Did anyone find this Roger Cohen op-ed about gluten free as ignorant and as irritiating as I did?

In case you missed it, the article is here

I eat pasta until if flies out my ears, so I have no gluten-intolerance whatsoever, and neither does anyone in family. But I struggle to understand why anyone claiming to be a serious thinker would natter on like this in such insulting fashion about other people’s healthy food choices. Even if there are some people neurotically avoiding “gluten” without personal cause, of all the ways to be a neurotic eater, going gluten free is probably one of the least damaging!

As for the lone restaurant in Venice mentioned in the article that according to Cohen’s lone source refuses to serve gluten free dishes – hello? Natives in Venice generally don’t eat pasta anyway. They eat risotto and polenta. Trying to look like a sophisticate, Cohen ends up looking like an ignoramus (and not much of a dinner companion either).

I do know plenty of food bores and food boors (well, I know a few, not a lot). But who is the bore/boor here? Even in Italy, “la mamma” and also “dottore” know that you don’t shove gluten products down anybody’s mouth if it is going to upset their stomachs. Italians are geniuses when it comes to making everybody happy leaving the dinner table, and “la mamma” takes good care of everybody’s digestive tract. There is different food for different people.

Is it fair to say that people who can’t even tolerate or have sympathy for other people’s stomach problems probably shouldn’t be writing columns about government, war, justice, etc? Something defective there in understanding other people and a willingness to live and let live.

The article didn’t rile me as it did you.

But I’ve also spent many years working with food and the public. So I’ve seen the disease d’jour epidemic grow. I’ve related gluten concerns to the kitchen just to return to the table and witness the “celiac” eating bread - “oh, I can have a little every now and then.” Um, no unless you are an idiot.

I have great sympathy for those with true food intolerance’s. Those who claim issues that they have no understanding of create serious problems for people who truly do. To keep a safe gluten free area in a commercial kitchen is expensive. It’s not as simple as just using a GF loaf of bread for a sandwich. Restaurateurs who repeatedly witness these bozo’s claim of GF and then ingest something that isn’t eventually have to wonder if the aggravation is worth it.


I don’t find this article to be irritating at all. In fact, I think it targets specifically the problem.

There are of course people who are truly suffering from Crohn’s disease, but many people just aren’t. The obsessive demand is overreaching and tiring. His example of ‘One young woman wrote: “I can’t eat shellfish but I do eat lobster.”’ illustrates a perfect case.

Yes, but that is not what Roger Cohen did. He wasn’t being intolerant of people’s health problem. I believe he was very clear in his criticisms of people who don’t need to be on gluten-free. They only think they need to be on gluten-free.

This to be is the same criticism of people who want to drive in a SUV when in fact they don’t need to. Sure, it is their money, and it is their choice, but there is definitely a raise of people SUV for no good reason. It isn’t because our roads suddenly broken down and much more difficult to drive.

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There is a big difference to the lives of other people who drive an SUV than that of people who eat gluten-free. And I simply disagree that Cohen wasn’t expressing a busybody intolerance of other people’s stomach issues, where he is no position to make the call for somebody else. He really had to reach to quote one person about their seafood eating habits to hang a whole screed against people who feel better eating gluten free.

A great many people discover as adults they live and thrive not doing what “mamma” or “papa” do, or following the crowd. Cohen is upset about something and wants to put his deflected anger on to people who don’t follow his rules and traditional ways. Plus, what a lazy column! In a world blowing up with real problems, including food problems, he spends his time spreading misinformation about this?


I can’t get upset about people who simply mischaracterize their food intolerances or try to sound scientific about something that is subjective – especially when most everybody else is going to deny their subjective analysis has any validity. A lot of people don’t feel well if they eat what is, for them, too much of a certain food, whether that is milk or gluten or even vegetables or fish (or meat). People are encouraged to medicalize or pseudo-science everything, as if science were the only way at arriving at true knowledge about oneself. That scientization of all thinking and conversation is, in my view, a worse problem for us all than a few people wanting to eat gluten-free because it makes them feel better, absent a doctor’s diagnosis.

