Gluten-Intolerance Intolerance

Intolerance for the gluten-free (or gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant) is widespread.

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By David Hammond

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker, there's the cartoon with the caption: "I've only been gluten-free for a week, but already I'm really annoying."

Such intolerance for the gluten-free (or gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant) is widespread.

In a Thrillist article of last week entitled "26 Restaurant Secrets Only Servers Know," the 26th secret allegedly known only to restaurant servers was revealed to be:

"Your allergies will be considered, then probably ignored if they're suspect if you're gluten-free (and say that rather than 'gluten-intolerant'), or a vegan, and roll into a steakhouse or someplace similar thinking you're in the clear... you're definitely eating something with chicken stock or gluten. Or both. Sorry. And don't fool yourself into believing you're doing your body a favor with that gluten-free, vegan scramble: it still has about 1,870 empty calories in it."

Vegan is usually a choice: you decide, for moral/ethical/health reasons, to avoid animal products. I respect the choice, it's not mine, but it is a choice. If a vegan eats a slice of roast beef, it may be nauseating to him/her, but it's not likely kill the person (incidentally, and this is no laughing matter, I knew a guy in the Seventies, a vegetarian, who tried to commit suicide by eating a ham sandwich; it didn't work).

Gluten-intolerance, like lactose intolerance, is not a choice.  In the case of those with celiac disease, eating gluten can be a death sentence. So for this server in Thrillist to imply that the serving staff might just serve you gluten even if you say you're trying to avoid it (for whatever reason, and perhaps medical), well, that attitude shows not only incredible contempt for the customer but incredible contempt for human health.

Incidentally, the server in the Thrillist quote mistakenly believes that the gluten-sensitive are avoiding gluten for the purposes of weight loss, which I don't believe is a common motivation for avoiding gluten in the diet. And most "scrambles" are probably gluten-free anyway, but whatever.

We had some family visit last year, and one of them was advised, by his doctor, to avoid gluten (he gets terrible migraine-like headaches when he eats the stuff). To accommodate him, we bought a bunch of gluten-free bread, pasta, etc. When he left, we were left with a bunch of gluten-free products. We decided to go gluten-free for a few weeks while we ate through all the stuff. After one week, I noticed the afternoon nap I'd taken at 3:30PM for the past 30 years or so didn't happen. Was it because I wasn't eating gluten, or perhaps because I was eating few carbs (which I'm not actually sure I was doing). I dunno. But if people feel they benefit from avoiding gluten, I tend to respect that.

I find that people many times assume that gluten-intolerance means people just don't like wheat…or that they're looking for special treatment and trying to be a pain in the arse. That's just not fair. Admittedly, some prima donna types make unreasonable demands on restaurants, but if someone is trying to be a more conscious eater, that's a good thing. And from the restaurant perspective, I think it is very reasonable to expect the gluten-sensitive to give the restaurant some advance notice about their preferences.

If people don't want to eat gluten, it seems unreasonable to begrudge them that option, whatever we may believe about their motivations.

[PS. One personal intolerance of mine is when people misplace the use of "only" as a modifier, as the artist of the above cartoon did in his caption. It should be "for only a week" not "only gluten-free."]


Reader Comments

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David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 7:08 PM

"Some people can't eat gluten for medical reasons, and I get it. It annoys me [audience laughs] but I get it." That sums up gluten-intolerance intolerance. Even people who follow doctor's advice to avoid gluten are "annoying." Not fair.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 6:24 PM

Jimmy Kimmel did a bit on gluten. Made me chuckle...

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 11:56 PM

Gluten-free (like vegetarian) options do seem more abundant, though people I know with celiac disease tell me it's still quite challenging to avoid wheat-based product sin most restaurants. Glad to hear you feel it's improved dramatically.

Jacek Lazarczyk from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 11:25 AM

Only about 1% of US population is diagnosed with celiac disease (my wife is in that group). However, thanks to all the people that volunteer to be gluten-free, even halfheartedly, we now have a significant market. The choices and quality of gluten-free products have improved dramatically over the past couple of years. Thus, I don't mind people that follow this diet as a fad.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 9:05 AM

And those who are only half-committed to being gluten-free, Simone, suggest to others that those who say they're gluten-free may be just volunteering and are not always in real need of food free of gluten. That said, I've had a lot of better-than-just-decent gluten-free bread, pizza and beer. It's harder to find, it's sometimes more expensive, but it's out there.

Simone Boutet from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 8:00 PM

What's truly annoying is needing to be gluten free. You can't eat pizza, pasta, sandwiches, bread or breaded anything, crackers, wraps, chocolate chip cookies or brownies, drink beer, use soy sauce, or have almost anything ordinarily offered for lunch. You have to read labels, menus, and be on "a diet" for your whole life. If you cheat (inevitable) you suffer. People like me find people who volunteer to be gluten free EXTREMELY annoying. Please, please, pass the cookies!

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2014 2:01 PM

"Most young gluten free people are incredibly annoying." Foomer, if that's your point, it seems preposterously over generalized. Still, I think you'll enjoy this clip from "This is the End," which is NOT workplace appropriate:


Posted: May 2nd, 2014 1:48 PM

I guess you need to bring a doctor's note when you eat out to prove that you are really gluten-intolerant and not a fad dieter.


Posted: May 2nd, 2014 1:42 PM

I think you are missing the point, most young gluten free people are incredibly annoying, not becasue they are gluten free but because they wont shut up about how bad gluten is and how great they feel without eating it. If you want to be gluten free or vegan or whatever thats great but dont gloat about it and try and brainwash others that their choice is the wrong one.

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