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Gluten-free: funny or no joke?

From a Les Misérables parody to Colbert Report’s McGnaw The Gluten-Free Beaver, gluten intolerance and celiac disease are tickling people’s funny bones—but others just feel sick.

Is it funny to have a severe reaction to gluten? This past month, I’ve come across several examples of humor—ranging from comedy to sarcasm to ridicule—focusing on gluten intolerance, celiac, and gluten-free eating. What I’m learning is that 1) this is still a serious problem that a lot of people don’t understand, and 2) maybe we all need to lighten up a little.

The first instance was at a holiday party. A doctor friend laughed as I carefully scrutinized a packaged-food label (even though he knows that my son is severely gluten intolerant and my daughter also eats gluten free). “This gluten-free thing is a fad,” he assured me. “Most of the people that are now eating gluten free will give it up later when the next fad comes along.”

Even though I typically get on a soapbox when I hear comments like that – “actually, gluten free is a serious health concern, etc.” – this time I just let it go. (It was a holiday party, after all.)

Gluten free in mainstream media 

Then last week Jason Elmore, CEO of FindMeGlutenFree, forwarded me his response to a January 8 FOX News opinion piece that ridiculed a Department of Justice decision against a university that was not sufficiently providing allergen-free dining-hall food. Elmore wrote to FOX writer Hans von Spakovsky.

"Your article appears to be premised on the bizarre notion that gluten intolerance is not a serious condition and not a proper subject of concern for the federal government. In many cases, contact with gluten can lead to infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, cancer, and other autoimmune diseases.  We at Find Me Gluten Free do not believe that it is appropriate for you to make light of these or any other serious health issues … the sarcastic tone of your article in referencing “allergy-'disabled' students” at Lesley University is belittling and does not add anything of value to the food-allergy conversation … your disparaging remarks serve only to perpetuate the current state of affairs in which hundreds of thousands of restaurants and food service companies remain unaware of the importance of carrying gluten free items for those who depend on it."

(Incidentally, I remember feeling cheated when my son was in college because we were paying the same fees as everyone else, but he couldn’t eat most of the food.)

On January 9, the ever-uproarious Colbert Report (one of my favorites) poked fun at gluten. "I'm proud to launch a new campaign to educate kids on the dangers of wheat," he crowed. "Move over McGruff, the Crime Dog; it's time for McGnaw, the Gluten-Free Beaver!"

Comments ranged from disgusted ("you make me ill making fun of the gluten-free diet") to amused and grateful ("anything that gets people laughing AND more aware deserves a little forebearance").

And then last night, my son alerted me to a hilarious Les Miserables parody, “One Grain More” (168,000 views and counting). Watch this video:

Again, according to the comments, some people were deeply offended, prompting creator Michael Bihovsky to respond: “Remember: I can’t eat any wheat without suffering severe consequences. It’s precisely for that reason that I chose to make this video. I know firsthand how hard and scary it is to live a life with such limited choices, and I believe with all of my heart that the best medicine is to learn to laugh at it.”

Bihovsky added: “I also disagree that this video makes it difficult for the gluten free community to be taken seriously. On the contrary, I think it is an excellent vehicle to show the non-allergic community just how difficult it really is for those suffering from food allergies, and give them a greater appreciation for the implications of our plight.”

Bravo, Mr. Bihovsky! I love that someone who really “gets” the gluten issue, seeks to educate others, and still has the confidence and lightheartedness to get us to laugh, without sarcasm or disparagement.

My only quibble is that he’s behind the times if he thinks all gluten-free foods still taste horrible; they don’t. Even so, for his playful film and clever, beautifully sung lyrics, he’s got my vote.

What do you think: Is gluten intolerance funny or not funny?


Discuss this Blog Entry 3

Sara S (not verified)
on Jan 23, 2013

I have been gluten free for about 7 years now. My brother, mother and few good friends and in-laws are also gluten free. Like anything else, as long as its appropriate, there is nothing wrong with a sense of humor. Humor is one thing that saves me from and so many other people from feeling like a freak because we can't go out for pizza like the rest of the world. Sometimes, people who aren't very educated on the matter will ask "Wait, so what can you eat?" and I'll respond with something like "water and cardboard". I find that most people who have me in their home and don't know that I am highly allergic to gluten become embarrassed and sometimes upset when they realize there is NOTHING they can offer me other than water or coffee. Having a sense of humor is what saves everyone involved from that sort of uncomfortable situation. I was a little taken back when I saw that episode of the Colbert Report, but then I had to look at it this way; if the subject has reached Comedy Central, that means more people are aware of the issue and it is becoming more mainstream, Mainstream = more common = more food options (grocery, restaurant, ect.). Its a very twisted silver lining, but a lining none the less.

on Nov 26, 2013

it is a good update, I will try to do it, homepage

on Jan 24, 2013

Sara, thanks for sharing your story! I had the same reaction about the Comedy Central bit. In some ways there's no such thing as bad publicity ...

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