Gluten Free News

As someone with celiac disease, I always take particular notice of gluten-free and celiac news when I find it. Recently, there have been a number of new articles about the world of the wheat-less.

– Dunkin’ Donuts going gluten free?? It’s true. As someone raised in the spiritual home of Dunks, I’m excited to see that one of it’s testing grounds is in Boston. Each of the donuts and muffins seems to be individually wrapped (smart) and labelled “GF.” Although initially enchanted by the idea of strolling into a Dunkin’ Donuts and picking up coffee and a donut like a normal Bostonian, I’m curious about how they actually taste. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered gluten-free products where I didn’t expect them and been really disappointed by their texture. Too many bakers/restauranteurs/etc. see the potential revenue in attracting gluten intolerant customers and aren’t too discerning in their recipes, resulting in an all-rice-flour, crumbly mess.

This well-written piece by Mother Jones does a great job of synthesizing recent studies and scholarship on whether the gluten-free diet is actually good for anyone who is not “officially” celiac or gluten intolerant. It also just does a nice job of explaining how celiac disease works beyond the “wheat=bad things” synopsis offered by some less detailed articles.

– A New York Times article also discussing the rising prevalence of both celiac and non-celiac gluten intolerance, as well as why the rise is occurring (lack of “good” gut bacteria? higher gluten levels in wheat? who knows).

Another New York Times article discusses the potential link between gluten intolerance and other inflammatory diseases. Celiac is an inflammatory auto-immune disease and those who have it are more likely to have other inflammatory auto-immune diseases – lupus, diabetes, and arthritis, to name a few. The author of the article tells the story of how her son, suffering from a juvenile form of arthritis, experienced a dramatic improvement after going gluten- and dairy-free.

– Unless you are gluten intolerant yourself, you’ve never had to read ingredient labels of strange things and learned even stranger. Like finding out that the new conditioner you were about to buy had wheat germ protein in it. Or that the main ingredient of Twizzlers is wheat. You might also not have known that Play-Doh is mainly composed of wheat, which means that young gluten-intolerant children can’t play with it. According to a recent Market Watch article,Play-Doh competitors are realizing the potential and creating wheat-free alternatives.


Slow Food or Slow Zombies?

I’m always thrilled when the two great loves of my life, food and literary analysis, find each other in a piece of writing. This piece of writing found me, or was found for me, by my partner, who enables my weird scholarly interests.

“Katja,” you say, “why are there zombies on your blog about food?” Blame Michael Newbury, of Middlebury College.

Published this year in the journal American Literary History, Newbury’s article “Fast Zombie/Slow Zombie: Food Writing, Horror Movies, and Agribusiness Apocalypse” does much of what I aspire to do as a scholar. He places his interpretation of a series of contemporary zombie movies against the context of the modern scares in agribusiness to make a convincing argument, essentially about how pervasive our fears of Big Food really are.

Quoting from his conclusion gives you a good idea of his point: “The contemporary zombie movie, in short, is singularly and creatively alert to the difficulty of discovering alternatives outside the systemic power that brings food-like substances and brutally produced meat to our stores, our homes, our tables, and, finally, our stomachs.”

He notes that many zombie movies are placed against a backdrop of trash and junk food, showing the survivors eking out an existence on Cheez Doodles and candy. By constantly associating fast food with the zombie apocalypse, Newbury argues that these movies point out “the horror of modern eating.” He argues that, in that sense, the books of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and others are just a watered-down, zombie-free version of the same critique offered by movies like 28 Days Later. And, just like Pollan, Nestle, etc., these movies offer a solution to the fast food crisis. Newbury argues that there are often attempts by the survivors at formal, candlelit dinners and vegetarianism in these movies: attempts at maintaining a more human/humane way of eating. However, unlike the work of food writers and activists, these horror movies don’t allow these humane acts of eating as a true, viable option by continuously interrupting them with zombie attacks.

I don’t think the article is perfect — I’m not sure that Newbury has chosen to provide exactly the right sort of background on the food movement, for example — but I think that its the sort of analysis we do actually need more of (what? a practical use for English?) This is because he argues that the fear of agricultural apocalypse in zombie movies shows how widespread this fear is, and how pervasive it’s influence, i.e. not just in stories.

I’d like to hear from zombie fans, though, and frankly, anyone else with their two cents. I, admittedly, don’t really care for all the face-ripping. For those of you who have a greater knowledge of the genre than I do — do Newbury’s ideas make sense? What do you think?

I would love to post a link to the article, but unless you have access to literary databases, then I’m afraid we’re out of luck.



Learning about the Beijing Big Mac

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I was a grad student and I spent most all of my time reading. It got pretty exhausting, actually, and when I graduated with my MA, it was with a certain degree of relief. Over the past five months, I’ve enjoyed reading what I want to, and at my own pace.

But when I started reading The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating (you know, for funsies), the grad student in me swooned. I had missed the sound of (good) academic writing, the flow of a well-crafted argument, the sound of obnoxiously academic phrases like “cultural symbolism.” Once a grad student, always a grad student, I suppose.

As I was reading Yunxiang Yan’s “Of Hamburger and Social Space: Consuming McDonald’s in Beijing,” I came across an argument that complicated my previous way of thinking (something any good essay should do, as I try to explain to my students). I grew up in a family that treated McDonald’s as a treat, a special occasion. Consequently, it was never a part of our regular eating habits, and the fast food chain fell off my radar completely once I was diagnosed with celiac. Once I started reading about the chain’s treatment of its workers other issues, I was positive: I didn’t like what the company stood for and was up to. Its probably a knee-jerk reaction at this point. McDonald’s = bad.

Everything has a context, though, and McDonald’s Chinese context has some darkness to it. James Watson, author of “China’s Big Mac Attack” in the same anthology, argues that “McDonald’s appeals to China’s new elites because its food is safe, clean, and reliable.” These essays do a good job of explaining the nature of the native Chinese restaurants that represent McDonald’s competitors — from high-end, traditional restaurants to work unit’s shitang, or cafeterias. The cultural structure and role of these shitang mean that they’re less concerned with customer service and cleanliness than American-based restaurants such as McDonald’s. Compared to these, McDonald’s is a clean and quiet space with employees dedicated to pleasing customers.

This appreciation for McDonald’s is not only about its smiling employees. The problems Chinese restaurant patrons face with the threat of dirty kitchens and adulterated foods make McDonald’s ills seem relatively insignificant. With the threat of melamine and other adulterants in food, and the inconvenience of unreliable and unfriendly service, the almost boring predictability of McDonald’s must come as a welcome respite.

I still believe McDonald’s causes more problems than it solves, but its role in different cultures can’t be broken down into simple categories of good and bad.


For a useful article on Chinese food adulteration, see:

For a good, brief blog post explaining the danwei system that includes the canteen or shitang, see: