Shut Up and Eat Your Gluten

10 July 2014

When I was in college way back in the early aughts, I worked as a prep cook in a restaurant kitchen. It was hard work and the pay sucked, but I learned a lot about cooking and got to practice my Spanish with the rest of the staff, who hailed primarily from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. In the process I learned a lot about the rich and vibrant Central American culture, which turns out to be centered around three core elements:

  • talking about dicks
  • creating models of dicks out of food
  • calling one another gay

Needless to say, I fit right in.

One day a customer came into the kitchen and handed out a few laminated business cards explaining that she had Celiac Disease and could not eat anything containing gluten. At the time I had never even heard of gluten, and years went by before I heard the word again. Then I started seeing food products labeled “gluten-free” on supermarket shelves; I remember feeling surprised that a condition as rare as Celiac Disease could generate a sufficient market for gluten-free foods.

As time went on and these foods continued to proliferate, I realized that Celiac disease could not possibly be driving such a sweeping trend, and I started hearing about the supposed harmfulness of gluten. It made no sense to me, considering that gluten-based foods have been staples of virtually every human civilization, and I figured it was just another fad that would never gain traction outside of the Bay Area (world capital of made-up problems), where it would eventually fizzle out.

A decade and three time zones hence, the gluten-free craze is stronger than ever; there’s even gluten-free beer, for fuck’s sake. I’ve met people here in blue-collar Pittsburgh who swear that giving up gluten made them lose weight, feel better, and shit bricks of solid gold. Naturally, I remained skeptical – until I tried it!

Just kidding, of course I didn’t try it; I’d rather felch a drifter on TV than give up pizza. But I did suspend my disbelief a tiny bit, figuring that if so many people found a gluten-free diet beneficial, there just might be something to it.

Well, science has finally weighed in, and – surprise, surprise – it’s total bullshit. Count it! The gluten-free phenomenon strikes me as very similar to the so-called “paleo” diet in that both are based on pseudoscience and a fundamental misunderstanding of human evolution. This is not to say that these diets are not healthful, but whatever benefits their adherents claim to derive from them are either psychosomatic or simply the product of paying more attention to diet and eating fewer processed foods. When will people learn that eating right does not have to be complicated?