Gluten-Free Backlash Gains Momentum

It was probably inevitable. The gluten-free movement has created its own band of bread-happy insurgents. You can spot them by the quick surreptitious movement of their hands as they dart into the wicker basket of warm rolls on the restaurant table. 

They're outliers,  for sure. They count among their ranks the actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Cherlize Theron,  who told talk-show host Chelsea Handler, “I just think that if you are gonna send a gift, let it be enjoyable. Why send me a fucking cupcake with no sugar in it? What’s the use? There’s no use. It tastes like cardboard!"Then there's the new Boston Red Sox pitcher, Wade Miley, who loudly complained about  the restrictive dietary regiment of the Arizona Diamondbacks, his former team . “You can't tell me Babe Ruth ever stopped eating gluten," he said. That remark generated so much heat that Miley felt compelled to  apologize. "I said something a little sarcastic, and I guess it got taken a little further than it needed to be taken," he told a Boston radio sports-talk audience the following day, as shamefaced as if he'd insulted the Holy Seer. Or bad-mouthed his trove of communion wafers.

Call it the curse of the Bambino. That's wheat's bread-rising protein complex, pitting gluten-fearing ballplayers against gluten-fauning teammates, bringing out the snarling stevedore in a silky blond actress. It   prompted a Washington Post think-piece whose writer, Ellen McCarthy, quotes a devoted gluten advocate named David Kiimas trying to make sense of his friend's abandonment of anything wheatish. "“How can you all of a sudden be gluten-free? He’s 45. We’ve been friends for 19 years. Sometimes, I think it’s just for him to be cool in front of the waiters.”

In writing Grain of Truth,  I set out to bring a dollop of reason and common sense  to the table.  I remind readers that less than one percent of us actually suffers from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder generated by gluten; also that six percent of us at most may experience milder symptoms brought by gluten sensitivity. That leaves about 93 % of us outside the loop, but that isn't a fashionable place to be at the moment. Not to be gluten-sensitive is not to be fully aware of what's good for you and what's screwing up your system cell by cell as you swallow. So what if the actual number of the inflicted  don't pencil out? Who wants to ruin a ghost story by flipping on the light switch? 

Not the gluten-free (GF) industry, for sure. It's heading toward $16 billion as fast as you can say tapioca starch or xanthan gum, two favored substitute ingredients. But the signs of rebellion are becoming more pronounced as sober analysts weigh in with  contrary evidence.  Consumer Reports, that bible of trustworthy, test-worthy knowledge, made national headlines earlier this year by warning that the rice flour in many if not most GF products may contain arsenic. It also pointed out that on a GF diet you may gain weight, pay more, miss a serious health condition, and deprive yourself of essential nutrition. Call it a spoilsport or a cry in the wilderness, your choice, but whatever your bent, I suggest taking a few minutes to read "Will a gluten-free diet really make you healthier" in its January 2015 issue.  Gluten, says Consumer Reports, "may actually be good for you." You'll learn why. and what to serve if Charlize Theron happens to show up at your next party. Not cardboard cupcakes, is my advice.