"This Column is Gluten Free": A Response
I used to be someone who never had to worry about food. I could eat anything and didn’t give mealtime a second thought. It’s easy to judge people when you are not plagued by food allergies or sensitivities, like Roger Cohen’s “This Column is Gluten Free” does in The New York Times. If you are not aware of how food can affect people or what cross contamination is, it seems over the top to watch someone interrogate wait staff about food preparation.
Eight years ago, I started to develop very sharp intestinal pain. I put up with always feeling terrible for three years until I was finally diagnosed with wheat, dairy, egg and soy allergies along with a gluten sensitivity.
Mr. Cohen states that there is a rise in imagined food allergies and intolerances, but it’s not imagined. Food allergies are on the rise among children. Today, food allergies are 50 percent more common among children than 15 years ago.
He also mentioned an increase in celiac disease and generational difference in views towards food. We’ve spoken to thousands of gluten-free consumers who were diagnosed with celiac disease and talk about ailments that their parents or grandparents suffered from all their lives, likely sensitive or intolerant to gluten but never properly diagnosed. Maybe we’re getting better at diagnosing celiac disease rather than imagining it.
The connection between food and mood was the last thing on my mind before my diagnosis, and afterward, mealtime was suddenly laced with hidden threats. I had to retrain myself how to eat.
People with food allergies and sensitivities are playing Russian roulette every time they sit down to a meal. Mealtime is more about anxiety than joy. Let’s take gluten just as an example. Our own study at Nima showed that gluten-free consumers are getting sick from unintended gluten contamination one out of every three times they eat outside of the home.
Just 1/200th of a teaspoon of gluten can trigger an autoimmune response for someone who has celiac disease – that’s a microscopic level of gluten. Gluten is poison for an estimated 3 million Americans, causing not just short-term illness but resulting in long-term health repercussions. For others with sensitivities or intolerances, gluten causes discomfort, pain, digestive issues and more.
Mr. Cohen celebrates a restaurant in Italy that says that they don’t serve gluten-free food. I also applaud any restaurant for being up front about what they can and can’t accommodate – knowing what is in our food is the best way to avoid being sick later. The more transparent restaurants are about their menu and ingredients, the safer and healthier we can be when choosing which foods we eat and which restaurants we frequent. While I applaud the restaurant’s transparency, I would, however, encourage them to better understand food restrictions and intolerances to strengthen their brand and customer loyalty. While Mr. Cohen points to narcissism as the motivation that drives dietary preferences and requirements, I see an enlightened population that’s trying to stay happy and healthy through diet, some by necessity and some by choice. People are becoming much more aware of how food affects them and taking proactive measures to better control their diet, and therefore their health.
So, Mr. Cohen can eat pasta “the way la Mamma has always made it,” but the millions of gluten-free folks and I will be over at one of the nearly 4,000 gluten-free restaurants in Italy that better understand the risks we face when dining out.