The New York Times, Gluten, and Narcissism

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The New York Times published an interesting Op-Ed column titled “This Column is Gluten Free” this week.

The author, Roger Cohen, waxes opinionated-ly about the rise of gluten intolerance, celiac, and the issue of a narcissistic generation that is, apparently, looking for Attention? Sympathy? Love? I’m not sure I understood exactly where Cohen was going with all of it.

The New York Times, Gluten, and Narcissism: This Column is Gluten Free

It would be easy to, in a knee-jerk reaction kind of world, be angry and throw barbs at him. However, I think it may be important to step back and think critically about a teeny-tiny-sub-point that he makes, even if by accident.

What is causing the huge rise in intolerances, allergies, celiac, etc.? I think this is the most important point that Cohen raises in his column, however small of a sub-point it is for him. And although he makes this important sub-point, the vast majority of his column does miss the point.

The real point is that these issues: food intolerances and food allergies are real things. There’s no doubt that allergy, asthma, and celiac diagnoses – among many other things – are all up in a big way over the past decade. I do doubt it’s because people are all of the sudden much more narcissistic than, say, Don Draper and his ilk.

If Cohen wanted to, he could have drawn a much stronger line in the sand, one clearly delineating between those that have true intolerances and allergies and those that “Go as far as telling the server you allergic to butter and dairy, soy and corn,” as some food industry activists might recommend you do if the menu doesn’t fit your current faddish liking.

Perhaps these are the folks targeted in Cohen’s piece.

I hope so and here’s why:

No one knows exactly what is causing these issues, but it is terribly clear that they are real. Any person with a celiac diagnosis could tell us in painful, descriptive terms how real the disease is. Any parent who has watched their child suffer a sudden, freakish allergic reaction and rushed to the hospital as a result can tell you life threatening allergies are real.

The question isn’t whether our society has all of the sudden turned narcissistic and self-absorbed in the past couple of generations (although I find in my interactions with people like Pool Mom that there is no doubt this has occurred). The question is what in the world is causing it?

Yes, restaurants like the one in Italy that Cohen cites are within their right to turn customers away – we’ve experienced this personally because restaurants have been unable to accommodate our needs. Honestly, we’d rather be turned away than have our son wheeled out on a stretcher because the restaurant said they were equipped to accommodate his allergies when they clearly weren’t.

I agree with Cohen, let’s stop the silly faddish issues fixating on food. But let’s draw the line at calling names and pointing fingers. It does none of us any good.

Let’s instead look for the causes and the cure.

Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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