Rusty James did his part to capture the seriousness of the celiac epidemic the restaurant industry currently faces [“Some Restaurants Make a Fad of Gluten–Free,” Oct. 6 Xpress]. How does the industry cross the line between understanding and empathizing with the needs of its gluten-free diet clientele? Why have such restaurants not already learned how to meet the needs of this growing epidemic? From my own personal experience, I hope to provide a small slice of insight for this issue.
The restaurant industry, first of all, cannot help but capitalize in a very commercial way on gluten-free as a fad. They are an industry. They have to sell a product, and that product has to appease the current food trends. If restaurants are marketing menu items that claim to be “gluten-free” while not actually meeting these requirements, it is both the fault of the restaurant and the trendy consumers who are satisfied with the product, as the absence of gluten is not necessary for their digestive systems to function normally.
As celiac awareness is rising, so are the benefits of a gluten-free diet in the eyes of nutritionists and diet experts. Gluten-free diets are marketed as a weight-loss tool in the same manner that vegan and vegetarian diets have been. So you get a handful of people walking around claiming to be on a gluten-free diet and simply cutting bread out of their diet, when living gluten-free is, in fact, more complicated than that.
In short, with so many consumers jumping on the celiac bandwagon, it is doubtless difficult for the restaurant industry to get an accurate handle on the situation and the manner in which to treat it.
— Shani Allison