Gluten – a new metaphor?

“Hi, I´m a gluten.

This is what you need to know about me. Sorry, for being so special and causing all that circumstances!”

There are not many of this up-coming species yet. If you still haven´t met someone who calls him- or herself a gluten or a celiac, don´t worry: There will be more and more in a bit.

It´s not difficult to detect someone with a gluten intolerance. Therefore it´s not necessary to observe eating habits. Most gluten-people who are “suffering” since at least one year from not being able to consume a special wheat-protein can easily be recognized only by their outer appearance. They appear skinny, sometimes almost anorexic.

My very first reaction being confronted with people having a gluten-intolerance or, in more medical terms, a celiac disease was being shocked and feeling sorry for them.

It appeared to me that gluten-intolerance was a merciless disease eating those poor people up until their bones, such as we all know it from cancer treatments. I felt all the persons concerned must feel very lonley and sad about their truely unconfortable situation – until I first visited an ordinary supermarket in South Canada last year. Gluten-free products caught my attention everywhere, because they were seperated and specially advertised.

My mind started to ask more and more question about this very peculiar phenomenon which was not public in Germany yet. I began to get every information I could get from the persons concerned about the symptoms, the diagnosis, the treatment, their changing lives…. and about the origins of their disease.

What was striking right at the outset was the fact that everybody was diagnosed as a gluten almost exactly three years ago. The explanation:

“I have a gene-defect and it popped up when I was such and such age.”

– “So how did you notice that something was wrong with you?”

“I felt uncomfortable and then I went to the doctor. He tested me and gave me that diagnosis.”

– “So what is not working the way it should in your body?”

“There is protein my body that is not able to be transformed.”

– “Why?”

“I don´t really know.”

Lacking knowledge about what´s really happening was what I came across very often. And after engaging myself into the history of this disease I found out that detecting gluten-intolerance was only possible because of our now high developed technical and medical means. The procedure to find out that there is something like a celiac disease is described as a very complex one. Such an explanation, also for people far away from the medical field, should always perplex oneself.

If there is no room for giving a satisfying explanation there is always much more space for hiding information

– my perception was activied more than ever.

Coming back to Germany, after almost three months, supermarkets here also changed their offering due to people whose life-style was changed so radically after knowing being a gluten.


Life became much more costly in terms of serving the new needs of their disease. Getting the right food became first of all a hunt again. After finding something eatable the persons concerned have to chase time for preparing their prey. Life-conditions became almost the same as in and before the Industrial Revolution again.

Becoming a gluten equals becoming someone who regrets being a mass consumer. A picture of people whose bodies responded naturally to the unhealthy conditions of current times was built up. It appears their bodies are seeking for pureness and quality, because food containg wheat harms, it makes people grow in all directions, appearing oversaturated, fat and ill and unaesthetic.

A website that informs gluten-intolerant people about their disease states that there have been celiacs also in ancient times. People suffering from this illness, which is related to civilisation, are not only connected which each other in nowatimes but also through history with those essteemed Romans or Greeks.

Looking ill and anorexic is a way to seperate oneself from the rest and to make people aware of those who are suffering. This phenomenon is very familiar to what Susan Sontag pionts out regarding tuberculosis during the 17th – 20th century. Tuberculosis was a disease which became very hip for those who councted themselves as poet or authtor – someone who responds very sensitive to his or her environment and therefore gets ill because of the not-caring habits of the rest. Appearing pale, unhealthy, skinny and caughing was a concept of an outstanding person. Among poets there were also rules that “real” poets never weigh more than 100 pounds.

Maybe having gluten is something that tries to protect the concept of thinness which is contested more and more in the media. There is one tendendcy which tries to fight the other:

One that claims that being healthy means being well proportioned and another that states eating “normal” food makes you ill, so stay skinny.

But this is only one side of the whole phenomenon.

I assume that establishing a new disease as a cultural aspect is also connected to lobbyism, such as pharmacy and food economy.

Creating a new need for food habit is connected to various players within this game. Despite of providing people concernded with that so much more expensive but essential food to survive, those people are also dependend on counselors who tell them exactly how to eat what, when and from whom.

Physicians become clueless advisers and promoters as well in order to feed the drug-industry.

The method appears very simple: Civilized societies always contain subcultures which try to seperate themselves from the rest. Just give them and their life-style a new name and justification and soon you will create a whole new market which serves needs that you created.