Dude note: The following article, written by yours truly, appears (slightly modified) in the latest edition of Simply Gluten-Free Magazine. It’s a good magazine run by good people.
When I was in grade school, I was a prime target for bullies. I was small. I was extremely introverted. I had some nervous tics. And I had long hair. Like longer than every other boy in my school. So grade school was hell for me. My “best friend” would be nice to me when it was just the two of us. But once we got into school, he would join the others in making fun of me. Mike Perry…I wish I could have a few words with you now!
I remember in fifth grade, some sixth graders stole my bag as I was walking home from school. I foolishly chased them around trying to get the bag back, just what they wanted. When I got home, I told my mom and without delay she got in the car, sped off and I never saw her again.
She tracked the boys down and got my bag back. I’d like to think she gave them a good beat down but I’m sure she at least said her piece.
Thankfully…in middle school, I found my groove, found some confidence, found true friends and MOST of the bullying stopped. But truthfully, those early days scarred me for life and I still carry it with me.
So bullying sucks. And it can be deadly as well. Bullying victims are between 2 and 9 times more likely to commit suicide than non-victims. A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
You may be asking yourself how bullying relates to be being gluten-free. Well…sadly…food bullying is prevalent. About one-third of kids with food allergies report they have been bullied because of their allergies. Just a wonderful society we live in, isn’t it? And it begs the question I’d like to ask all food bullies: WHY DO YOU CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE EAT? WHAT SINGLE EFFECT DOES IT HAVE ON YOUR LIFE? (Dude note: Yes, I’m screaming.)
I get emails all the time from parents who have young children with celiac disease. They pour out their souls out to me, telling me what a hard time their kids are having at school just trying to fit in while being gluten free.
They tell me how other kids put bread and other gluten filled items on their plate because they think it’s funny. They tell me how the school will not help protect their children during lunch hours. They tell me how their children come home from school crying. These are children we are talking about.
And why does this happen? Let’s talk about two big incidents that occurred within our amazing gluten-free community.
1. The Disney Channel
Back in 2013, the Disney Channel had a show called Jessie. It was your basic “nothing is funny but if we add a laugh track, maybe nobody will notice” TV show. I mean…it was just awful. In this one episode, which was online first and set to air on TV in three days, there was one character, a young boy, who was your standard Disney show nerd that they typecast: thin, wears a bowtie, has glasses, etc. Anyway…when the butler (because of course) went to serve him pancakes, he asked if they were gluten-free, which of course they were not? And naturally, hilarity ensued as they made him out to be a weak character. Then another character, a young girl, threw the pancakes at him as he yelled “Gluten. Gluten.” So having him whine about it makes her look like a bully and him look like a total wimp. Why is this is funny?
Here is one parent’s email to me:
Their condition is real, and their feelings are real. They are ostracized for a condition for which they did not ask, and because of which they will spend their entire lives having to make exceptions and special requests, all to keep them healthy and safe. They will often feel excluded or different, because they have to be to avoid serious illness.
Yet Disney gave children permission, and an example, to further isolate my children and others like them because of their medical conditions.
So I wrote a blog post about it and started a petition on Change.org. Within 24 hours, it garnered over 10,000 signatures, the story was picked up by all of the major media outlets and Disney pulled the episode before it aired. It was a true victory for our community. Of course, not everyone was pleased. For the next week, I got brutally slammed by hundreds of people over all my social media channels. And I guarantee you, the people who slammed me? Those are the bullies.
2. Party City
Party City ran an ad recently to promote one of their products, though you would never know it. Here’s how the commercial went down:
– Person 1 walks in and comments to person 2 what an amazing spread of food she has.
– Person 1 points to a small dish of unappetizing crackers on the side and asks what they are.
– Person 2 says “those are some gluten-free options.”
– Person 1 asks “Do we even know people that are like that?”
– Person 2 answers with “Tina?!”.
Dude note: By the tone of her voice, they are inferring that Tina is annoying and high-demand. No disease or anything. Just annoying because she eats gluten-free.
– Person 2 responds “Oh gross…yeah.”
Again…our community went into overdrive and the ad was pulled.
But the question remains. Why are we a target of food bullying? I mean The Today Show called celiac the “trendy new disease”. Jimmy Fallon portrayed us as losers. Joy Behar said we were irritating. Hoda Kotb called us picky eaters.
We eat gluten-free because we HAVE to. It is our medical treatment. Yet it continues to be a running joke in the media. And that trickles down to people who are consuming the media and the bullying proceeds.
So what’s the answer? I wish I knew. It seems our country has broken down into two sectors: those who have true empathy and those who think we should all just suck it up. And that divide seems to be getting stronger and stronger.
While I may not have an answer, I do have a piece of advice for those who are on the “suck it up” side:
I know you really don’t care about anybody but yourself. And I know you like to belittle people who you feel are beneath you. Maybe you were bullied as a child and the cycle is hard to break. Or maybe you’re just a contemptible wanker who gets his/her kicks out of making others feel bad. Whatever the reason, please understand that we what eat has NOTHING to do with you. Take that negative energy that is consuming you and put it toward something good. The world is a mess. Let’s work on being part of the solution and not part of the problem. Let’s make this a better place to live.