Dealing with Diet Culture and Gluten Intolerance, one feminist’s struggle

Diet Culture makes millions of dollars off of convincing Americans that the key to a good life is losing weight and being thin. One of the tactics of its profit-making scheme has been to propagate gluten-free diets, turning gluten-free foods into one of the up-and-coming industries. In some ways, as a person who had to go gluten-free to treat mysterious health problems, I benefit from Diet Culture making a profit from the gluten-free industry. For example, now people are becoming more familiar with what gluten-free means, and it is increasingly common to find restaurants that offer gluten-free menus or accommodations.

But does it disturb me that this increasing public awareness stems from a for-profit motive rather than a concern about human life? Yes, of course I am very worried about my story becoming appropriated as a contribution to fat shaming and fat phobia. I am open to suggestions about how I can prevent my story from becoming a weapon. I do not think that silence is the answer. I do not think that the answer is to say, Gluten-free, that’s stupid! I do not think that it is fair to ask me not to tell my story because, when I do tell my story, I stand up for patients who have experienced mysterious chronic illness and who have been treated unfairly by doctors.

To be a chronically ill female (most people with my illness are female) is to be in an oppressed position where doctors dismiss you as hysterical, the medical industry refuses to research anything about you unless they can make a profit, and even everyday people say that you’re just dieting because it’s a fad. Food intolerance has nothing to do with diet. Did that kid in middle school who had a peanut allergy say that she was on a ‘diet’? No, that would be awkward phrasing. However, my food intolerances are subjectively determined, which means I realized I had these food intolerances by doing careful research and experimenting with what foods increased my pain levels.

When people tell me that it’s just a fad, I feel like I can’t even begin to explain how I have fought through the hell of my body to get to a better place. I had to believe in healing. If I couldn’t believe in healing, I would have rather died. Healing is different than cure, however. Healing is doing everything that I can to get better. What can I do to get better? Is a question that assumes one can get better, which is not the right approach for everyone with chronic illness, but is sometimes the right approach, especially when a doctor claims that you’re beyond help and then you prove them wrong. Patients are powerful. Patients are powerful. I chant that to myself so that I can sit proudly in the chair at the doctor’s office and be a voice of resistance as well as education for those who still naively believe that western medicine has their interests in mind.

Should I not talk about the toxicity of American food because for so many people in this country just having any food at all is a privilege? Of course not. I must realize the intersectionality of why our food is toxic and why people go hungry even in a country as rich as the U.S. The intersection is the for-profit system that sells the same processed, genetically modified ingredients to us in different colored boxes while severely increasing prices on fruits and vegetables, for that is the same system that ensures the gap between rich and poor.

Should I not talk about the relationship between food intolerance and the toxicity of American food because so many people in this country are under attack from fat shaming and fat phobia? No, because capitalism is making money off of feeding us toxic food, keeping us sick, and convincing us that some bodies are ugly and unworthy.

For the record, food intolerances have been linked to genetically modified crops and toxins in processed food as well as the larger environment. Don’t take my word for it, check out the book, The Autoimmune Disease Epidemic, or read about the effects of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Round up Ready.

Anyway, my point is that I need to have an outlet to talk about the political implications of my food intolerances in the context of chronic illness. I am becoming more and more afraid of finding the right outlet because I do not want to trigger feminists who are fighting against Diet Culture, and I do not want them to trigger me either. While I have felt triggered by their trivializing the effects of gluten intolerance on public health, they have felt triggered by some of the resources that I have posted on Facebook in favor of gluten-free diets. I agreed with these feminists criticisms because the websites are funded by the diet industry, so they are absolutely right to be angry about any propagation of diet culture, especially by someone like myself who is a feminist. I would like people to understand that they are also used as a weapon against me, and I am used as a weapon against them, which explains how people devoted to anti-oppressive spaces in turn perpetuate oppression even when their minds and hearts are in the right place. My hope is that by drawing awareness to this issue, we can stop being weapons and start being comrades, though I feel there is a lot of work to do on both sides.

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About pennapril

feminist, activist, poet
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