The GF double-edged sword

*Disclaimer: This is my blog, and these are my thoughts.

I don’t really know how I feel about the gluten-free diet becoming a fad.

Because, let’s not kid ourselves, some have harped on this gluten free thing as if it were a South Beach, or an Atkins, or a whatever diet. It’s popular. You might even say it’s trendy. People think it might make them lose weight. Actually, never mind, I won’t portend to know what they think. But let’s just say many are eliminating gluten without medical mandate.

Some of us, however, obviously do have that mandate. I have celiac disease. And if I eat gluten — even the tiniest morsel of it, about a quarter the size of a crouton, or a tiny dusting of flour — I will get very, very sick. For days. My silly immune system makes antibodies to gluten that attack my digestive tract. It’s no joke.

The law of supply and demand governs capitalism. If enough people want something, manufacturers will jump on that bandwagon. Recall foods labeled “low-carb” in the wake of Atkins diet, and “South-Beach” marketing thereafter. Even many popular chain restaurants began putting the nutrition (specifically, carbohydrate) information on their menus, and labeled certain menu sections “low-carb.” People wanted to avoid carbs, and so food companies eliminated them.

Now, many more people than the celiacs or gluten-intolerant are demanding GF products. Wonderful, right? Please, go on! Demand this of Kraft and Campbell’s and General Mills and ConAgra and Nabisco. Get them on board to make our foods friendly and safe (and get the attention of the lax FDA, too, which still hasn’t set mandates for gluten-free food labeling, although promised by 2007). I want GF Oreos, dammit!

But here’s the problem, as I see it: I don’t want restaurant servers and chefs and meal-preparers to take me less seriously. I don’t want them to think it’s NBD if they get a little contamination here or there, since it “won’t kill me.” In their minds, I might not even have a medical problem. I don’t want them to think that just because regular people are choosing this diet, it’s not a matter of sick-or-really-sick for me. Not washing that cutting board, dedicating that fryer, or disclosing the ingredients in sauces and marinades is a big deal. And it will hurt me. And it’s not fair.

So here’s my thought: Go on, non-gluten-intolerant people of America who wish to eliminate gluten for whatever reason. Be loud about it, and demand more food options from large manufacturers. But everyone, and I mean everyone: Please bear in mind that some of us haven’t “chosen” this diet or lifestyle at all. It was chosen for us by an autoimmune disease that completely disables us when we ingest gluten. Even that little, tiny bit.

This wasn’t my choice, but it’s my lot. So I accept it and I hope you’ll be careful with me and take me seriously. I’m not crying wolf.

May is Celiac Awareness Month. Just read this, read my blog, and know that it’s out there. And please, just be a little sympathetic.

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