Can We Just Stop the Food Bullying?!

stop food bullying

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.

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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.

Just kidding.

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:

For my kids, this is real. They have had friends make fun of their food, been disinvited to parties because of their diet. They have been made to sit alone, have had waitstaff roll their eyes and snidely comment about their requests to make their food safe for them to eat. They have watched others, sometimes strangers and sometimes not, act as if their requests are somehow just a trend, just a request of an overanxious parent or a spoiled and coddled child.

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.

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23 thoughts on “Can We Just Stop the Food Bullying?!”

  1. Thank you for all your articles they are excellent! I to have celiac disease and ended up opening a GlutenZeroBakery, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I share all your articles on my Facebook/GlutenZeroBakery.

    Thank you, Clarissa

  2. I’ll tell you the answer and it’s not pretty. Big Food industry sees the hand writing on the wall. More and more people are beginning to see the problems with wheat and other foods and their health. There’s a great documentary on Netflix called “What’s With Wheat.” Check it out. The Big Food industry is afraid people will change their diets to real food. Another case of following the money!

    1. I agree with this. I think we’re stuck in a state of not wanting to admit we chose a toxic plant as a staple food and fueled an entire industry on it.

      But I think the real weakness would be if we weren’t ingenious enough to make a clean break with toxic foods. Surely if science is such a panacea, it contains the answer to how to live without wheat?

    2. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that gluten or wheat are bad for anyone, except those with celiac and gluten sensitivity. We shouldn’t project our illness onto everyone else.

  3. Hi Gluten Dude,
    Little off topic but I often search celiac news and just read article 8th Grader’s Celiac Warning :Gluten in Cheerios. By Micheal Jacobs. Thought you might enjoy reading it.

  4. 100% agreement. What I found to be really sick about bullying, in middle and high school, once we had a fight, the bully often tried to become my friend. It made me want to hurl. I took one girl up on it. She showed me her horse (she lived on a farm I guess), and insisted I ride it without any experience. The horse tried to buck me and she laughed. I only thank my genetics that I instinctively hung on and wasn’t injured.

    And you’re on the money about schools too. OK, this was a long time ago in the 80s, but the teachers were totally hands off about it. Fighting meant you both got suspended, creating a false equivalence. One day a girl I didn’t even know picked a fight with me during lunch and only I got suspended because I guess I was the problem one who was always being bullied. I missed a week of lacrosse practice. To this day, I never even found out the other girl’s name.

    I’m a TCK, a third culture kid, I had an accent for most of that time. While my teachers are teaching me in social studies about diversity and the American melting pot, I’m being pounded at lunch time. Somehow I managed to value diversity anyway, but it’s a miracle.

    It might not be politically correct, but when people I know ask me about it, I tell them to tell their kids to fight back. Avoiding a fight doesn’t work and who gets in trouble is random anyway. Being viewed as tough-enough is sadly more important. I rationalize that, the same way I rationalize the fact that, I have to eat meat to be healthy. I was once a vegan/vegetarian. Yeah I feel guilty now, but I didn’t ask God to make life like this. I can only try to live the best life I can. More bullying in the vegan community about that too… can’t leave paradise.. it’s not done.

    1. I read a review. He called us “gluten douches”. So no, I don’t think I will watch it.
      Maybe you should let him and Netflix know what you thought about it.

      1. For Kevin James to call anyone a douche is a joke. He acts like a stupid buffoon for cheap laughs. That is the very definition of a douche

  5. I don’t know about the East Coast, but in the West, it’s especially bad. People from LA and Hollywood are the biggest appropriators of the gluten-free diet and also its biggest detractors. Where I live, we have a large number of transplants from southern California and they are the most openly caustic toward celiacs and the GFD. Most people who are native to my city, from the East Coast, or the South either don’t know what gluten free is or don’t honestly care what celiacs eat. Part of it is simply ignorance. Part of it is, however, an opportunity to scapegoat someone else. We’re an easy target, as most of the medical field and society at large believes that we’re hypochondriacs. Thus, we “deserve to be picked on.” The only thing that I believe will stop this crap will be a celiac comic or someone with coglioni to start ridiculing Hollywoodites and other richie-rich SoCal-ites as being the narcissistic pricks that they are.

  6. My standard response to the food bullies is: “I tell you what, I’ll lock you and me in a room and I’ll eat some gluten and let’s see if you still think I’m making this up later!!”. That usually shuts them up! 🙂

  7. Apparently we can’t stop it. But it doesn’t matter. We can handle it… because we’re Superman. From my perspective – gluten is like kryptonite – it gives humans energy and capabilities, but from us it takes it away and can kill us in a large enough amount. And malabsorption and malnutrition – they’re like Lex Luthor and Brainiac – they can take the toughest and healthiest out there and make them turn weak and sick in no time. People don’t feel threatened by them because most never had to face them, while we fight the two every day. Since we look like Clark Kent to people, no wonder they throw gluten at as, and at times even behind our back. And as we get weakened when exposed to gluten, we’re nothing short of Kal-El. And on planet Earth this means – we’re Superman. Fallon, Behar, Kotb, Jones and the likes stand no chance against us without gluten by their side – because they’re just human sidekicks to our true enemies. Whoever has a gluten related disorder is like Superman. Of course, leave it to people to consider themselves to be Super-anything, but only a selected few lead the lifestyle that goes along with it. It’s hard being Superman. It’s hard being parents to Superman, it’s hard being partners, family, friends and supporters to Superman – but that just means you’re either a very decent, good, beautiful and smart person or a member of the JLA. There. I rest my case.

