Today the Daily Mail ran a story that made a lot of people very angry. Nothing new about that, it is the Daily Mail after all, but it’s one of the rare occasions I got genuinely rather shouty with anger at a newspaper story. Why?
As a diagnosed coeliac, I have to take the condition very seriously. Repeated ingestion of gluten – a protein present in wheat, barley and rye – can significantly increase the risk of developing cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. This is not something to be taken lightly. So when the media publishes an article that encourages non-coeliacs to categorise themselves, through self-diagnosis, into varying levels of coeliac, it’s not only insulting, it’s dangerous.
Coeliac disease is the name for the condition in which gluten causes damage to the small intestine. Referring to those who choose to avoid gluten as part of a lifestyle choice as ‘lifestyle coeliacs’ makes as much sense as calling someone like Davina McCall, who avoids sugar, a ‘lifestyle diabetic’. Nobody does. Nobody would dare to go there.
For many, this won’t seem like a big problem, so it’s important to put it into perspective. Recently I heard a story that disturbed me. A local restaurant, who I won’t name here, has been selling a food item as gluten free, with stuffing inside that most definitely was not gluten free. A woman narrowly escaped being made very poorly as a result and when she challenged the manager about it, the lady was told they understood coeliac disease to be a ‘lifestyle choice’. In other words, despite the EU regulations about allergen labelling, their belief that gluten free meant ‘I’m on a health kick’ completely overrode the importance of accurate allergen labelling.
This is the inherent danger in labelling every person who avoids gluten a coeliac. Those in whom we are forced to place our trust every time we eat outside our homes stop taking the condition seriously. They begin thinking it’s okay to use the same butter, knife, chopping board, toaster, for genuine coeliacs and those who are simply choosing to avoid it, and we’re the ones who pay the price. If we don’t fight back against erroneous reports and those that encourage sloppy food care, we tell everyone that it’s okay to stop taking the precautions that might one day save our lives.