Having A Gluten Allergy Does Not Make You A Victim

Food allergies, like basically every other allergy, are not fun. Two years ago, I lost the ability to process dairy — and for those of you who eat blocks of cheese to comfort yourself after a hard day’s night, you can imagine that life off the [cow] juice has been hard to adjust to. If you’ve never had a food allergy or a similar deficiency, symptoms vary from what can not-so-tastefully be described as pissing through your ass to… well, dying. It’s also not exactly convenient — in my case, I’ve ordered seemingly dairy-free dishes to find that they’ve been drenched in cream sauce, I’ve had neurotic fits over whether my coffee was actually made with soy milk or not, I’ve had to be that shithead at a dinner party who inquires about every ingredient in someone’s wonderful, thoughtful homecooked meal because I could potentially spend the next 24 hours in a bathroom if I make one wrong move. It’s hard to understand unless you’re in a similar position, but food allergies (like all medical conditions) require special attention. All that said, it’s not the worst problem to have, once you accept that you are responsible for yourself and for your diet.

That’s why ‘This Is Gluten Privilege‘ is one of the most profoundly whiny blogs I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering. In sum, it’s a Tumblr that tells people who can process gluten that they’re privileged and oh god as I’m typing this I’m hoping it’s one big joke because jesus christ, how far can we take this privilege thing? Problem is, the examples are not funny. The Privilege Police have reached such new lows that they are fucking high. Some choice excerpts: “Gluten privilege is the ability to go out with your friends and enjoy a meal; hassle free,” “Gluten privilege is not having to read the label on every single food and drink product you buy, every single time you buy it,” and “Gluten privilege is the ability to go to any restaurant, anywhere, and be confident that there will be something on the menu you can eat.”

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These problems are not unique to the gluten-free community. Lactards have limited diets. Vegans have limited diets (by choice, but that doesn’t make it any more convenient). Anyone with food allergies has these issues unless they cook for themselves, myself included. But as a freaking grown up, I figured out what I can and can’t eat and I deal with it. If you think understanding your body and the food that goes into it is a hassle, I can’t imagine what going to the DMV is like for you. [Side note: reading the labels on the food you’re about to put into your body is not Chinese water torture. Food allergy or not, it might be interesting to know how many ingredients you’re about to consume whose names you can’t even pronounce.]

Using the word ‘privileged’ to describe everyone who doesn’t have a problem that validates your own personal agenda is insulting. Hate to break it to you, but you’re not a victim of the foodriarchy because you can’t eat a bagel. Everyone with a body has to cope with its deficiencies, dietary or otherwise. This is not unique; this is not a #celiacproblem (although, people who actually have Celiac disease are probably too busy being proactive about their diets and health to start a Tumblr complaining about how unfair it is that they can’t pay someone else to cook food to their own special specifications). This is a people problem, and a group of ‘trailblazers’ co-opting gluten allergies as their trendy food cause of the moment doesn’t change that.

I know firsthand that food allergies are frustrating, a nuisance. They suck. So does having diabetes, relying on food stamps, not being able to eat out at the drop of a hat, risking your life because someone next to you ate a peanut two hours ago, and a million other food-related gripes that inconvenience the people afflicted with them. And maybe I’m sheltered (I’m not), but I’ve never seen any of these people try to start a movement in which their particular dietary issues are so much more pressing than those of everyone else that the mere ability to process gluten propels you to privileged status. (If we’re going to throw the word around loosely, privilege might also be defined as having health insurance/ access to media and education in which you were introduced to the concept of gluten-free diets in the first place.)

We all have bodies, and those bodies malfunction in their own special little ways. Worst of all, a new (healthier) diet can’t fix the majority of ails. Blindness, terminal cancer, cerebral palsy — you learn to live with these things. You spend time in therapy, you spend money on things that healthy people haven’t thought about for a hot second, and you do the best you can. And if all you have to do to live an otherwise healthy lifestyle is educate yourself on what you can and can’t eat, pick up a goddamn cookbook and make your own food (god forbid), and pass on the bread and pasta, it’s time to put on your big girl pants and check your own privilege. TC mark

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