Friday, 6 July 2012

Gluten-free haters #1: the Pity Parader

Supportive friends and family are heaven sent when you switch to a gluten-free diet. But unfortunately there are people out there who make life much more difficult, whether they mean to or not. We've all met them: barbed comments about being fussy, scientific insights into how your condition doesn't really exist, or the waitress who thinks you've invented an intolerance just to make her day a little bit worse.

Don't be discouraged. Here are my tips on how to understand, and cope with, the haters. This week, we deal with the Pity Parader, the kind of hater who loves to share their oh-so-well-researched thoughts on why exactly it sucks to be a coeliac. Here's a closer look:

Hater #1: the Pity Parader

Only recently, someone exploded in condescension when I politely turned down their offer of a flapjack. How dreadful for me to have to follow a special diet, they wailed, when "all gluten-free desserts are so terrible!" Since a sweaty store-bought flapjack is hardly something that lends itself to fevered dreams, I was a bit startled. 

I can forgive someone for not knowing that with a bit of baking knack, you can make gluten-free cakes that blow the wheaty ones right out of the water. I didn't know this myself until I starting experiments in baking. But any sweeping statement that disses naturally gluten-free dessert wonders like raspberry pavlova, creme brulee and chocolate mousse needs examination.

Original image by Polylerus, via Wikimedia Commons
My problem with this hater is not that they don't understand what a gluten-free diet is (plenty of people don't know until they need to). It's the fact that they try to persuade you of how awful your life must be. With this particular charmer, I shrugged and said, "It's fine once you know how to bake and where to find great food."

"Oh noooo," he breathed. "I've worked in a restaurant. I tried the gluten-free desserts and they were all. So. Bad!"

It's hard to have a reasonable discussion with this kind of hater because they're coming from a very passionate place. Maybe they think they're showing empathy by telling you gluten-free diets are all salads and cardboard-textured bread. Or maybe their life happiness is genuinely very strongly invested in Warbuton's sliced bread. If you explain that you're happy with your diet, they'll insist you shouldn't be ("But gluten's in EVERYTHING!"). Frankly, they're amazed we haven't all jumped off a cliff at the prospect of never touching a Krispy Kreme again ("I'd just DIE if I couldn't have donuts!"). Much of the time, they'll protest deep knowledge and insight from the one time they tried some bad quality gluten-free pasta (or in this case, working somewhere that served a crap fruit salad).

Most gluten-free dieters have heard plenty of this rubbish before and have the thick skin to ignore the Pity Parader. But this breed of hater is damaging to newly diagnosed coeliacs, who are struggling with the diet switchover and might abhor drawing attention to their diet.

How to cope with this one? Distance. Plenty of people who have tried my cakes are converts to the wonders of gluten-free baking, but some people just aren't worth a bun.

They say: "It must be so awful to be gluten-free!"
You say: "The worst part is conversations like this."

Next time: the evolutionary theorist.

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