Bandwagon, Roll On

Jan. 29, 2019

Most of the people who buy gluten-free food don't need it. Why that's a good thing.

There’s a political blog I often comment on, because its writers and most of its commenters all share my snarky sense of humor.

On one post the author said that as an Italian-American, she didn’t feel she had to apologize for Mussolini, to which I replied, “You should apologize for gluten-free pizza.” This drew an impassioned response from another commenter:

No apologies for gluten free ANYTHING! GF is a (literal) life saver. My husband has Celiac disease and a speck of gluten will leave him on the john for hours. Once he actually had to be hospitalized for severe dehydration as a result of it. The bandwagoners may be obnoxious [as hell], but they have started a trend that means we can have beer and pizza, bread, oatmeal, pasta, cereal... It's WONDERFUL.

There’s a lot to unpack in that response. The lady’s husband is part of the 1% of the population that suffers from celiac disease. The huge majority of the market for gluten-free food is what she terms “bandwagoners”—people who are convinced, for little reason, that a celiac-free diet will do them good.

I don’t think of such people as “obnoxious,” although I haven’t had to deal with them directly, but I do share her belief that they’re misguided. I’ve always regarded the gluten-free craze as having something in common with the no-carb fad of the oughts: People who followed it didn’t know why it was doing them good (if it did). To the extent that people actually lost weight or experienced other benefits, it was because they were restricting their total, overall intake of calories, not because carbs or gluten have some sort of special, evil influence.

On the other hand, as the commenter lady says, the people who are fooling themselves about gluten have inspired a wide range of gluten-free products. This is nothing but good for the celiac disease sufferers who actually need that variety; their diets would be pretty grim otherwise.

So I guess the moral here is that bandwagons aren’t always bad things.