In a Second City skit, a young man sits on a chair and the young woman sitting next to him confides, “I’m gluten intolerant.”
“What does that mean?” queries the young man.
“I’m a member of the upper middle class,” she explains.
The audience guffawed, especially me because I have become increasingly amused at the supermarket when I observe all the “gluten free” signs below foods that naturally do not have gluten. Gluten comes from wheat, so why would olives be affected? Or peanut butter? Or mayonnaise?
Do all these gluten free labels appear because the supermarket managers and food manufacturers don’t know or are they merely playing their customers – cashing in on the latest food trend? It is true that those with celiac disease must avoid gluten in order to maintain good health. However, only 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, so that doesn’t explain the proliferation of “gluten free” foods on the shelves.
That reminds me of when, a few decades ago, shoppers began avoiding caffeine. What ensued was an explosion of “Caffeine Free” labels. I was regularly tickled by the “caffeine free” label on 7-Up cans. Of course, they were caffeine free because caffeine is found in colas not 7-Ups. These tactics make me wonder, “Do they think we shoppers are that naive?” And although these erroneous gluten-free signs make me chuckle, they also offend me because they are assuming customer witlessness .
Sometimes markets are merely ignorant, for example, on Jewish New Years when they feature holiday foods, invariably they seem to include boxes of matzos. Managers seem to be unaware that matzos are particular to Passover rituals in the spring and not during the fall New Year (Rosh Hashonah) celebrations.
When discussing the “gluten free” omnipresence with other skeptics, one friend threatened that he would like to approach a superstore manager and ask, “Can you please direct me to the Gluten Department?”
I wonder what would happen if he did?
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not gluten intolerant and even savors hearty wheat bread and pastries.