It’s G-G-G-Gluten!

Zoiks Skoob! There’s a scary sounding ingredient lurking within our food! Double-check those Skooby Snacks because they may very well contain a protein called GLUTEN! WooOOOOoooOOo!

Running in fear from this ingredient people are seeking gluten-free diets. This is usually a dietary restriction reserved for people with celiac disease or wheat allergies but all-a-sudden people everywhere are going gluten-free, especially vegans. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and it’s harmless unless you have these specific medical conditions. For more info about this I’ll point to a post by Skeptoid: Gluten Free Diets and one by Skeptical Vegan: Gluten-free Faddists. So why are vegans in particular going gluten-free? I have a few hypotheses.


Alternative Medicine Quacks
Years ago I noticed a trend. Vegans were getting diagnosed by alt med quack practitioners (read: “nutritionists”) who were prescribing gluten-free diets as a panacea. Using allergies and supplements as a placebo are a great low-risk way of flying under the radar of medical responsibility. The That Mitchell and Webb Look show satirized this in their skit: Lifestyle Nutritionists

The beauty of using diet change as a diagnosis is that if the client feels different, then it usually feels better. If the client feels worse then it’s a detox reaction or they are doing it wrong. Either way, the chance of it going wrong is far less than it going great especially in the short term. On top of all that muscle testing has gotten popular as a form of testing for allergies which has no scientific validity.

Well if Dr. Joe Quack can get some sheepskin from an online diploma mill why not skip the middle-duck altogether and quack myself? Going through the newage rawfood wringer on the subjectiveness of diet I’ve fell for the confirmation bias long and hard enough to recognize it at a glance. The symptoms are vague enough that anybody can convince themselves they have them or just got rid of them. Getting diagnosed for real with you know, science, is an arduous and not-fun process. I don’t blame people for wanting to avoid it but I will blame them for jumping to the conclusion even if they are fooling themselves. As Richard Feyman said:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

Cuz it’s Vegan Stoopit!
Another aspect of the gluten-free fad is that it’s often lumped in with other sensitivities like dairy thereby making it vegan. In the same way rawfood restaurants are “vegan” here also we have a conflation of interests. If you’re going to make a gluten-free restaurant why not try to maximize your market and include all types of allergies? Oh but it doesn’t just stop at allergies though. If it’s good for people with allergies then it must be good for all, no? The owner of a local gluten-free, dairy-free restaurant here took it to the (interest-conflicting) extreme and argued that actually everybody is allergic to gluten but most don’t recognize the symptoms. Yeah, wow.

Fancy Word Hurts Brainz
Gluten is also just a scary word, isn’t it? No wonder the word “seitan” was invented….although that one probably freaks out alotta religious folk. A local vegan restaurateur openly expressed that they would rather eat a turkey animal than that scary vital wheat g-g-g-gluten!

“11/26/2010 Tofurkey (tofu, vital wheat gluten and expeller pressed canola oil). No thank you. I’d rather eat a real turkey or human.”

They were so afraid of gluten that they would rather take an animal’s life. Before I ever made such a claim you can bet I would look a little further into the issue. Another example of how the lack of critical thinking can cause harm. This also reminds me of dihydrogen monoxide and how if you call something common like water by a science-y sounding name it becomes scary and bad.

Harder-core than Thou
Ya know, all those vegans who eat seitan are poseurs. Here they are trying to have their meat and eat it too by mocking up animal flesh but only hardcore vegans eschew any references to animal foods. Plus it’s just so processed, non-organic and GMO. I mean what kinda monster eats that sick shit?!

Isn’t that so ironic? All these vegan dishes that use gluten to substitute for animal flesh and even that isn’t vegan enough. Soon seitan won’t even be an option and vegans will have made it that much harder for others to go vegan. Isn’t that’s what it’s all about too? “Go vegan” indeed, how?

Disease Fetishcizing
Although, this should be a boon for the people who actually have a real sensitivity. All these products are being developed for them, isn’t that great? Well except for people who actually have celiac disease. Food is like their medicine and no, not in the goofy newage way vegans often espouse. For real here. Like they WILL INDEED get real non-subjective and negative life altering effects. When faddists come in and water down the standards it can put them in harms way. For example, reportedly a chef in New York admitted on his Facebook profile that he’s been secretly serving people requesting gluten-free pasta high-gluten pasta instead to no ill-effect.

