I’m not sure when I became part of the “in crowd” but suddenly I find that I’m not weird anymore. Gluten-free is now “cool.” I go to restaurants and grocery stores and whole sections are labelled for people just like me. Stranger still, I meet people who are joining my dietary crowd. They want to be gluten-free.
One of the most pleasant improvements to gluten-free becoming mainstream is the friendly treatment I now receive at eating establishments. Until just a few years ago people viewed me with suspicion. They thought I was on the high protein diet fad by choice and they would look at me askance wondering why I was trying to lose weight. It would embarrass me to no end, to the point that I wouldn’t ask and then simply wouldn’t eat unless I had my own food. This led to even more speculation and people would pull my husband aside, asking if I was “OK.”
Now, when I go to Chipotle, and say I’m gluten-free, they happily change their gloves and tell me they will take care of my Burrito Bowl all the way to the check out. When I go to Five Guys, they smile and show me how they will make sure my burger is safe. At Disney or SeaWorld, they roll out the red carpet: A manager comes out and shows me a menu discussing safe food options with me. At Pollo Tropical, the drive-through lady yells at anyone who dares place a roll in my ¼ chicken dark meal and then tries to remove it without her seeing. At PF Changs, I can eat time after time and never get sick. Their gluten-free menu has so many options that I’m spoiled for choice.
And then there’s the grocery stores. Until even five years ago I had to shop at a health food store to get the bulk of my gluten-free items. Now, they sell them all at my local Publix. But, Publix doesn’t stop there. It has a happy little blue-encircled GF printed on the shelf label that invites me to pick up products that I ordinarily wouldn’t have approached. Granted, I still read the labels because I have additional restrictions but it’s a great start – as if a gluten-free fairy is guiding me along, making sure I don’t make a mistake.
I have to admit, though, all of this gluten-free popularity does concern me. What if restaurants and food manufacturers get so accustomed to what they view as a new fad that they become complacent? If it’s a fad, than 99% gluten-free should be good enough, shouldn’t it? Just yesterday I picked up a box of a certain company’s gluten-free spaghetti. I was skeptical. Was it processed on shared equipment? And there it was, right in the fine print, “processed in a facility that processes wheat.” I set the box down, intensely grateful to the company for their transparency and picked up a box of Barilla Gluten-free Spaghetti: “Produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility.” I purchased the Barilla and made it for dinner last night.
Companies and many restaurants are paying attention and they are getting it right. How do they know? Because if people consume their products and don’t get sick, they return to these same products over and over again. And, if a so-called gluten-free product makes people sick, as the gluten-free forums attest - everybody finds out.
The bottom line is that more and more people are going gluten-free and feeling well again. So maybe this is what sets gluten-free apart from the fads of the last 20 years. Remember fat free? It sounded good, but people gained weight on it. High protein? It worked for some until they started having issues with halitosis, gall stones, and lowered energy. But have you ever heard one person complain about a negative health effect from going gluten-free? I have not. They either notice no change in their health and happily go back to consuming gluten or they become so startling healthy that the thought of consuming gluten again becomes laughable. And therein lies the difference between a fad and a solution.
I have been gluten-free for nearly 14 years. If it was a fad, I may have lasted 14 days. But going gluten-free gave me a new future, free of debilitating health problems that were shutting my life down. My hope is that gluten-free is the beginning of a healthy future for many and that the 100% gluten-free products that grace grocery shelves and menus are here to stay.