There is a rise of gluten-free jokes on social media and on TV and the people telling the jokes and laughing at the jokes appear to have no concept of what it is like to live gluten-free. The fact is most of the general public still views the diet as a fad and that many people go on the diet without any idea of what they are doing or what gluten is just because a celebrity is doing it or a friend told them to do it. The rest of us, the 1 in 133, with Celiac or Non-Celiac Gluten-Intolerance are on the diet for medical reasons. When the jokes are made we are grouped in with the target of the jokes and we don’t find them funny. It’s bad enough we have no control over our illness, but now we are being made fun of for having it. The jokes are gallows humor to us and for gallows humor to work, it needs to be told by those of us living a gluten-free life because of the medical condition, not all the Tom, Dick, and Harrys out there.
It may seem funny to throw out jokes like “I don’t want to talk about my gluten intolerance, said no one ever.” Throwing something gluten-laden at someone with Celiac may garner a laugh on TV, but it’s not a joke for us. Smashing a cake in my face is as funny as throwing peanuts at someone with a peanut allergy. So many of the jokes are laced with a mean spirit, even if they aren’t, that’s how it seems to us because we are living with a serious disease that can affect all of the systems in our body when gluten enters our body.
I do my best to be kind to the joke-tellers when the joke really bothers me and educate them on why we don’t see them as humorous. Sometimes I ignore the jokes because I don’t have the time. But it’s Celiac Awareness Month so this post is for all those joke-tellers out there using gallows humor incorrectly.
Here are some reasons why the jokes aren’t funny:
- Many of us spend decades ill and seeking answers before we are correctly diagnosed with Celiac or Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance. We may talk about our diet more than we might when we see changes. Wouldn’t you after years of poor health? You better believe I was shouting it from the rooftops when my lifetime of “clumsiness” and decades of migraines and vertigo were gone.
- Celiac and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance are very real medical conditions. They are not made up in our head. Do you joke about other chronic illnesses? Lupus? Fibromyalgia? Cancer?
- Our lives change drastically with the diagnosis. We have to read every label on our food, medication, and personal care products before buying them or using them. We have to learn the gluten derivatives so we know when we see them on the labels.
- We have to research food options when dining out. You get the entire menu to choose from. On vacation last December, we ate somewhere where I had three. There are times when we go out with people and I have no options and have to bring something with me or wait until after to eat.
- Gluten hides and it’s not just cutting out bread, pizza, and baked goods. We have to be careful of soups, sauces, dressings, seasonings, and everything our food could come in contact with when prepared in our own homes or by someone else. Buffets were once my comfort, they are now my worst nightmare.
- It is not an allergy, but it is just as serious as an allergy to us. Already with the decades of misdiagnosis we’ve suffered with gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, psychiatric, endocrine issues and more. It might not be the same as an anaphylactic reaction, but a fraction of a crumb can take us down for weeks and the internal effects last up to six months.
- We can’t kiss our significant other without knowing what they’ve eaten or made them brushed their teeth thoroughly. You can’t “kill” allergens. They can’t simply rinse with mouthwash and everything is a-okay. It does kill spontaneous intimacy because one or both has to be thinking about it so the gluten-free partner doesn’t get sick from a kiss.
- Jokes about us not being able to eat anything because nothing is left is completely off-the-mark. You think my options are limited based on what I can’t have and what you feel you could never give up, but you are wrong. I can cook delicious meals with a variety of fresh food. You know, the kinds of meals our ancestors ate before processed foods took over our diets.
- Naturally gluten-free foods are fantastic. They don’t taste horrible and just because you go on a “special diet” for medical reasons doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste. Joking about tasteless gluten-free food just reinforces a myth to people who might need to be on the diet and build fears about food. When I was working I normally took my lunch to work. Once I had to go gluten-free, I had to take my own lunch. My co-workers always commented on how good my food looked and smelled.
On the NCIS episode “Psych Out”, Dr. Samanatha Ryan (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) fires back at Dr. Rachel Cranston’s (played by Wendy Makkena) joke about lactose intolerance with “It’s a diagnosis not a fad.”
If you remember nothing else, remember it’s a diagnosis not a fad.