In a recent article on the Science 2.0 blog titled “Celiac: The Trendy Disease for Rich White People”, a blogger named Hank Campbell rants and raves about the current gluten-free, or as he sees it, celiac disease fad. He begins, “Are you white and a little resentful that black people get their own cool disease, sickle cell anemia? There is good news for you. Celiac disease is all the latest rage and you can be any color at all and claim it”. He keeps this tone up throughout the entirety of the piece: he is bitter, but it would seem that he is bitter about the general behavior of “liberals”, rather than fad dieters specifically.
While Mr. Campbell is likely just a grumpy old man who we shouldn't pay any heed to, his views seem to echo certain opinions within the celiac disease community. Many celiac sufferers do (often justifiably) feel that the “fad” status of the gluten-free diet has robbed them of their credibility: they feel that even though they HAVE to adhere to a gluten-free diet to stay healthy, they now run the risk of being perceived as fad dieters (by people like Hank Campbell). Hank mentions “real Celiac victims”, but it's almost as if he doesn't believe they exist, because he seems to think that a meaningful number of people are not just adopting the gluten-free diet, but pretending they have celiac disease. The brunt of his critique falls on the 'fad celiac disease sufferer', if such a thing even exists. I am sure he would have you believe is the majority of people on the gluten-free diet right now.
The problem with Mr. Campbell's writing (and really, his opinion) is that he is raging against a stereotype that I am not sure exists. Who is pretending they have celiac disease? He spends a lot of words trying to prop up a straw man, and to what purpose, I'm not really sure (some commentators have posited that he has a political or pro-vaccine agenda). But he is minimizing the fact that celiac disease is a real disease and many people HAVE to abide by a gluten-free diet in order to preserve their health. It is not a “trendy disease for rich white people”.
The real message we should be taking away from Mr. Campbell is that celiac disease is ultimately a disease, not a club. The gluten-free diet may be experiencing an explosion right now, but when you think about how hard of a diet it is to stick with, the reality is that many of these fad dieters will quickly lose interest and drop it anyway. Ultimately, the “gluten-free fad” is only helping the celiac community, as more people than ever are getting diagnosed. It is hard not to be embittered by people who adopt a gluten-free lifestyle halfheartedly, and only to stroke their own egos, but that will pass, and if it helps more people get diagnosed, that is very positive thing.