Fashionable diseases, past and present



“Bronchitis? No, that’s such an unhip disease…Pellagra has class. 'Yeah, I got pellagra–uh huh, we brought it up from Southampton with us.”
-Lenny Bruce

In spite of his efforts I don’t think pellagra has quite caught on.

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This gluten thing has gotten out of hand. People are treating it them like carbs (gasp!), even though only a tiny fraction of the population is sensitive. I saw some asshole doctor claiming it’s the cause of all of life’s ills (the sure sign of a snake oil salesman) and that going carb free will make everybody healthy.

And then because “health food” started getting gluten labels (I especially love these on foods that have never had gluten in them, like bags of rice), people started to think that it’s a general health thing and they shouldn’t buy food that doesn’t have that label on it.

Then of course the people to prey on healthfood nuts got into the game with gluten free flours that were $17 for 16oz bag of rice flour with a bit of potato starch in it that will make terrible baked goods.


Personally, I’ve been stockpiling gluten so I can cash in when this fad ends and everybody wants to put it back in their food.


“Gluten free” is another fad, where only a small fraction of the population truly are sensitive, and everyone else either has been talked into it by, as was previously observed, snake oil salesmen, or because it’s hip.
“Consumption is so 19th century!”

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I saw bags labeled “FROZEN GLUTEN” at the Asian grocery near my house a couple of weeks ago. I thought about buying them, just as an act of cultural rebellion.


We used to buy vital gluten back in the day when you couldn’t get proper bread flour in the grocery store.


That’s why my pantry contains so many bags of MSG. Now if I could only figure out where to buy a tub of trans-fat…


Gosh, I don’t know. My wife was experiencing a lot of pain and stomach problems, and couldn’t figure it out, and her doctor suggested cutting out gluten. She did, and a couple of months later, the problems had dissipated to nothing. It’s an annoying hassle for her to try to avoid gluten, find substitutes, and go without the many yummy things that do have gluten, but it beats debilitating pain. I’m pretty sure she isn’t faking the whole thing in order to be trendy. Sorry the whole thing is crimping your alpha waves. Poor baby.

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I would love it if people could stop picking on Gluten and gluten free things as the “silly disease” meme of the day. As someone with actual Celiac disease I have to tell you, my life is about 10,000 times easier now that companies are aware of the issue and the new labeling laws are taking effect. Why is it okay to make fun of someone’s permanent life changing illness?


I’m not saying “people with allergies are poseurs!” I’m not sure how you read that into my post. I was railing against snake oil salesmen and people without the disease who are cutting gluten for “health reasons”.


If you have celiac disease then you’re certainly not jumping on a diet fad bandwagon by avoiding gluten, any more than a person with a peanut allergy is jumping on a bandwagon by avoiding nut products. The labeling laws for both gluten and nuts make a lot of sense to me and I’m glad that they’re helping you.

However, if a new diet fad comes along advising most people that peanut butter is the leading cause of obesity I’ll probably dismiss that as a silly idea.


Er, that may not be the best example. Have you looked at the nutrition label on a jar of peanut butter?

The gluten labeling is silly when it is on products that have never had gluten in them.

A gluten free label on a box of crackers: Perfectly OK.
A gluten free label on a bottle of “health” water: Stupid.


I’m sure some people with no particular problems with gluten compulsively avoid it. But there’s really no way to tell if someone is being irrational, a hypochondriac, or genuinely suffering from a condition. People who have medical reasons to avoid gluten have to endure eye-rolling and condescension from people who are fed up with what they perceive as hype and overreaction to good old wheat products that never harmed nobody. There just might be some truth to claims that industrial farmed strains of wheat are not so beneficial to health in general, and that most people would benefit from cutting back. I don’t know. I continue to wolf down pizza, bread, and all varieties of food with great relish. I do know that the backlash from people who think the whole thing is just silly can be way over the top, and insulting to someone with this problem.

I don’t know why it should be such a big deal for people who can easily ignore this phenomenon and carry on with their lives. I think runners are ridiculous and wear hideous clothes, but a lot of people seem to think running is the best thing ever, and something you really, really must do. But I really don’t care that runners are ubiquitous and there are shops all over selling the silly outfits and overpriced shoes. To each her own.

Gluten is sold by both chain grocery stores, I’ve purchased it at Kroger, and by health food stores. It’s often used in baking when a low gluten flour, say whole wheat, is used to make bread. Or so the bread bakers more expert than I tell me.

Gluten labeling isn’t really that silly. A lot of naturally gluten-free foods may be manufactured or processed in factories that also process wheat. Corn is naturally gluten free, but corn meal may be loaded with gluten depending on where it was processed.

The way it was explained to me, Celiac disease isn’t like a bad peanut allergy. Trace amounts of gluten won’t be a problem, which makes a certain amount of sense because these people apparently ate bread without dying before they discovered what the problem was.

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I’ve got cabin fever, it’s burning in my brain.

I’ve got cabin fever, it’s driving me insane.

It’s not quite to the levels of peanut allergy, but the more sensitive people have to avoid even tiny amounts - at least some of those with celiac disease will be quite violently ill for a few days from rather tiny amounts. Given that it’s an autoimmune disease (the immune system attacks cells that are in the process of breaking down gluten), the level of reaction could depend on almost anything - including earlier exposure.

Next, they’ll be telling us to have calorie free diets, too!