If you look around most of the celiac community, there are mixed views on the boom of the gluten-free trend. There are more products and restaurants that cater to this new demand, which is great, until some one gets sick.
I personally think this boom is a good thing, or at least it’s a good start to making gluten-free more available. I got diagnosed after the boom began, so I can’t compare life pre- and post- popularity. I am thankful that there are more products and that there are finally government regulations about labeling products as gluten free (though they don’t entirely go into effect until August 2014). I’m happy more restaurants have menus that I can pick from with all the necessary accommodations spelled out in the description.
But this all has a dark side as well. The fad aspect of “gluten-free dieting” makes it so that it can be hard to be taken seriously when I emphasize what precautions I need to take. When I ask for the gluten free menu, theres a nagging part of me that reads into the expression of the hostess of if he or she thinks I’m just one of the fad people. A lot of times, I tell my waiter (or waitress) that I have Celiac’s or at least that I’m gluten intolerant while pointing out that I’m ordering from the gluten free menu. I feel safer this way. The fad followers don’t need a different cutting board or for gloves to be changed or for certain utensils to be used. This creates a dangerous situation because requests for gluten free won’t always be taken to the extreme that they need to be for people with Celiac’s. That is a risk we take any time we eat food not prepared by either ourselves, a trusted spouse or family member, or in a gluten-free facility. And that part just needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis. I usually only go to restaurants that have reviews on Find Me Gluten Free (an amazing app I’ll probably go into more depth on later). I don’t want to be the guinea pig. Even then, there is a possibility that I will get sick. Then that restaurant earns an immediate spot on the “no go” list.
My main issue with the fad is people labeling themselves as gluten free without going through the same precautions that someone who will get very ill (aka someone with Celiac’s or a severe case of Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI)). This is what creates the most danger. This is from people who say “I’m gluten free” and ask people to be accommodating but then eat the wheat based muffin/cookie/bagel/bread/whatever anyway. This teaches the people around you that “gluten free” is not something to be taken seriously. It’s really confusing. It also makes it so I don’t know whether to trust food offered by that person. How far do the exceptions go?
The general point I’m trying to make with this rant is: Don’t call yourself gluten-free if you fudge the lines and eat gluten products. It makes it harder for people who are actually totally gluten free to get the level of care and accommodation that we need and to be taken seriously. Yes, it might make it easier to explain why you’re turning something down. I get it. If you do want to be completely gluten free, make sure you’re really cutting it all out. I’ll write a guide eventually, but Shauna Ahern has some really good resources at her blog Gluten-Free Girl.
This has been a rant from your Friendly Neighborhood Celiac.