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4 Things Nobody Tells You About Food Allergies

#2. No One Has a Clue What's Going On

Over the last few decades, food allergies and intolerance have been skyrocketing like a rocket that's going up into the sky really really fast. Twenty years ago, you wouldn't find little notes on your packet of peanuts warning that the packet may contain peanuts. And even 10 years ago, you'd have as much luck finding a gluten-free aisle in a supermarket as you would an aisle devoted to weight-loss tapeworms. Sometimes people blame these changes on increased diagnosis of food issues. Other times, if they're feeling uncharitable, they blame them on spoiled First World people who don't have any other problems and have to spend all their excess worry-energy concentrating on whether they can tolerate rye bread.

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"I'm not saying I'm intolerant. I just get a bit nervous when I see a rye sandwich get on a plane, is all."

Luckily, science has been able to test this "First World problems" theory, at least to some extent. Scientists from the Mayo Clinic decided to investigate the rising incidence of celiac disease, the autoimmune condition that's the most common cause of gluten sensitivity. They got their hands on a bunch of frozen blood samples collected from recruits at an Air Force base in Minneapolis between 1948 and 1954, which were still frozen and waiting like Captain America for their chance to do good for the future.

The Mayo Clinic guys tested these biological time capsules for antibodies that indicate celiac disease, then compared them to blood samples from modern men of a similar age. They found that the antibodies weren't just more common in the present-day samples, they were almost five times more common. And since it's highly unlikely that the Air Force guys' blood gained sentience while it was frozen and decided to cut gluten out of its diet just to get attention, we can only conclude that there's a real physical reason that's making some people's intestines hate bread.

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Personally, I believe it's the angry ghosts of field mice killed by combine harvesters.

But if the increase isn't in people's heads, then what the hell is causing it? Rising celiac rates have been variously blamed on new wheat strains that came out of the Green Revolution, antibiotic use, food additives, and people just plain eating more wheat flour. But for now it's still a mystery. What is clear is that celiac disease really has arisen like a monster from a swamp, so maybe we should accept that there's a legitimate reason that other food issues have gone up as well. And maybe it's time for those stand-up comedians to find some new material.

John Rowley/Photodisc
"And then he was like, 'I can't consume phenylalanine or I'll die.' Get over yourself, dude, am I right?"

But a lot of people don't think that way. I know this because ...

#1. People Get Angry at You in Public

Not long ago, I was enjoying the merrymaking at a local hot-air balloon festival. Wishing to withstand the ennui that always creeps up at the end of balloon festivals, I went to buy an alcoholic beverage and double-checked with the guy selling novelty wine drinks to see if there was anything in them that I couldn't drink. I had to do this, because most of the drinks that people call "wine coolers" are really full of beer, a malt beverage that will ruin the balloon festival of anyone with gluten sensitivity. The guy running the stand asked why I needed to know, and I told him. As soon as the word "gluten" came out of my mouth, he started yelling about how it was a dumb question and that no wine in the history of the world had ever contained gluten. So of course I told him that his mom contained gluten, and then the balloon police were called, and they embarked on a high-speed hot-air balloon chase around the town, and I may have made some of that last part up.

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It was actually the Hot Air Balloon National Guard.

Most food-industry people are wonderful about dietary restrictions, but there's a small minority who are really angry that they have to sometimes tell people what's in their food. Like Damian Cardone, a chef who gained media attention after boasting on Facebook that he'd served high-gluten dishes to gluten-free diners at his restaurant. It turned out that he was lying and was actually employed as a waiter, but his attitude doesn't exactly inspire confidence. When you consider that for some people, accidentally consuming gluten can mean hospitalization, you can understand why shit like this might make them nervous.

Listen, food-service workers who get mad about this: I know that some restaurant patrons spend 10 minutes asking if the sushi is gluten-free and then go and put wheat-containing soy sauce on it because they don't understand what gluten is. I know that medical diets are sometimes used by people to get attention or to lose weight. It doesn't matter. It's your job to know what's in your food and to tell people about it if they ask. It doesn't matter if it's a person with allergies, or the Muslim guy wanting to know if the fondue has bacon in it, or my own personal belief system that abhors the eating of things that are yellow. You do your job, I give you a bigger tip, and everyone's happy. Except for the poor unsaved folks who are still eating yellow.

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Burn in hell, you fucking heretic.


C. Coville has a Twitter here and a Tumblr here.

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