Remember the 7th grade? That awful year when most of us cringed at the sound of our own laughter, or begged our parents for the latest fashion, or gathered around the person we thought was coolest, just hoping the cool would slough off on us somehow?
Thank goodness that most of us have grown up.
But when it comes to dealing with people who need to be gluten-free, I’m convinced that we’re living in a culture that is still stuck in the 7th grade.
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I’m honored to be part of Offline Magazine, an innovative new way to read thoughtful essays about this culture we live in. Offline Magazine is a magazine you read on your phone or your tablet. So many of us get our news by clicking links from Twitter or following stories on friends’ Facebook walls, but that reading can be scattered and pell-mell, bopping from recipe to environmental disaster to movie review to breaking news. It’s enough to make your head spin. Offline Magazine acknowledges that many of us read on our phones and tablets now, while a good number of us would like a more focused, single-pointed reading experience.
Each issue of Offline Magazine contains five, long-form essays. And in their first issue, I wrote a piece about how the experience of needing to be gluten-free brings out the 7th grade in so many of us.
Here’s a brief excerpt:
“Of course, 7th grade also meant bullies. Kids for generations have been quieting themselves, trying to fit in, to make sure they weren’t picked on. And there are plenty of bullies around when it comes to gluten. Every nationally published piece I have ever read about why gluten-free is becoming so widespread and many of them have quoted me has a series of comments so vicious and ugly that I want to take a shower after reading them. Within four or five comments, someone writes, “Bread is the stuff of life. Man has been eating it for generations. If these people get sick from eating such an essential food? Well, maybe this is survival of the fittest. Maybe people who can’t eat gluten shouldn’t be breeding.” (I’m not kidding. I have learned to not read the comments anymore.)
Nearly everyone who has to be gluten-free for medical reasons has endured the relative at a party who pishes and poshes about this, saying, “Oh come on. What harm could a little bread do you?” These are the same relatives who complain you are ungrateful if you don’t eat the Thanksgiving spread in front of you and snack on the one salad you know has no gluten in it. You can’t win.
Recently, a comedian with a national television show performed a particularly unfunny sketch where he pretended to interview the author of a gluten-free cookbook. After saying he found the author tiresome and a liar, he shoved a gluten-filled pie in his face. The audience roared with applause.
Friends of mine once attended a cooking demonstration from a famous chef who assured everyone, repeatedly, that the dish was gluten-free. They ate it. When the chef demonstrated the recipe in front of them, however, she put a tablespoon of bleached wheat flour in there. There were gasps. Someone asked, “Wait, is the same recipe? I thought you said this was gluten-free.”
At this, the chef brushed away the air with her hand, and said, “Oh, a little flour can’t hurt you.”
My friend was sick for nearly a week, with terrible vertigo, repeated trips to the bathroom, and a debilitating migraine.
Guess what? A little flour can hurt some of us. Bullies usually have their facts wrong. These gluten bullies do too.”
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There’s much more to the essay, which is called I Can’t Eat Gluten. Does That Bother You? I thoroughly enjoyed writing this one, as it gave me a chance to dig into the psychological aspects of gluten-free in this culture. Tell you the truth, I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever written.
I think you’d enjoy it too.
To read the piece, and the four others that accompany it, you’ll need to buy a copy of Offline Magazine. But here’s the good news. It only costs 99 cents. Just click over here and download it onto your phone.
(And one of the most intriguing parts of this endeavor is that each essay has been recorded by a professional actor, as well. So you could listen to someone else read my essay while you go for a walk or drive in the car, if you want.)
The team who created Offline Magazine believes in treating writers well. I’ll be receiving a bit of the revenue share from all the sales. So I’d love if you could support this, and make this essay a topic of conversation. We need to be talking more and more about how those of us who are gluten-free deserve to be treated in this culture.