Good News, Bad News
Several times a week, early in the morning, I am at the grocery store buying ingredients/groceries on the way to my client’s home, or shopping for the evening’s dinner party. Donning a white chef’s coat and loud chili pepper chef’s pants sometimes draws a lot of attention in a grocery store, even in the early morning to those who have not finished their first cup of Starbucks. Shoppers frequently approach me and ask me in what restaurant I cook. When I explain to them, “Your kitchen is my office. I am a Personal Chef.” It often opens the door for a lot of questions. Questions from, “What’s for dinner?” to “How do I cook …..” One question I get frequently is, “What is your specialty?” To which I respond, “I have several, including French, Mexican, Thai, Italian and Gluten-Free to name a few.” To no surprise I am receiving increasingly more comments and questions about gluten-free than most others. This is great because it gives me the opportunity to educate nice people about Celiac, Autism and Autoimmune conditions that necessitate a GF (gluten-free) diet.
The Good News: Awareness and sensitivity to the necessity of adopting a gluten-free diet/lifestyle is rapidly increasing.
The Bad News: The misconceptions regarding gluten-free are on the rise as well.
I feel it is important to address a few of these responses as the distinction between “preference” and “necessity” is becoming blurred for many who do not understand why GF is truly critical for some and (sadly) en vogue for others. Here are some of the comments I repeatedly hear AND attempt to clarify.
Comment number 3: “Gluten-free is becoming popular.” This comment is the product of a lack of understanding critical issues of life and death for those afflicted with Celiac and some neurological conditions. Gluten-free is as popular to a person with Celiac as insulin is popular to a diabetic. Yet, unfortunately “popularity” is in fact increasing, which leads me to the next comment borne out of a lack of understanding.
Comment number 2: “I think I’m gluten-free; I don’t eat many products with sugar.” The person who made this comment to my wife obviously had no clue, or maybe misunderstood the difference between glucose and gluten. Nor had they understood the old phrase, “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” I don’t mean to be harsh, but there is so much good information readily available on the net, that one could easily learn enough such that they can make an “informed” statement or decision.
And the number 1, most repeated erroneous comment: “I am considering going gluten-free because I want to eat healthier.” Somehow the notion that a GF diet is better or healthier than other diets is on the rise, yet totally bogus, nutritionally speaking. There are many fat and sugar-laden GF products a person could ingest or simply apply directly to the butts, thighs and stomach. The result is the same – unhealthy weight gain that increases one’s risk of heart disease from carrying excessive calories stored in the form of fat. I admit, my gluten-free lasagna, lobster mac-and-cheese, and bacon and basil infused meatloaf are all heart attacks on a plate, IF EATEN IN LARGE PORTIONS EVERY DAY.
So how do I respond to this comment? Answer: with great restraint. I kindly, (and softly) ask, “Why do you think a GF diet will help you eat healthier?” That’s when I get it. You’ve seen it. It is that deer-in-the-headlights-look clearly indicating they have not done their homework, or have a medical directive to do so. I’ll ask them, “What is your body’s response to gluten?” Their expression often looks as though they have had too many facial Botox injections as they appear expressionless with a loss for words. I try to explain to them that removing gluten from your diet when there is no medical need is simply an expensive waste of money. Further, I explain if they want to eat healthier do the following four simple things:
1. Shop the perimeter of the store and stay away from processed foods typically located in the center of the store and in the frozen foods section.
2. Cook from scratch using fresh seasonal produce and fresh minimally-processed meat.
3. Reduce your intake of sugars, fats, simple carbohydrates and alcohol.
4. Read labels. If the label has 142,179 ingredients, most of which you cannot identify because you don’t have a degree in nutritional chemistry or chemical food preservation, put it back on the shelf and head for the perimeter and see #1. Look for the label on that beautiful and brilliant red bell pepper in the produce area, there are no ingredients, you are holding the only ingredient in your hand. That is what you want. Simple unadulterated food.
So why am I addressing these comments in this article? Because the notion of “popularity” trivializes the seriousness of those in NEED of a GF diet in order to not only live a healthy life, but to simply live and survive. This is why I stress to people gluten-free is not a diet, it is a lifestyle. A person with Celiac or other medical conditions requiring a GF diet should not have to be so vigilant when dining out because the server dealt with so many people have “cried wolf” because they think GF is cool. Until drugs are created to address this serious autoimmune condition (Celiac), a GF diet remains the body’s only defense/protection from attacking itself, making it a very serious condition, not a fad.
I urge the GF communities to keep up the good work in encouraging food producers and restaurants to produce more safe gluten-free food options. At the same time, we all have the responsibility to those who have a medical necessity to live gluten-free to clarify or dispel erroneous notions dealing with popularity, trends or fads. The medical necessity of a gluten-free diet is as serious to a person with Celiac as breast cancer, colon cancer, and epilepsy are serious to those afflicted with those conditions/diseases. None of the latter are typically trivialized and neither should a GF diet.
One should adopt a GF after a medical professional has deemed it imperative to one’s existence or healthy quality of life.
Stay well and informed my friends. Enjoy that red bell pepper, taking a big bite out of it. Enjoy the moment and relish the flavor and enjoy yet another bite until it is gone.
Chef David Hall, CGC
Thyme for a Chef, LLC