Quit the outrage: it’s not personal

There was a terrific piece published in the New Yorker recently about the whole gluten cultural phenomenon, taking in coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), breadmaking, fodmaps, and the free from industry. It was health journalism at its best. 

And of course, some hated it and chose to get angry, as has become the pattern for discussions online when it comes to gluten-related disorders. 

One was a short piece in direct response - entitled “No such thing as gluten sensitivity? Really?!” - published on the blog of Living Without Magazine / Gluten Free and More - a US print magazine for the gluten-free community. 

In it, the author describes her family’s extraordinary health improvement and symptom relief when introducing a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. 

But then comes her attack on Michael Specter’s article. She accuses the author of ‘trying to establish that the GFD is just another fad’. Well, for some it is. And for some it isn’t. She calls his piece ‘offensive’ to coeliacs, which is baffling, because Specter is far from a denialist - he covers the rise in CD in his piece - and he’s merely trying to explore the extraordinary phenomenon of gluten in the 21st century, and explaining where we are in our understanding of NCGS, not - like her title implies - implying it doesn’t exist. She appears to object mostly to the comment questioning parents for putting their children on restricted diets without medical call for it - but in her case, some form of intervention clearly was called for, so why does she seem to take the piece so personally? 

It is in relation to NCGS that I see the most personally expressed outrage online. There seems to be a widespread failure to understand that NCGS is an ongoing subject of research, and that journalism reporting the various possibilities or studies asking questions about it are not personal attacks on those who have been given a diagnosis of it or who have resolved long-standing severe health issues through a GFD. 

What is being questioned is not their sanity (the Mail is excepted in this argument ..), their symptoms, their health improvement, but whether gluten is necessarily the causative agent for health issues. It’s not about whether NCGS exists, but whether it is appropriately named. As Specter says - it could be FODMAPs, for example. But merely pointing that out appears to put you immediately in the firing line these days. Do that, and you’re a denialist, who clearly doesn’t understand gluten, and has never experienced gut symptoms of any kind, and has no knowledge of medicine. Some accuse scientists, commentators and medics of slurs which have not been made. They accuse them of being influenced by big pharma. I’ve just been asked “Whose payroll are you on?” on the Facebook thread about the blog. Scientists get this all this and much worse all the time. Check out the outrage there, and check it out in this Gluten Dude FB post too.  

Kirstin Boncher, who wrote the blog, closes with a hope that science will eventually find the answers. Scientists are trying to find the answers, and journalists such as Specter are trying to report on it. As he says in his piece “FODMAPs are not as trendy as gluten” - and perhaps that’s part of the wider problem. Why do some appear so desperate for it to be gluten - especially when scientists are discovering that it may not always be?

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