Stacie Stewart on a television show called Food Glorious Food said something
about eating gluten being worth it for a day on the loo.
floodgates opened, of course. She was called stupid; she was called a moron;
she was called shameful.
Coeliac – temporarily suspending living up to her name – shared her thoughts in
a much commented-on blog here, which summarises the event itself and captures
the resulting online mood quite well.
I didn’t watch
the clip for four days. I’ve watched it now. You can do so here until mid-April (15:30ish in;
after the irritating ads).
It’s a difficult
one to judge, because coeliac isn’t mentioned, and it’s not clear whether the
man in the clip is gluten sensitive. From Stewart’s comment one could easily
infer he is, and that she understands diarrhoea is a symptom in such cases.
Since, we've learned that he wasn’t coeliac. So why did she say what she said? I really
don’t know – perhaps she’d merely assumed he was, or perhaps he’d told her
gluten didn’t agree with him, or something – but it strikes me that it was
meant lightly, was delivered off-the-cuff and clearly was not intended to
offend, albeit perhaps ignorant of the longer-term effects in some.
That alleged ignorance
seems to have got a lot of backs up, but in my experience a vast amount of
ordinary people do know that coeliacs
cannot eat bread, cake, pasta and more, do
know that it can give them the trots, but do not
know about the internal or lasting damage gluten can cause coeliacs, and view
it much as lactose to lactose intolerants, for whom, with a few exceptions, a
day on the loo is pretty much as bad as it gets. Can we blame her for this, if true in her case? Can
you honestly say that you know every in and every out of diabetes? Of kidney
disease? Not everyone can be a doctor when it comes to other people’s diseases.
She works with
food, and she should arguably know more than the average punter, I agree – but in
that she may not she is hardly unique. Ignorance should not automatically be
seen as a disgraceful sin: rather a sign that work remains to be done.
on Twitter, although perhaps was a little slow to do so. As I've suggested, she took much flak
online – some of it unpleasant, though sadly that’s hardly unusual these days,
and has shown some signs of struggling to deal with it, though has mostly
managed it well. Carol Vorderman, whose voiceover described gluten-free as a
fad, copped some of it too: I have no time for her detox plans, but her crime
on this occasion, as far as I can see, appears to have been that of reading from
a script given to her by her employers.
(A fad diet is a
diet which enjoys temporary popularity, then wanes. GF will always be here to
some extent due to necessity, and it is obviously never faddish in the case of
CD, but it is unlikely to always be popular among ‘lifestyle’ avoiders or
weight-loss dieters, as misguided as they may or may not be, so it may well
eventually prove itself to have been a fad among these groups. Seems to me,
though, that this can only be decided retrospectively, so it was wrong of
Vorderman’s scriptwriter to describe it so, but only on this basis, in my view.
‘Trend’ would have been a better word, for it is ongoing, but even that is unsatisfactory, and requires the same clarification: that for some it is
‘trendy’, but for others medical necessity. As often is the case with these
matters, conveying information accurately is time-consuming, and the simple
option gets chosen. This has echoes of newspaper articles describing coeliac
disease an ‘allergy’ or ‘intolerance’: not strictly true, but easier than
getting embroiled in an explanation of autoimmune.)
The blame as I
see it lies with the producers of this show. Any food show in which health is
discussed should be vetted by a dietitian and/or doctor before broadcast. I
doubt this happened. Had it, the silly quip would surely have been edited out,
or a voiceover added to clarify the scenario. A dietitian would have noticed
that using the word ‘fad’ might be inflammatory, open to misinterpretation and neither
fully nor accurately representative. FGF, of course, have received their share
of complaints: their possibly not-sincere-enough apology on their Facebook page
seems to underestimate the upset caused.
They have missed
some points. The criticisms levelled at them concerning lack of research seem
fair and have not been addressed. There was lack of clarity in the situation;
context was not properly given. An apology on FB is clearly insufficient: a clarification
on a forthcoming episode really would be. Events like this don’t help the
‘cause’ at all. Some people’s views of gluten-avoiders as fussy eaters will
have been reinforced by the broadcast – something which justifiably makes
coeliacs want to bang their heads on the nearest wall – and someone, somewhere,
will have been left with the idea that it is not as serious as they’d been led
This is maddening,
I know, because it sets us back, and it undermines on many levels, but
sometimes I think deep breaths before reaction are required. Because I also
fear that there has been damage to the perception among ordinary folk of
coeliacs as really very angry people – witness some of the responses to links
given above, but also go search for it on Twitter. While some of the comment
has been well observed, some of it has been undoubtedly OTT and lacking
perspective. I’ve seen demands for apologies made of Stewart by people who in
my view should be instead offering her one. I know this stuff is vitally important,
but people will fear getting involved in ‘free from’ or engaging with the
community if we react like this: we cannot afford to scare people away.
Stacie was perhaps
ignorant, but this is not intended as an insult and it shouldn’t always be
thought of as one. She merely didn’t know about ‘free from’ – that it could
taste great, for example. She later learned that it could, and appeared to
admit she’d been wrong: a good thing. Many long-standing free-frommers will
know that it hasn’t always been so, and that improvements over the last decade
have been remarkable. Some people are still learning about this. It takes time.
Quite why a
diarrhoea joke was considered apt for a food show, I probably won’t ever know,
but I do feel there are far more deserving targets for our ire than a seemingly
fun, sparky girl whose unintentionally flippant remark failed to end up on the
cutting room floor where it belonged, and whose employers have been cavalier
with their editing and production.
As the bluster dies
down, among the questions we need to ask is whether FGF is now more likely or
less likely to feature special diets or ‘free from’ food on their show again,
and I suspect the answer is the latter.
Labels: coeliac disease, free from food