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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Commentary: A love letter to gluten freeks

It’s not just another health fad

To my fellow gluten freeks:

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease during my senior year of high school, I thought my life was over.

As a carb lover, wheat had been a substantial part of my diet my entire life, meaning that most of my favorite foods were chock-full of gluten. So to learn that something I held so dearly to my heart was no longer up for consumption? Devastating. 

But as difficult as the adjustment period is for those diagnosed late in life, the discovery of this condition is only the beginning. 

If it hasn’t been made clear, the gluten freeks I am addressing are my companions who are denied the joys of gluten. Whether a life-long gluten-free friend, or a recently diagnosed member of team celiac like myself, our inability to eat the protein found in wheat, barley and rye makes us all a little freeky

When you tell people about your dietary restriction, you realize how terrible everyone is. For starters, people either think we’re dramatic or pity us so much that it’s awkward. Raise your hand if someone has told you how badly they wished you could just try the delectable glutinous goody they’re eating. Ah, man. That must be so hard for them, wishing gluten on us hopeless causes. 

The most frequent disappointment is how little basic nutritional information people possess. Most people don’t actually know what foods contain gluten and, because of this, I’m often questioned on my meal choices. I’ve been asked if I can eat sushi (rice doesn’t have gluten), interrogated about the french fries I eat weekly (potatoes don’t have gluten, thank God) and I’ve even been queried about my decision to eat ice cream — I know we know this, but to the non-gluten-free person still reading: Dairy. Does. Not. Have. Gluten. 

But this, like the pity parties, really isn’t that bad. Just like the fact that you can’t eat bread or pastries or pasta or cake or fried chicken or soy sauce or indulge in the late-night pizza orders and donuts that the teacher brings in on special school days. 

Worst of all is the bad name associated with “gluten-free.” In recent years, gluten-free eating has become a health fad, reducing our intolerance to a lifestyle choice rather than, in some cases, a life-threatening disease. This tie to dietary restrictions driven by choice paints those of us actually allergic to gluten as just another health-crazed bunch, diminishing our sad truth. The fitness world’s obsession with a non-glutinous diet has rendered gluten-free the veganism of allergies, surpassing the lactose intolerants by a longshot.

It’s also worth noting that a gluten-free diet isn’t inherently healthier than a glutinous one; replacing bread or pasta with a gluten-free alternative doesn’t do much. The “healthy” (or calorie restricting) way to be gluten-free is through elimination of most carbohydrates from your diet, not just removing the gluten itself. But frankly, anyone who doesn’t eat gluten on their own accord is suspicious, don’t you think?

I will concede that the popularity of the gluten free diet has benefited us in some ways. If it hadn’t become so popular among the fitness freaks, would we have the option for gluten-free bread when we go out to eat? Probably not. 

My gluten-free comrades, you know this struggle all too well. The confusion about our diet and the appropriation of our allergy or the disease that comes with the territory — there’s no way around it, not today anyway. And as much as I wish we didn’t have to give up the precious food group taken for granted by most of the world, we are better because of it. We go into the world empathetically, happy to hear of others’ obstacles without letting preconceived notions blur how we see them. Perhaps more importantly, we know not to define them by their disease, struggle or shortcoming. We see things clearly, without the haze of gluten on our lenses.

All that said, being gluten free sucks. We grow accustomed to this lifestyle: not being able to eat anything at an event, avoiding Italian restaurants altogether — sure, but I am reminded of something I can’t eat almost daily. Though the sting is less potent every time, it’s still there. 

So, to all the gluten intolerants reading, don’t forget who you are or where you came from. We won’t be reduced to a health trend because some yuppies thought they’d hop on the bandwagon under the false assumption that gluten-free toast is any healthier. We all know they’re eating gluten left and right, never acknowledging how hard it would be to eradicate it entirely.

Remember how strong we are — it takes some grit and determination to succeed as a true glutenless eater, curbing the temptation of some of the most delightful foods in existence. And know that we always have this community. The day they find a cure may come, but we will never forget this struggle that formed a bond stronger than the binding agent in bread dough (it’s gluten).

Much Love, 

Your friend and fellow gluten freek

Written By: Allie Bailey — arts@theaggie.org


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