diagnosis, I didn’t know the words celiac and gluten even existed. And it was quite obvious that hardly anybody else did either. When I told people I had celiac disease and needed to be 100% gluten-free for the rest of my life, I got that look that people give when you’re trying to explain our electoral process to them. Kind of that glazed over, what-the heck- are-you-talking-about kind of look.

After a few months of hibernating in my house, curled up in a fetal position, afraid to eat in a restaurant, I finally took the plunge. My first meal was at an incredible diner that we frequented often. Looking back, perhaps it wasn’t the best choice, but they kind of knew me there so I felt it was as good a shot as any.

I looked over the 27 page menu (you know how big diner menus are) and came to the realization that I had no idea what to order. I had to give “the speech” to our server. So I stood up on our table and had the entire restaurant quiet down so I knew my server would listen to me.

Just kidding.

I quietly informed our server I had celiac disease, hoping she’d just say, “Oh … you poor thing. I know exactly what that is and our kitchen is 100% trained in cooking completely gluten-free meals with no chances of cross-contamination.”

But instead she said something like, “Huh?”

So I explained in detail exactly what it was. Then I told her a few of the menu items I was considering and asked if she could check with the kitchen to see if these items were indeed safe to eat.

And you know what? I was listened to. The manager came over to speak with me and asked me a number of questions. It was new to them and they wanted to make sure they could do their best to keep me safe. And they did. They were awesome.

Now fast forward six years.

The other day I walked into a local Italian restaurant that advertises “gluten-free” on their front window and from what I had read online, they do it right.

My first stop was to the front counter where the cashier said that they could make anything I wanted gluten-free. I asked if they used separate cookware for the gluten-free items. She cocked her head, her mouth fell agape and she said, “I don’t know. Let me get the manager.”

So the manager came over and I asked the exact same question. He had no idea! He left to have a private conversation with the head chef, where Mrs. Dude could’ve sworn she saw an eye roll or two. Finally, the chef came over and said they could do any meal gluten-free. I asked about cross-contamination (as I watched flour flying all over the place behind him) and he just repeated they could make any meal gluten-free.

Then he said and I quote, “We can even make Chicken Parmesan. We just won’t add the cheese.”

Seriously. This is a head chef in a restaurant that proudly advertises gluten-free food and he thinks cheese is the problem? They had no idea what they were doing.

Why do they do it then? Because, like so many restaurants and food manufacturers, they simply see dollar signs from the gluten-free trend. They have no concept of what gluten-free truly means.

Gluten-free is our medicine. It’s how we thrive and it’s how we survive. But because it’s tied to food, it’s lumped in with other fad diets (Atkins, South Beach, etc.). And when you’ve got a fad, holy moly, do you have people coming out of the woodwork to monetize that fad. And that makes things dangerous. Very, very dangerous.

Look. At the end of the day, what I care about is my health and the health of my fellow celiacs (and anyone else who goes 100% gluten-free for health reasons). What I don’t care about is that I now have 10 different types of gluten-free bread to choose from.

Celiac is a very serious autoimmune disease and I am sick and tired of having to defend it. I’m sick of the media debating it. I’m sick of pseudo-celebrities connecting it to weight loss. And I’m sick of so many so-called experts spreading false information so they can profit from it.

Let’s take a minute and look at headlines from the media recently:

Gluten-Free: Just Another Fad Diet or the Solution to Your Health Problems?

Are You Weight Conscious – Is It Worth Trying Out Gluten-Free Beer?

Why liberals get away with the ‘gluten-free scheme’ and conservatives do not

Confessions of a Wannabe Celiac

The Gluten-Free Diet is a Fad

You know what publication that last one was in? The New York Times. Did they mention celiac disease? They did. But let’s face it: we’re a headline-reading generation, with many of us simply scanning headlines and not even reading articles.

Now we have Jimmy Fallon saying gluten-free is not real. We have Jimmy Kimmel rolling his eyes at the “gluten-free” people. We have Rachael Ray telling us to “eat another bowl of pasta.”

Just the mention of the word “gluten” brings out such a visceral response. There is passion on both sides. But there should not even be a second side.

Again, gluten-free is our medicine. And yet, it has turned into a running gag on late night TV. Just the mention of the word brings laughter.

Why? Is it the Paltrows, Kardashians, and Cyrus’s of the world who spew gluten-free-this and gluten-free-that to their bazillion followers and then of course still eat gluten? Perhaps.

Is it the Dr. Oz’s and all of the other media types who keep talking about gluten because it’s the hot topic of the day and they know its ratings are gold? Quite possibly.

I received an email recently from a woman who, after giving birth, was passing out and had stroke-like symptoms. What did her doctor do? He put her in a mental hospital. She was taken away from her three children and prescribed three different medications – one an antipsychotic, one an antidepressant, and one an antianxiety – all with serious side effects such as headaches, convulsions, seizures and sudden death. Once she was released, she found a new doctor and was diagnosed with celiac disease. She is finally on the road to recovery.

Would this have happened if the first doctor was educated about celiac disease and didn’t think gluten-free was a trend?

I get these types of emails over and over again from people whose own family members don’t “believe in celiac disease.” People are suffering emotionally and physically because they are not being taken seriously. Why? Because our message has gotten lost in the trend.

There are millions of people out there who are eating gluten-free part time for whatever reasons they have. I wish they wouldn’t but I know it’s a free world and nobody has any right telling anybody what to eat or not eat. But there must be a way for us to get our message across that gluten-free is not a joke and it’s not a trend. I’ll let Jennifer Esposito verbalize so well what many in our community feel:

“People need to understand this is a serious disease. And when you ask for gluten-free in a restaurant and you are not gluten-free, the more people we have not being able to decipher if this is an allergy, a fad, or a disease … I ask you to be responsible about this disease. I am asking that people be responsible and respectful for the people that suffer with this disease. It is not fun. It is not easy. And it is not a fad.”

Amen to that!

Written by The Gluten Dude

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