The expense of running a gluten-free area of a kitchen is a business choice, just like offering vegetarian options or low-fat options or Kosher. I’ve got no problem with the chef who doesn’t cater to everybody. I’ve got one who claims he or she will and then turns against customers who want to freely choose that option.


He did say “But of course the gluten-free trend is not just about multiplying celiac sufferers. People decide gluten must be bad for them because they see shelves full of gluten-free food at supermarkets. …”

The problem is that many people claim to be allergic to something that they are not. Basically, there is no medical reason behind. However, they make a fuss and claim they are allergic to it. Cohen’s example for that woman who claimed to be allergic to shellfish but eat lobster is on the spot. Nowday many restaurants do not even take it seriously when a customer claim they are allergic to something. This is like the boy who cries wolf. The problem is that it isn’t THAT boy who suffers the consequence. The problem is that another boy (the true allergic person) suffers for it.

P.S.: I just read meatn3 post. Yes, that is exactly my concern too. When you have less than 1% of people who truly need to gluten-free (who will seriously suffer if they eat even trace of gluten) and then have 30% of the people who “feel” they need to be gluten-free sparsely, then it is a problem. Yes, they only go on gluten-free meal from time to time, not 365 days a year. That alone should tell your about their medical need. That is like someone who want a peanut-free meal once in a week, and on that special day, this person decides to be peanut-allergic. By the way, this is worse than the SUV example

Well, something is always more important than something else. Sure, the world has a lot of real problems, but it does not mean this is an lazy column. Otherwise, we can shut down every Martha Stewart, Food Network, American Test Kitchen…etc.

Vegetarian and low-fat options can easily be offered with out the expense of separate stations, cooking equipment, cooler space, training for staff. If a place is Kosher then the entire restaurant will be Kosher not just a section.

There are a tremendous number of people claiming issues and demanding accommodation who are simply assuming gluten = bad. A major part of my work day was assisting people on learning to live, cook and eat with a GF diet. Over the years more and more people were insisting they were gluten intolerant. After considerable counseling it often was revealed that they either saw the proliferation of GF products and made the equation that Gluten must be bad OR they thought it was a weight loss plan.

I agree that one can be aware of their bodies response to ingredients and make better choices without having a medical diagnosis. But claiming a disease and expecting the world to jump through hoops for you is wrong. When food professionals see those same people sneak a crouton or order waffles it can create an atmosphere of skepticism. And that increases the danger for those who do have serious medical issues.


“makes them feel better”
this one is always good for a chuckle. people who go gluten free, stop eating all the junk food, fast food, empty calories, cookies, donuts, sweets, etc - and are thenceforth amazed at how much better they feel…hmmmm.

I don’t know. This column doesn’t bother me or strike me as lazy. I can put you in touch with a former roommate who was “gluten free except pasta” if you need another quote.

Likewise, I try to educate people who claim “food poisoning” every time they have a bit of indigestion after eating a giant greasy late night take out meal. The implications for a restaurant of customers saying their food made someone sick can be real.


The quote you pulled seems more to prove my point that his is a presumptiously ignorant and insulting column. I don’t think Roger Cohen knows why people eat gluten free food. I think he feels too much above them to ask them. Why didn’t he ask one person? He clams to be a journalist of some sort. A reporter couldn’t get away with it, but a fathead columnist can.

As for the other point, I find Martha Stewart less pretentious – and a lot more careful and less prejudiced in her observations. Moreover, she doesn’t spend the rest of her days lecturing people about how to achieve world peace.

I think it is Cohen who is need of more sources, not me.

