Welcome to Celiac Awareness Month!
This year, I feel as though Celiac Awareness month is needed more than ever. The fascination with all things gluten free has exploded over the last year or two, making gluten free products more popular and available than ever before, but unfortunately that hasn't translated into more awareness of Celiac disease and Gluten Sensitivity.
Instead, the gluten free "trend" or "fad" has turned gluten free living into a bit of a joke, making it easy to mock. More worrisome, it has become easy to dismiss as a food trend that doesn't require any special knowledge or handling when preparing and serving gluten free foods to consumers.
Some companies are jumping on the bandwagon so quickly that they are labeling their gluten free products as "not safe for Celiacs," due to the manner in which they're prepared. For Celiacs and those with gluten sensitivity, this is extremely frustrating, as the growth in gluten free options doesn't necessarily mean a growth in SAFE options for them to eat.
Along with that is the attitude of those serving gluten free customers. There seems to be a lot of negative push-back by some in the food service industry. There are many restaurants, cafes, and other food providers who are committed to providing their customers with safe gluten free options and who care about the well-being of their customers. However, there are others who see a gluten free customer as part of an annoying trend, and don't always take the same care in ensuring their food is as safe as they might for someone with a more "legitimately recognized" food restriction.
Celiac Awareness Month gives advocates the chance to make a difference and raise awareness in their communities and beyond. Not everyone has a blog that reaches an international audience, but so what? Anyone can raise awareness in their neighbourhood by speaking with their family, friends, neighbours, and local businesses. In my opinion, the most important point to make is that this is a REAL disease. I've heard so many stories from people who have family members, friends, or others in their lives who simply don't believe them that Celiac disease is a real thing.
Helping people understand that just because the disease isn't worn on the sleeve, so to speak, doesn't mean it's not real and isn't serious. It's also quite prevalent, with an estimated 1 in 133 people suffering from Celiac, and an untold number with Gluten Sensitivity/Intolerance.
It's been asked why the Celiac community can be seen as being cranky or negative at times. In my opinion, part of the problem is that unlike many other illnesses, Celiac is often dismissed as a figment of the imagination, an exaggeration, or something that doesn't really have any negative side effects. Add to that the number of jokes made recently at the expensive of those who on average suffer for more than a decade before getting an accurate diagnosis, and it's not surprising that people would start to push back.
Still, while I'm a huge believer in advocating for your rights, there is something to be said for catching flies with honey rather than vinegar. There's a movement this year to put a more positive spin on Celiac disease, and I think this applies well to the tone used in advocacy. Getting a diagnosis helps many people change from constant illness to feeling healthier and being able to manage their symptoms quite well. I like the idea of going out in the community, showing off those pearly whites, and helping people understand what Celiac disease is all about!