High cost of gluten free furthers notion of fad diet

By Sara Blank ’14, Opinions & Editorials Editor

As most people who know me are aware, I have Celiac Disease. This means I must be medically gluten free. That is to say, I’m not gluten free because of a trend, or a fad, or because Lindsay Lohan is. I’ve seen pictures of my own intestines, where my crushed cilia refuse to process gluten and, in turn, are also no longer able to process lactaid.

I joke about it a lot; yet, I’m still frustrated by the judgmental looks from those who believe me to be on a “fad diet” when I ask them to accommodate my dietary needs. Don’t get me wrong — as I’ve mentioned many times in past articles, I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I have received from friends since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2010. However, those who do not know me still tend to preconceive their notions about people with gluten dietary restrictions. As a result, I have had trouble with advocating for myself, fearing tacit judgment from those who believe that if I’m not going into anaphylactic shock that I’m making everything up about what’s going on internally.

To avoid the conversation of gluten and the like, I do what I can to bring my own food to events or eat before I go places. The average college student can live relatively cheaply foodwise, hopping from pizza-providing event to mass ramen-noodle satiation. While I am no longer bitter about not being able to partake in pizza eating (for the most part), I’ve more recently started to consider the concept of buying cheap, mass-quantity food as college students. I do not have this option because gluten free food remains to be oftentimes twice as much of a cost for half the amount of food. While this is something that I can cope with by maintaining frugality elsewhere and my family being willing to supplement my food budget. I’m quite aware however that this is not a feasible option for many people who may not have the option in more expensive food brands, or because accessibility is limited. What is upsetting is that this turns an actual disease into a burden among the privileged, perpetuating the stereotype that it’s a fad for rich people to experiment with.

Unfortunately my upset with an inability to buy food cheaply is a much grander problem than I can begin to understand because I am fortunate enough that my family is able to provide me with the food that my body is able to digest, and it is horrible to think that this is not the reality for most.

The entire concept that the cheapest food is also the most unhealthy (regardless of dietary restrictions) plays into the entire Food Desert (a topic first introduced in the 90s to describe areas of low income with little accessibility to healthy foods) pandemic that is occurring throughout our country. As someone who wants to live in a large city within the coming years, I fear accessibility of the food I need to eat based on my location — not to mention what my income will be.

While Food Deserts and accessibility to food is a huge problem within our country, I want to look at the concept on a micro scale from, of course, what I have experienced personally. Should it be legal that gluten-free food can literally cost up to twice what gluten-containing food costs? A loaf of bread or a box of spaghetti sans gluten often runs twice as high, and the conversations around  why gluten free food is so much more expensive seems to be upsettingly sparse.

While there is not a lot of transparency demonstrating the reasoning behind the doubled expense of gluten free food, I feel that this is a topic that needs to be addressed. It is a small indicator of a large-scale issue that is plaguing our country by indicating that only the entitled deserve healthiness — whether it is health by choice or otherwise. By asserting the opinion that I believe that perhaps it should be illegal for gluten free food to be more expensive, I hope to further the dialogue of the problem with food expenses and Food Deserts occurring throughout America. We need to realize that dietary health, whether medical or by choice, should not be considered a privilege but rather a basic human right.

Sara Blank is a senior English major. She is the Opinion & Editorial Editor of The College Reporter. Email her at sblank@fandm.edu.

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