“Gluten free is bullshit!! Flour and bread have been a staple of life for thousands, THOUSANDS of years. People who claim to be gluten intolerent [sic] dont [sic] realize that its [sic] all in there [sic] disturbed little heads. People ask me for gluten free pasta in my restaurant all the time, I tell em sure, Then I serve serve em our pasta, Which I make from scratch with high gluten flour. And you know what? nothing, NOTHING! ever happens! People leave talking about how good they feel gluten free and guess what, They just had a full dose! Idiots!”

That is an extreme example true, but it illustrates how co-opting this diet can create an environment where victims become more victimized. Celiac is a serious disease and one form won’t even allow for contact with skin. Contamination is always a danger and people must remain vigilant. Talk about label readers, these poor people must put vegans to shame. I really do sympathize with people why actually have this condition. My angst over this diet fad is in part in support and recognition of them. Fetishisizing this condition is insensitive, making light of their plight. Hypocritical behavior for a population that claims a compassionate and ethical lifestyle.

So, the irony in all of this is that the more vegans adopt gluten-free diets the more they:

  • Make vegan diets even harder by demonizing a great meat substitute as well as any food with gluten.
  • Take business away from companies who make these vegan substitutes and gluten-containing products.
  • Obfuscate issues of veganism by associating it with a disease.

If vegans really wanted to help animals and stay respectful of people with a serious medical condition I hope they think twice about jumping aboard the G-free bandwagon. Don’t be afraid of the gluten-ghost in wheat. Enjoy life a little and eat that seitan already, you can use the protein. 😉

20 comments to It’s G-G-G-Gluten!

  • gladcow

    People may self-diagnose a gluten allergy because they don’t have the means to get professional testing. Or, the type of tests they need aren’t available in their area. Sometimes these decisions aren’t all woo based, you know. 🙂

  • @gladcow, self-diagnosing may not be as woo but the subjectiveness of the outcome can be the same. In my experience this is the reason a majority of people are going gluten-free.

  • gladcow

    In my experience the majority of people I know exploring gluten free are doing so because of the media explosion and they are looking for quick fix for any health issues they may have. Just like any other fad.

    And, just like any other fad, there will be people who are helped by following it, either because they have an intolerance to gluten or because they simply needed to change their diet in general. Yes, their results will be subjective. But, if their lives are improved, I don’t have a problem with self diagnosis.

    I have a problem with people following fads because they think it will fix their lives/diet/health with little effort.

    • Lives improve sure, I experienced that myself on raw food. But reasons are important and here’s why:

      • Without really knowing what’s ailing you you don’t become empowered to fix it. That can have major negative health implications.
      • In other fad diets where lives improve, more animals die for human nourishment. Take Atkins or Paleo for example. See my post: What’s the Harm (To Animals)?
      • It perpetuates the notion that subjective experiences are equal to empirical medical evaluations. read: Undermines critical thinking and becomes a slippery slope into woo.

      In the instance of g-free, in this post, I’ve outlined specific harm that it can cause the vegan movement (if there is such a thing).

      • Karoumy

        For someone who professes critical thinking you use the “slippery slope” thing quite a bit. I’ve read it at least 3 times since discovering this blog on carpe vegan 20 minutes ago. You’re probably using it as short cut and rhetoric but you really need to prove the next step. Otherwise you’re not being critical at all, you’re being lazy at best.


        I agree that the GF diet is a bit of a fad and I also know people who doctor’s can’t seem to help. They’re not celiac. Nothing shows up in blood tests and the best answer they can get is that they’re just one of the people who has a sensitive system. People like that exist and they need help in the short term as well as the long term.

        • Hey Karoumy,

          Thanks for your comment.

          Are you saying that the people you know have been adopting a g-free diet specifically because they have “sensitive symptoms” for which medical doctors are stumped? If so, how did they conclude that gluten was the suspect nutrient?

  • My wife was just going on yesterday about how much she loves my homemade seitan. It really is bizarre to me that vegetarians or vegans would deprive themselves of such a great food and protein source based on some crap they read somewhere. My grandmother had celiac, and it was not hard for her to tell when she was having adverse effects. But she was kinda crazy at that point, so she really couldn’t understand the disease, so she was constantly cheating with bread just because she loved it so much. And all these faddists are the exact opposite: asymptomatic, yet they avoid gluten with the same gusto that hardcore vegans avoid whey and “butter flavoring.”

