Against The Grain: Gluten Anxiety, Part 2

Jun 15, 2015

In today's explosion of gluten-free foods, The Food Guys hear an echo of previous food fads, like the low-fat craze of the 1980s. "It's kind of a hysteria," says Greg. Jon adds: "We all have problems with things that we eat. We all come across things all the time that cause us some discomfort. And today, the first thing that someone will suggest is "go gluten-free."

They continue their summary of a November 2014 article from The New Yorker, written by Michael Specter, called "Against The Grain: Should You Go Gluten-Free?"

Specter observes:

The initial appeal, and potential success, of a gluten-free diet is not hard to understand, particularly for people with genuine stomach ailments. Cutting back on foods that contain gluten often helps people reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrates, bread, beer, and other highly caloric foods. When followed carefully, those restrictions help people lose weight, particularly if they substitute foods like quinoa and lentils for the starches they had been eating. But eliminating gluten is complicated, inconvenient, and costly, and data suggest that most people don’t do it for long.

Specter writes about Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO at Microsoft and amateur chef, who is writing a history of bread and baking: highly opinionated, and delights in controversy; saying the words 'gluten-free' to him was like waving a red flag at a bull. “When I was a kid, I would watch National Geographic specials all the time,’’ he told me. 'Often, they would travel to remote places and talk to shamans about evil spirits. It was an era of true condescension; the idea was that we know better and these poor people are noble, but they think that spirits are everywhere. That is exactly what this gluten-free thing is all about.' He stressed that he was not referring to people with celiac disease or questioning the possibility that some others might also have trouble eating gluten. 'For most people, this is in no way different from saying, ‘Oh, my God, we are cursed.’ We have undergone what amounts to an attack of evil spirits: gluten will destroy your brain, it will give you cancer, it will kill you. We are the same people who talk to shamans.

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 6/14/15 and 6/18/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays and again at 4:54 p.m. Thursdays, or via podcast.)