A restaurant in Venice that (allegedly) puts a sign in the door expressing anger at gluten free requests – instead of welcoming visitors and customers inside to sample the traditionally gluten free cuisine of Venice, historically centered on polenta and rice dishes – is engaging in trendy polemics, not educating anybody. It’s not a Venetian restaurant whose future I care about (if it exists). They probably serve pizza!

Just posting this link in case people doubt me that Cohen is painting a false picture of Italy in saying that “la Mamma” cooks up food and you eat it, and no fussing about “gluten free” and that is supposedly a more wholesome culture.

Italy in fact has more laws mandating the availability of gluten-free products than most other 1st world places, and all children are tested for celiac disease, and all parents and food servers recognize the issue and take it seriously. As this article (by a celiac sufferer who traveled to Italy) points out, the fact that others who may not have an official diagnosis choose to eat gluten free has meant a lot more products available in the US and travelers to other countries beyond italy for those who do.

The “Italy” that Cohen portrays in his article is a silly fiction, not a piece of journalism, and the fake sophistication impled is really rube tourist cliches about Italy and “mamma” and pasta.

Well, a reporter cannot have an opinion, but a columnist is different. I really don’t think it is fair to call him a fathead.

One last thing… there are people who really need to be gluten free. For them, it is like people who are allergic to peanuts. These people have to be gluten free at all time. This is not at all the same as people who occasionally want to eat gluten-free for one meal out of a week because they want to feel good. Completely different.

I guess we have to agree to disagree on this issue because I don’t think Roger Cohen stepped over the time. You ask us if we think it is an offensive column, and I don’t find it so.

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Great analogy.

I didn’t read the article as Italian oriented. My take was the sign in the Italian restaurant was the inspiration for the column.

From an U.S. perspective I think he was on the money.

I’ve reread the article several times. I am at a loss as to why you find it so offensive.

Actually I think he hits the nail on the head. This has NOTHING to do with celiacs. Watching my former boss and his wife pick through the appetizers at a trend-mex joint in fear of gluten & giving staff the inquisition because some diet guru convinced him it was the bane of his existence (a lie) and the racks of GF products at my corner store - along with all the labeling of things that would never have had gluten to begin. GF water? it is like watching a bad fashion trend. I don’t begrudge anybody their choice of diet but there is nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade.


People should be allowed to have whatever weird food preferences they want. It’s a free country.

I don’t understand why people get so offended because someone doesn’t want to eat gluten or someone else avoids carbs. Overall, people eat more healthily than they used to, which is a good thing.

I guess I’m with calumin on this one. I’m generally offended by people’s criticisms of other people’s food choices and maybe especially those who eye-roll at “picky” eaters. It’s not personal to me – in the sense that no one would call me a “picky” eater. I’m just think it is ugly manners to comment at all on other people’s food choices unless they are about to eat poison.

The most I can give Cohen is to read his column as a bungled attempt to point out to people that eating invented gluten-free substitute foods as a health strategy is actually to get yourself further away from wholesome natural eating, especially if your food anxieties are being exploited by a marketing machine that wants to sell you high-priced food. Most people’s natural environment contains an abundance of naturally gluten free food (including in Venice and throughout Italy) so why not reach for that first?

But rather than helpfully clearing up some understandable confusion about what healthy eating might be for all of us, Cohen puts himself in a position to mock – as if Cohen were not a confused person himself. Unfortunately, he has a long record of putting on display the fact he is confused about quite a number of things, some of them with far more deadly consequences to millions than the very few people who mistakenly want to eat gluten-free pasta in Venice.

Well, water consumption is more important than other consumption. So it is important to buy some gluten free water and drink it from time to time. (I mean who can spend the money and drink it all the time, right?)

Introducing Clara Gluten Free Water:

I love its facebook page on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Stephen Harper is Canada’s Prime Minister today but just like his economic policies, the picture below is a lie. What you are viewing is mass-produced, undrinkable water designed for people without lifestyle oriented goals. If you are a Canadian voting today, make sure you vote along your lifestyle guidelines - believe in Clara, believe in Green.

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