The allergy fakers aren’t all allergy fakers

A quick post about the article ‘Why Food Allergy Fakers Need to Stop‘ – published a couple of weeks ago, which proved a massive hit on social media among many coeliacs and food allergics – and its follow-up of sorts, published just a few days ago, ‘How We Made Gluten into a Monster‘.

The first piece is a long read, so set aside some time for it, but it is worth it, as it takes in the history of food hypersensitivities and looks at where we got to where we are today – on many levels, not solely on the underlying theme of the article, which is ‘free from’ catering in food service.

Essentially, it’s a customer plea, echoed by many in the catering industry, to only claim an ‘allergy’ or severe intolerance in a restaurant, if you genuinely have a medically diagnosed condition – given it’s more work for catering staff to accommodate ‘free from’ requests. Faking it, the writer argues, undermines genuine sufferers, and fed up food service managers who feel like rebelling against the faddists may end up withdrawing offers to cater free-from, which will only end up punishing those who need the services most.

The piece – mostly on account of its headline, I suspect – was widely welcomed on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s worth remembering that it’s the ‘fakers’ (or faddists, or lifestylers) who have mostly driven the rise in free from, particularly on-the-shelf products. We have a far greater choice in the supermarket, largely thanks to them.

While I agree that claiming a gluten sensitivity in a restaurant and later ordering the profiteroles as a special treat is the sort of behaviour to be called out and criticised, I have to wonder why it’s such an issue to some chefs whether a request is either genuine or ‘faked’. If you’re offering gluten-free catering in a restaurant, can you really complain simply because it becomes too popular?

But my key concern about the reaction to the piece is that not every ‘free from’ diner falls neatly into the ‘genuine’ / ‘faker’ dichotomy. What about those who sincerely think they’re made ill by a food, and who have had no support from their healthcare providers? They could be wrong, for all we know, but perhaps they are right, or perhaps they have a psychologically-rooted problem with food of which they are completely unaware. Do they deserve to be dubbed ‘fakers’?

I’ve said it many times that I don’t think self-diagnosis is wise or reliable, but my main issue with the self-diagnosed is specifically with those who then evangelise about (usually) gluten-free, and encourage others to follow their lead, typically on the back of having read the widely discredited Wheat Belly.

On the other hand, I have real sympathy with those who feel unwell, and can’t get answers, and whom the media typically like to tar with an ‘all in the head’ brush.

Let’s not forget them, please. Not all are faking it for attention or for weight loss.

4 Comments

  1. Liz Smith

    Great article and some well-made points. I struggled myself for years without diagnosis and little support. When you are desperate to alleviate your symptoms and nobody in the medical profession is listening, you will try anything, even what seems like a "fad diet". I am now clear in restaurants that I am coeliac as opposed to just gluten free and the vast majority are sympathetic.

    Reply
  2. Alex G

    Thanks Liz – and sorry to hear you struggled. Completely understand the desperation – something I've heard over the years a lot of people go through. Clarity and honesty in restaurants is definitely best policy, but I suspect some are shy / nervous of being explicit about CD – would you agree?

    Reply
  3. Simon Whaley

    Thanks for posting about these stories. They both made interesting reading. As someone who falls into what I feel is limbo-land (positive coeliac blood tests, but negative endoscopy results), I never know what to say when people (in restaurants) ask: are you coeliac or just gluten-intolerant (and yes, they often use gluten-intolerant, when I think they mean gluten-free)? In my experience there is always emphasis on the 'just'. And irrespective of whether I'm coeliac or 'just' gluten-intolerant, one thing I do know is that I never want to go back to the way I was feeling before I cut gluten from my diet.

    But, on the other hand, having read these articles, I can quite understand why restaurant staff get so infuriated when someone claims to be gluten-free and then opts for a gluten-laden sweet! Avoiding cross contamination is hard work, as I know from my own kitchen.

    And am I the only one who feels uncomfortable watching the latest Tesco Xmas advert, which is centred solely on advertising gluten-free produce (because the whole family is gluten-free!)? I feel it only exacerbates the notion that gluten-free is a fad diet. We don't (yet) get whole TV adverts dedicated to nut-free, soya-free, or milk-free Christmas produce, do we? No wonder some people are confused.

    Reply
  4. Alex G

    I would probably say … yes, go ahead and tell them you're coeliac if it makes you feel more secure. You're not going to order the profiteroles later, are you!?

    Interesting you mention the Tesco ad. I'd expected more coeliacs to feel uncomfortable with it, but it largely appears to have gone down quite well. I wasn't sure with use of the word 'emergency', and perhaps like you found using 'gluten free' as an adjective to describe a whole family could be taken to be they are so for faddy reasons. In Tesco's defence, 'free from' advertising has to start somewhere, and it would probably be too overwhelming to throw in all the other allergies in one go. Small steps, and all that …

    Reply

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