  8. I have celiac. But I honestly think this kind reaction is very counter-productive. We can’t get too uptight about the illness when it comes to humor. Our efforts are much better spent focusing on practical things that will impact our ability to get well (real gluten free labeling laws, more honesty in the food supply system, holding organizations that make money certifying products more accountable, etc). Going after peoples’ shows and comedy will just turn the public more against us and make the public less sympathetic to the situation. I saw both things in question, and neither were intended to bully, they were meant to make people laugh. We can laugh at this stuff too. Let’s not turn into professional victims.

      1. Gluten Dude, that isn’t what I said at all. If we can’t have a conversation about this, without people putting words in the mouth of those who hold a different position, than it isn’t a discussion at all. A joke on a TV show isnt bullying. And equating them, is going to blur the line so that when real bullying takes place, the response is ‘toughen up’. I don’t want kids to be bullied. At the same time, I don’t want them to shrink from the world anytime someone tells a joke about their condition that wasn’t intended to cause harm. There is an important difference there.

        I have celiac too. My opinion on this is just as valid as your’s. I also have a condition called Crohn’s disease. I think both communities, have grown too sensitive to humor. People need to laugh. Take that away from them, blame them when they find something about the gluten craze or celiac funny, and you are only going to breed resentment. We can’t bread. There are jokes in that. And we should be able to laugh about it.

        1. Also, it is important for us to be able to laugh as well. It is therapeutic and healthy. If you want to get through these kinds of illnesses, a positive outlook is much healthier in my view than one that is constantly critical of the culture or media. If you are going to be critical, your time is much better spent attacking the things that make us sick (food suppliers who still don’t adhere to the Gluten Free labeling requirements, doctors who are not up-to-date on the latest celiac research, and drug companies that don’t care if your medication has gluten or not). Those are the things that cause physical harm to us. Complaining about a joke, isn’t going to solve anything substantive for us. There are real issues that need to be dealt with. I don’t think movies and shows are where the problems are for celiac patients, and I think we need humor. We need to be able to make fun of ourselves, and we need to be able to be just like everyone else and occasionally be on the receiving end of a joke. Busting chops isn’t bullying.

        2. I’ve heard that Crohn’s is brutal…sorry to hear. My blog is all about bringing humor to our disease. But it’s also about bringing awareness and truth. The fact is that celiac is one of the most misunderstood diseases out there. And it’s because of the media portrayal. And that leads to less people getting diagnosed and more people being sick. Make fun of me? Go for it. Make fun of the disease? No.

          1. I think we will just have to agree to disagree on this point. I think there is a lot of misinformation out there, I don’t think it is because people are telling too many gluten jokes. I think it is because gluten free is a fad, and when there are fads, people sell bad products, put out bad information on blogs and even TV. My view is the humor is good. We have to be able to laugh at the disease and we shouldn’t ruin other peoples’ laughter because we are overly sensitive. All that will do is create resentment. We are much better off going after the concrete things that create problems for celiac disease. The way I look at it, there is a much bigger issue with things like foods still being labeled Gluten Free that are not, with people putting out bad information as part of the gluten free fad, and a general lack of funding for research, resources, etc. I’d much rather see people put their energy into working to create resources for people with celiac disease. A joke doesn’t bother me. Struggling to get gluten free foods at my local supermarket does. I want to live in a world where I have easy access to gluten free food, and don’t have to buy gluten free stuff placed right next to the bakery section. I don’t want to live in a world where people get nervous about telling gluten or celiac jokes.

  9. This propaganda is obviously coming from the wheat industry. Advertising messages make their way into content of shows, news, and movies. Ads don’t just come in the form of an actual ad ever heard of ” product placement”. Gluten free obviously cuts into a huge profit margin and rather than capitalize and begin to create gf products these companies have decided to create misinformation about the real ramifications of gluten allergy and bully an entire sector of our citizenry. While sure you can’t see an immediate reaction like peanuts or shellfish, gluten damages the intestines and can cause cancerous cell changes over time. Aside from feeling bloated lethargic and I’ll like you have a bad hangover. It is also an illness which is difficult to keep private because people get offended when you reject their food without adequate explanation. I’ve been at office parties where upon rejecting cake I’m pressured to explain why if I tell them I’m then subjected to group conversation about my bowels and how exactly it effects me. Followed by snickering and subsequent non stop Inqueries. Just shows you the character of people around you. Those bully follower narcissists easily influenced by group think and propaganda and believe whatever corporations and authority tell them. Sad. Oh and aren’t they usually fat, diabetic, processed food eating unhealthy…often smokers…who the rest of us must pick up the added premiums on their added health costs. Instead of that gf are taking responsibility for self.care and healthy lifestyle….that makes us pussies how exactly?

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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