    I remember when Oprah “went vegan.” She also gave up sugar, wheat and alcohol. Some people asked me if I also avoid those things. So, yeah, this stuff really does have the potential to affect non-vegan perceptions of what veganism is, and if it makes it seem harder (and more arbitrary) than it actually is, that is not a good thing.

    But I do know what gladcow is saying. Sometimes people that are having definite digestive problems (as opposed to less specific problems like malaise or eczema) do have to try various exclusion diets just to try to figure out what might be the problem. Yes, that’s not very scientific and fraught with all kinds of opportunities for false positives and fooling oneself, but some people either have no insurance, insurance that won’t pay for specific tests, or doctors that won’t even send them to a specialist. In short, self-imposed exclusion diets are sadly sometimes the best option for people that are having definite digestive problems. Gluten should be low on the list of things to exclude, though. That’s my professional opinion, anyway 😉

    • Right on SpeciesistVegan.

      I understand how some people may not have the means to pay for a proper evaluation but they’re an exception to the rule. I’m arguing vegans should be especially judicious. Vegans who will go out of their way to great lengths to avoid the tiniest of animal ingredients yet when it comes to self-diagnosing they shrug and say “What’s the harm?”. Is it not as compulsory that vegans should scrutinize a fad diet like g-free with the same vigor they display for Atkins or Paleo? There are plenty of examples of vegans dropping out for such fad diets.

      • When you say “vegans dropping out” I get this image of a vegan high school with kids dropping out left and right.

        Actually, do you want to collaborate on a Hollywood movie script called Vegan High School? It’ll be awesome. It’s about a bunch of uber-serious vegan kids that have awesome (vegan) beer parties and sit around accusing each other of being speciesist. This is my ticket to the money train.

  • Mom

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my story, and for turning me on to skeptical vegan blogs. Two of my favorite causes – veganism and rationality – combined!

  • I’m disturbed that people would want to order gluten free pasta at a restaurant specializing in, well, pasta.

    Still, celiac symptoms are not something that shows up immediately. The symptoms come the following day, so maybe that chef just hasn’t heard from the people he’s duped. Then again, it was New York.

  • Jeannette

    Interesting post, but not as measured as it could be. I am a vegan, and a nutritionist. I’ve had a lot of clients ask about going gluten free, and unless they have strong suspected celiac, my answer is no – gluten free flours/foods tend to have less micro-nutrients and more empty calories than those with gluten. If you don’t need to eliminate gluten, then it can be worse for you.

    That being said, there are people who have allergies (being celiac isn’t really a simple allergy but anyways) that Dr’s don’t diagnose. Most allergies are an IgE reaction which is what doctors test for, though IgG and IgA are also markers of an allergy, but are not blood tested. For people in this case, a proper elimination diet is required, in which individual whole foods are removed and slowly re-introduced. Sometimes the culprit is wheat (not necessarily the gluten part), sometimes/often other foods. Elimination of that food is necessary in this case.

    Then there are real celiacs – and for them, eating gluten has serious health implications, which is not to be made light of. Part of the problem is that to get a diganosis through a blood test, one needs to eat gluten everyday for over a month, which for many suffering these symptoms is INCREDIBLY painful. I know many people who have opted out of the formal diagnosis simply because they can’t make it through the 30 days of eating gluten.

  • Re the irony of ordering gf in a pasta restaurant. I’ve seen this phenomena often. I don’t know if it isn’t just attention seeking? Someone I once knew was ‘diagnosed’ with a pectin allergy by an alternative health crank and then became obsessed with the ceaseless and almost futile quest of finding pectin free jam! Somebody should study the psychology of this.

    • Hey Jonnie,

      Health cranks I believe are a major contributor to orthorexia and vegans must particularly be prone. It’s easy to prescribe a restrictive diet for a subjective condition. If it works great, if not it, you’re not doing it right, or it’s a detox symptom. How many exvegan stories cite their naturopaths as their reason for eating animal again?

  • […] Reading: It’s G-G-G-Gluten! by Dave D Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • […] I’ve been kinda lazy with posting this week, and I do plan to eventually make recipes a pretty regular part of this site, so here is a great recipe for homemade seitan. If you’re scared of gluten, read this post by Pythagorean Crank. […]

  • […] max liquid is re-liquified in an industrial sized blender and to bulk that up with texture they add vital wheat gluten. Yes, you read that right, the same stuff that can cause a laundry list of health problems […]

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