Why are Women the Gluten-Free Gladiators?
This is a question I’ve asked myself many times while researching or calling in products, or scanning a list of ingredients at my grocer’s.
I interview high-profile chefs weekly for my Serious Eats column, and there I have to conscientiously focus on bringing more women into the mix; there are plenty of incredible female chefs out there, but the majority of the chefs owning and running high-end kitchens in New York are still men.
Yet when I scan my mental list of bloggers, writers, editors, developers, PR representatives and producers in the gluten-free field, the steep majority of them are women: editors Silvana Nardone and Alice Woodward at Easy Eats and Living Without; writers/bloggers/developers Amy Green, Nicole Hunn, Shauna James Ahern, and Karina Allrich; producers Pamela’s Products, Jules Gluten-Free, Better Batter… I could show you my address book and guarantee that at least 85% of those in the gluten-free world are women.
As someone who hasn’t eaten gluten-containing products in almost 20 years (minus an incredibly unhealthy and disastrous period in college), I’m mesmerized by how grandly the food world has changed, and the gluten-free food world has developed from a few ingredients and progressive health food stores to the insane trend – yes, trend – that it is now. This community basically made me a food writer, as other ambitions melted away when people around me wanted to know more about how to eat on an adapted diet.
I, personally, am probably not the best advocate for this way of eating.
When someone mentions to me that they’re cutting out out gluten and expects me to be excited and supportive, my response is always, “why?” I have a very specific illness that makes gluten dangerous to my health when eaten with any sort of regularity. It doesn’t stop with gluten, and two-thirds of my life I’ve spent having the same conversation with waiters, relatives and new friends about what I can’t and why I can’t eat certain things. Those with Celiac Disease have it even worse than I, and in support of them (and for many other reasons) I think those who can digest gluten should digest gluten. Yes, eating less simple carbohydrates and more healthy vegetables and proteins in general is better for everyone, and even more so for those with health conditions. But if I could enjoy the crackle of a crusty piece of bread or a slice of pizza, you can be damned sure I would.
I also don’t expect any special treatment because of what I cannot eat. A cousin of mine, who has a very dangerous allergy to milk, expressed the same understanding recently when we were at a family wedding and both just assumed we wouldn’t be able to eat. When I go to a restaurant, my question is always “what can I have on this menu that takes no or very little substitution?” If there’s nothing, then I just don’t eat. It’s not the end of the world. We eat out for entertainment, not necessity.
While out to lunch with a gluten-free comrade I asked simply for “no bread” to go along with my soup and she followed with, “We can’t eat gluten”. “What is the purpose in this?” I wondered then and still do now*. Why vocalize an allergy, intolerance or preference if it’s not needed?
So, no, I am not the best spokesperson for this way of eating.
So I’m curious about those women who really do speak out about gluten, and why they’ve chosen to take it so far. Literally, about those who are so much better at it than me.
Here are some thoughts that come to mind:
- Moms are still the majority of caregivers in many homes, and as allergies start in childhood and are very hard to monitor, it’s often parents who have to be extremely vigilant.
- Blogging became an easily-savy way to get on the web, and so “stay-at-home” moms have an outlet to express themselves and connect with others to share information and opinions. Blog servers also became visually fun rather quickly, and as it’s easy to make a page look nice with a little creativity, which is obviously fun!
- Telecommuting became popular with the recession, and many are out of work. In a time when we’re ever-reliant on the internet, more sites can get traffic and blogging can be a lucrative way to make money from home.
- Our interest in food in general has risen dramatically with food television and celebrity chefs, and the word “foodie” now welcomes people to take what they eat and how they cook/bake at home more seriously.
- We’re turning away (I hope) from manufactured food and towards local, sustainable, organic foods, which generally brings attention to what what we put in our bodies in general.
- Women still retain most of the purchasing power in the home.
- Celiac Disease is a real thing, and dangerous, and should be taken seriously. For those with serious problems, why not make more delicious things accessible?
- Women continue to make the climb in business equality, and small businesses are creating more jobs in this country (percentage-wise) than corporations (as far as I hear on NPR and read in the Times). Starting a business about something rather domestic that someone is passionate about and is a lucrative field right now may seem more feasible and exciting to women than the hard bottom line of income that many men seek (I know that reads as extremely sexist – please remember I’m throwing out questions here, not answers).
I could keep going, but I’m more curious as why are women so forcefully making their careers and social circles about eating without gluten? Why has this gluten-free world we live been so ardently created in such a short time? What has motivated the women who have taken this to the next level?
*This next part has been added in after the initial post.
One thing I love about the vocal gluten-free community is that we have many reasons for eating the way we do, and the majority of them are focused on living healthier, more fulfilling lives. I like to be honest about my own personal journey with food allergies and encourage others to do the same, as no one gets to determine the “right way” to eat or express themselves to another.
What I’d love your opinion on is why is the gluten-free way of eating such a passionate arena that people change their careers, go back to school to learn more about it, start blogs and magazines, open bakeries or flour-blend companies, and spend much time at social events to share information? Why a shift not only in diet, but in business?
Thanks for who you are and what you do.
* I had been told exactly what was in the soup by just saying “I have some serious allergies, can you tell me what is in it?” So the bread was what came with it and an added thing.