Response to condemnations of gluten free ‘fad’ part two



Unfortunately there still seems to be some confusion about this whole matter. I will try once again to explain it as clearly as I possibly can.  I genuinely do want you to get this.  That’s why I’m taking some of my (limited) time and energy to explain it.  I promise to try and swear less if you promise not to get so defensive and to genuinely try and understand what I am saying.

It is problematic to denigrate avoiding gluten as a fad, as I explained in my previous post.  Some of you still aren’t getting this.  Let’s break a few things down in a bit more detail. We’ve already talked about some of the problems with how science has been taken up and mobilized in these conversations, but as this seems to be the sticky point, I will try to explain it one last time, with as much depth, clarity and patience as I can humanly muster.

5.  “But the SCIENCE!!!! I’m not judging!  I just believe in science!!!!”

Uh huh (skeptical face).  Yes, your conclusions (“just eat the bread!!”) are totally rooted in science.  Well done, give this guy a prize.

Those of you saying this more often than not misunderstand and misrepresent the science you are going on and on about.  You often overstate particular conclusions while ignoring other possibilities.

Hint: ‘Just eat the bread’ and ‘people are imagining it’, whether said or implied (usually said), is not a logically sound conclusion to the research you are citing.  (Did you even read the original research? Do you know what a statistically relevant sample size is btw?)

In this instance, you are using ‘science’ to justify a particular view you already have about an issue, and this view is already full of ableist and demeaning implications. Your view, as you’ve stated to me, again and again, is that “people should just eat the bread.  There is nothing wrong with them. And there is nothing wrong with them eating the bread.  Oh, but you’re an exception for sure.  It’s those other people I’m talking about.”  Guess what?  You actually don’t know shit about those other people.  You have a preconceived bias about their (lack of) health issues and their dietary choices, as well as their capacity to make good decisions for themselves.  You’re assuming you know what’s best for them—that you’re smarter than they are, that you know more about their health than they do.  Am I successfully conveying to you how patronizing this is yet? Furthermore, the viewpoint you’re espousing and encouraging and perpetuating is hurtful to those who shouldn’t have to prove they deserve to make choices for themselves about what’s best for their health and their bodies.  Nobody should have to prove or justify their own decisions about their own bodies and health to you, the super-interested-for-some-reason outside observer, period.

The science is not well understood. The conclusions you’re making with your statistically insignificant study are not scientifically sound.

Usually this is the point at which people backpedal and tell me they just want to understand the root causes.  “I didn’t mean to be offensive, but…”  “I don’t mean to sound patronizing but…” First of all, if your sentence begins like that, it’s probably best not to write the sentence.  If this is how your sentence begins, there may still be a problem with the way you are thinking about things.  (You wouldn’t start a sentence with “I’m not sexist but…” or “Not to sound racist, but…”, would you?  I fucking hope not.  Otherwise we have bigger problems than I anticipated.)

If you’re truly interested in understanding the root causes of these issues, how about: a) you have respectful conversations with those who have real experiences with this stuff instead of alienating the hell out of them by being an ass and consistently misunderstanding the implications of your words and how they affect every fucking day of some peoples’ lives; b) rather than assuming that just because things in addition to gluten cause symptoms,  people are making it all up and telling them,  ‘Guess what?  Good news! It’s all in your head! You can just eat the bread!’ consider researching additional causes and mechanisms.  For example, before the gluten free diet was popularized, the specific carbohydrate diet was a sometimes prescribed for dealing with celiac and general failure to thrive (before celiac had a name and a test and the antibodies were figured out and all that).  SCD eliminates ALL grains as well as sugar and other allergens and is understandably pretty hard to follow, which is maybe part of the reason why gluten free is more popular.  I would love more research on the specific carbohydrate diet and how it affects intestinal disorders.  Most of the research on SCD is focused on autism: how gluten, other grains and sugar affect another mysterious issue that involves both the brain and the gut.  Oh, right, while you were busy being snarky about how gluten free is a fad unless you’ve tested positive for celiac, most of you probably didn’t consider that avoiding gluten is also important for autism and that ‘bougie SUV driving’ ladies in the gluten free section of the health food store might be buying food for their autistic kid. Who the fuck knows.  Not you or me.  So stop assuming and judging already.

But I forgot, the tiny (statistically irrelevant, not terribly recent) study you cited obvsly shows that avoiding gluten is a bullshit fad tho, and something can’t possibly work for a variety of not well understood health issues if its mechanisms aren’t yet understood and science hasn’t validated the shit out of it.

