“I’ve only been gluten-free for a week,” one woman tells another as they both sit at a cafe table. “But I’m already really annoying.”

The New Yorker cartoon captures a cultural moment: many people, for whatever reason, are following largely self-imposed dietary restrictions. And we’re talking about them. Frequently. A lot. Too much.

So much that people are getting annoyed.

You know how there is always that one guy at a party who manages to hold you captive in a corner and inform you against your will about the project he’s working on that’s extremely interesting to him but to no one else?

That is how people feel when we go on too long about what we are or are not eating.

My dad has bona-fide celiac disease — as in, he was speeding steadily toward his own untimely demise until the doctors figured out what was going on and told him to quit eating gluten. So while most folks are just learning (or not) what gluten even is, my family has been on this road for a while.

We’ve sampled the regrettable attempts of health-food companies to make pasta out of Lord-knows-what-but-its-gluten-free. We’ve eaten our weight in rice cakes. We have had gluten-free baking disasters.

 

Gluten Free Flour. Photo courtesy Andrea Nguyen via Flickr Creative Commons.

Gluten Free Flour. Photo courtesy Andrea Nguyen via Flickr Creative Commons.

I have actual vivid memories of my father being too tired to play with me, lying gaunt and exhausted on the couch in between sprints to the bathroom while doctor after doctor tested him for every kind of cancer and even, maybe, some weird form of HIV not yet known (this was the mid 1980s). I can remember him shuffling off to the hospital for test after test.

Therefore, it’s really hard not to roll my eyes when Gwyneth Paltrow starts telling everyone how much fresher and lovelier she is since she went gluten free (as if she was not fresh and lovely before) and how her outlook on life just improved so much since she consciously uncoupled from grains and eggs and oils and Most Other Things That Normal People Eat, though, not apparently, our Paleolithic ancestors, who, far as I can tell, did not get pedicures nor own luxury homes in Amagansett.

Now, I have no problem with folks eating or not eating whatever they’d like. And as a friend of healthy and delicious and joyful eating, I applaud thoughtful, rather than thoughtless, consumption.

But neither do I really want to hear about it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in free speech.

But also in good manners.

I realize that may make me sound quaint; mark me as a misfit in an age where Dr. Oz discusses optimal fecal texture with celebrities on afternoon television. I’d go to the barricades to defend people’s rights to speak freely on such subjects if they wish, but it’s just not the kind of thing I want to overhear.

Dr. Oz at Service Nation, 2008. Photo courtesy David Berkowitz via Flickr Creative Commons.

Dr. Oz at Service Nation, 2008. Photo courtesy David Berkowitz via Flickr Creative Commons.

When I was small, we went over to people’s houses for dinner a lot, because my dad was a pastor. Inevitably, he’d be obliged to decline something or other — a dinner roll, say — and just as inevitably, he’d be pressed for details: “why won’t you have any? Are you on a diet? Oh, celiac? Never heard of it. Is it an allergy? Like, what happens to you if you eat it?”

It was like people were just not going to be satisfied until my dad started elaborating, in detail, upon the texture and color of his stool, Dr. Oz-style. I mean really, people. Do we actually want to be discussing this?

If my dad happened to be one of those folks who enjoyed discussing medical maladies and diet in detail, he’d pretty much hold a trump card, because many self-diagnosed gluten-free folk have little to stand on beside “I just feel better.”

Don’t get me wrong. That is absolutely great, but not nearly as impressive as: “My family was planning my funeral and then all of a sudden they weren’t, and my going gluten-free is the reason why.”

Michael Pollan, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which he wrote before he became the Michael Pollan of annoying paeans to lacto-fermented foods, claimed that he was “inclined to agree with the French, who gaze upon any personal dietary preference as bad manners.”

I’m not going to go that far: eat and let eat, for all I care. But as fellow RNS blogger Laura Turner says, “As far talking about your food preferences [unless it's a matter of life and death, like an allergy] I would say don’t. Unless someone asks, just keep it to yourself.”

Or as my truly lovable Auntie Shari says: “You are annoying. Just go home and eat and don’t tell us about it.”

{I have a post up at Christianity Today on graciousness and gluten-free, and how all that intersects with faith and fellowship. Read it here. Especially because I confess to my own annoying gluten-free-for-the-sake-of-an-eating-disorder phase.}

2 Comments

  1. Great post!

    How many times have you heard me ask my mealtime interrogators, “Do you really want to know what happens if I eat it..?” This of course after having already said, “I’d rather not– we’re eating.”

    Such fun!

    But the good thing about the silly fad dieters,especially the celebrity variety, is that gluten intolerance is now pretty much mainstream. There are more (and better) products than I’d ever imagined before, and now most people have at least some idea of what I’m talking about when I inquire about menus, etc.

    Latin American (and most Asian) cuisine is sheer delight, in large part because I can choose from just about anything offered without questioning it. It’s wonderful to be able to blend in with everyone else and eat with joy.

    And that’s the thing: Being truly stuck on a restricted diet, I’d rather not even think about it, much less talk about it.

    Faddists who blather on about their diets have always struck me as having either too much money, too much free time, not enough real problems, or some combination thereof.

    • The great thing about most Asian cuisines are you can eat healthy (vegetarian, gluten free, organic…) without the food tasting like processed effluence. What passes for “health food” these days in a lot of places is godawful stuff pretending to be sustenance.

      If you are a vegetarian, eat lots of southern Indian food or Asian “Buddhist fare”. Can’t have gluten, depend more on rice or root veggies (like taro).

      Blood sugar issues? Take a gander at trafitional Chinese dishes with “bitter melon”.

      Other than the usual fried stuff every culture has, you can usually never go wrong by going with a lot of traditional ethnic (non European fare)

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