Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Problem with Trending

May is Celiac Awareness Month, and though I’d venture to say people with Celiac are aware of it all the time, it’s important for others to know what Celiac is and if they need to be tested.  Five years ago, I did not know what Celiac was.  I didn’t really know what gluten was.  We got a super-fast education.

What I notice now is pretty much EVERYONE knows what gluten is, or they know the term gluten-free.  Back in 2011, I called my general care practitioner after D was diagnosed to ask if she was familiar with Celiac disease.  Her nurse responded, “Is that, like, a disease you get from cats?”  Not joking.  I did not feel reassured. 

There are tons of benefits to suddenly being the hot thing in town, as gluten-free is at the moment.  The FDA has put out measurable limits and guidelines for what counts as gluten-free (they haven’t bothered to actually measure or due diligence to find out if anyone is following them, but for the FDA, this is progress, sadly).   Tons of foods are catered to the gluten-free crowd.  Gluten free mac n cheese?  Yes!  Gluten free Oreo-looking cookies?  Oh yeah!  Gluten free soap?  What?  Yes, it’s happened.

But with all this attention and all these products, the inevitable backslash has come.  My friend relayed a story of how she knew someone who was indignant about gluten-free soap.  “Hasn’t this gone a bit far?”  she griped.  To this woman I say come talk to me when your three year-old with Celiac swallows bath water with soap in it.  We need that soap. 

And that’s not all.  As people who do not have Celiac go gluten-free, suddenly all of us gluten-free eaters are “trendy” and therefore worthy of being made fun of.  My whole family has dealt with the comments at some point, even though gluten can actually kill people in our home.  Trending is apparently the ultimate sin, as opposed to say ignoring your child’s dietary needs so they won’t be made fun of for following the latest trend. 

Honestly, I’m not sure why gluten eaters care what gluten-free eaters eat, or why they eat it for that matter.  Some people are gluten-free because they have Celiac; some are gluten-free due to gluten intolerance or because they have health issues that are made worse by gluten.  And some people, yes, are just jumping on the bandwagon hoping to lose weight or just look cool (better check the fat content on those GF Oreos.  GF processed food don’t play in the fat department.)

My question is why is this a thing?  In a country where the acronym for the Standard American Diet is SAD, what does it matter if people decide not to follow it?  Not knowing anyone’s situation, it’s okay to refrain from the eye rolling when viewing a grocery cart full of only gluten-free food or when hearing someone put in an order at a restaurant for gluten-free.  I have seen the people behind me in line seethe as I’ve asked a server to change their gloves before touching our gluten-free food.  Those people don’t know.  They hear gluten-free and assume that’s code for difficult, therefore making my child who has no choice in this feel like every time she advocates for her health she’s being a diva.  On the upside, there ARE actually places we can eat out safely now.  Being popular is hard.

I would say the most important issue is this:  don’t let the trending hate keep you from getting tested for Celiac.  I’m not sure if all the attention towards gluten-free is helping or hurting the effort to actually get people properly diagnosed, but I hope it’s helping.  People eat gluten-free for many reasons, and Celiac disease is one of them.  Food is the cause and the cure for Celiac sufferers. 

Throughout this month I am going to attempt to write and post about Celiac related issues.  I’ve never been in the trendy category before, so I’m going to strike while the iron is hot.  Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

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