Also: you don’t get to say something snarky about fads and then backpedal to tell me you want to know root causes of dietary distress and that you’re totally innocent of being an ass.  You said the shitty thing.  Be accountable for the shitty thing you said.

6. “But it IS a fad!  People are doing it for the wrong reasons! They will eat things that are bad for them!  They will be healthier if they eat the gluten! I’m telling them for their OWN GOOD!”

Uh huh.  Because avoiding gluten is what’s to blame when people eat diets high in other low quality refined grains, lots of sugar and saturated fats etc.  Um, no.  Gluten free or not, people might make dietary choices you disagree with.  And you will probably continue to lord it over them with an unmistakable air of moral superiority and smart ass ‘I know what’s better for you’ attitude.

Let me emphasize this: There is nothing inherently unhealthy about a diet that does not contain gluten.

Replacing gluten with rice and corn might not be the best thing ever, yes, I agree with you there.  That’s why I replace gluten with VEGETABLES and FRUIT and meat instead of other grains, dairy, soy or beans.

Regardless of all that, people are allowed to make choices about their diets that you don’t agree with.  If the gluten containing version of mac ’n cheese is replaced with the rice noodle version, it might not have the most nutritional value ever, this is true.  However, it’s still not your business.  It’s the business of the person eating the mac and cheese.  She (or he) does not deserve to be scrutinized for their choices under your all knowing eye and judgmental attitude.  Especially, when, as I already pointed out, you probably can’t actually tell the difference between who deserves to be respected when making personal dietary choices versus who is the mindless lemming fad follower y’all keep going on about.

If I’m not mistaken (and also from My Own Personal Experience rather than the realm of generalizing about everybody’s choices, health and intentions), vegans sometimes replace animal products with more low cost/low quality grains and soy.  Poor people often eat a lot of shitty quality food too (also from My Own Personal Experience as a small child with a broke ass single mom who wasn’t the most educated ever about food and nutrition).   Do you scrutinize and judge vegans and poor people’s dietary choices in the same way?

That was a trick question.  If you do, you’re probably an ass on quite a number of levels.  If you don’t, you’re an inconsistent ass who has it in for some dietary choices and not others.  The way to not lose at this question is to STOP SCRUTINIZING and judging OTHER PEOPLES’ CHOICES about health and food and assuming you know what’s best for them and that they are uneducated mindless idiots. I must have missed the memo where you were appointed knower of all things and overseer of what’s best for everybody.  Not patronizing at all.  Have some fucking respect.  It’s not your business.  It’s theirs (ours).

And to review a few key related points from last week…

1. It is disrespectful to call avoiding gluten a ‘fad’.  You are not in a position to judge other peoples’ health decisions.  Your judgments delegitimize and minimize peoples’ health concerns and belittle their capacity to make sound decisions about their own health.  Your judgements pressure people to divulge personal, sensitive, and embarrassing health information in order to avoid being lumped into the undesirable category of uninformed pawns of the health food industry. Your judgments do more harm than good.

2. As diets without gluten (gluten free, paleo, SCD, gaps) become more popular, they become more accessible for those who need them (again, those who need them can work with their doctors and/or self select and don’t need your all knowing benevolence to bestow upon them the right to follow the diet of their choice without judgment).  Food alternatives become more accessible.  Information becomes more accessible.  For example, my doctors and specialists never made information about SCD or paleo available to me.  The increasing popularity of these diets is largely the reason I stumbled across them, decided to try them based on other peoples anecdotal evidence, and was able to access the information I need to (mostly) control my health issues when nothing else worked and I had no answers.  These issues are not widely understood.  People trying out a gluten free diet harms me in no way.  Rather, it helps me a fuck of a lot.  It helps people understand my diet.  It helps make restaurants, grocery stores and food manufacturers more aware of my needs.

3. The frustration experienced by those involved in food prep, or the annoyance you experience when you’re delayed at a restaurant or something when someone else is asking questions about food preparation is not even close, or even comparable really, to the pain and frustration people who need gluten free diets experience every fucking day of their lives.  It is sincerely and completely problematic for you and food industry workers to assume you know more about a given person’s health, and to belittle dietary restrictions or judge them (us) as hapless pawns who don’t know what’s best for themselves (ourselves) if they (we) don’t prove they (we) are deserving of a gluten free diet by revealing personal and often embarrassing health information.  Nobody should feel pressured to prove to you that they are sick and that they deserve your respect about their dietary choices.  You should have more respect for peoples’ capacity to make decisions for themselves about their health, period.

4. The science is not well understood.  You don’t understand the science very well.  Stop assuming that you know more than everybody else and what’s best for everyone else.

I think that about sums it up.


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