Monday, September 26, 2011


One of the facts of 21st century life that helped make me an ex-restaurant owner was having to deal with the preponderance of ridiculous food fads and media driven prohibitions that are out there. It got to where I wanted to shoot the radio or TV every time another “food-borne-illness” report came out. When tomatoes killed a guy in Texas, suddenly every sandwich in the restaurant was going out with “no tomatoes” (which didn’t really bother me much, since fresh tomatoes grown outside of their normal season are gross and tasteless.) A salmonella-in-spinach scare torpedoed sales of the most popular vegetarian offering of my concession business for over a year; though we make the filling with frozen spinach (which is blanched), and the things are cooked in a 400° oven for twenty minutes to boot, you couldn’t talk folks out of their paranoia.

In the waning days of my term as a restaurant owner, the food fad that drove me absolutely crazy—and not only persists but is picking up steam—is the anti-gluten craze. Yes, I understand that the inability to digest gluten was found to be a problem for a subset of people with painful digestive malfunctions that had eluded diagnosis until celiac disease was recognized as the cause. But in the past few years, everyone with any kind of digestive complaint seems to have hit upon gluten as the source of their problems. Gluten has become the dietary devil. The demand for gluten-free this and gluten-free that borders on hysteria.

Bread has been around for something like 30,000 years, folks. Bread and bread-like products were independently developed by hundreds of cultures once human beings figured out they liked grain and it wouldn’t poison them. A food crop with a rich history, one whose cultivation symbolized the transition of mankind from hunter/gatherers to farmers, has suddenly been labeled poison by a hysterical portion of our pop-culture. Just goes to prove the kind of havoc that a lot of people with a little information can wreak.

Of course, I really don’t care if you choose to eliminate gluten from your diet. Knock yourself out, if that’s what you think is going to solve all your health problems. Because of the mysterious connection between our minds and bodies (which is the thing upon which we should really be concentrating if we want to advance our ability to heal sickness), merely believing in a particular health regimen can make it work. Like people who bury potatoes in their back yards to make their warts go away.

But, here’s the problem engendered by our fanatically entitled society: once I’ve decided that something is bad for me, I demand that the entire market place tie itself in knots to pander to my issues. If I’m going gluten-free, the whole world needs to figure out how to make it easy for me. Subway had better cough up gluten-free bread. Pizza Hut had best figure out how to make gluten-free pizza dough. Oh and, by the way, I don’t want to have to PAY more for any of this stuff…

But I digress. The whole reason I began this piece is because a couple of days ago, I had an experience that provided me with a sort of epiphany about America’s bread issues. When I left to go on vacation back in August, I decided I would take with me some extra bread I had left over from the restaurant to feed to the birds on the beach. So I grabbed it out of the freezer, tossed it in a box and threw it into the back of the pick-up. That was a month ago.

Last Friday, I suddenly remembered that I had neglected to unpack the back of the truck when I got home. There was nothing but a bunch of tools, tarps, and camping supplies back there—things that I don’t use when I’m not camping. But…oh no. There WAS that box of bread. Ewwww.

With distinct trepidation, I opened up the back of the canopy and crawled into the truck to retrieve what I was sure was going to be a mass of smelly, powdery green stuff, unrecognizable as bread. What I found was undoubtedly worse than that. Not only was the bread not moldy, it was almost pristine. It wasn’t even stale. I probably could have unwrapped a couple of slices and made a perfectly passable sandwich. It scared the hell out of me.

So I submit to the gluten-fearing American public: It’s probably not the wheat that’s screwing up your health. It’s what we’re doing to it before we eat it that makes it poisonous. And unless you consume nothing but what you have grown, prepared and cooked yourself, you are not saving yourself from anything.


  1. I have a couple of friends with legitimate celiac disease, and the lengths they go to avoid wheat astonishes me. For them, it is a must, and I won't minimize their pain. I also wish they had easier access to gluten free products. However, in number they don't compare to the number of people I've seen complain about the lack of wheat free products -- often while eating a sandwich and talking about how they'll hurt later. I've noticed the same thing about the increased shelf life of bread, and it scares me. Just what is being done to our food?

  2. I too have a friend who has a serious celiac situation...complicated by other medical conditions, where one accidental gluten containing meal can put her out of commission for days. We go to great lengths to make sure if we do any socializing with her that involves food, that she has options that won't make her ill. I was not really aware that non-celiac people had a phobia about gluten. We can probably blame that in part on how science illiterate our society is.