Letters: 'Gluten-free is just another example of the food terrorists winning'

Maclean's readers write in

Happiness is a warm flag

Your editorial “Happy, happy, happy—why Quebecers are feeling so good” (From the Editors, Sept. 23) and the picture of smiling models waving the provincial flag could have come from an old Parti Québécois leaflet. Yes, French-speaking Quebecers are happier, but not because they see themselves as increasingly different from the rest of us; rather, they are overcoming their historic inferiority complex. French-speaking Quebeckers now see themselves achieving success in every walk of life. – Lionel Albert, Knowlton, Que.

Your editorial quotes from an interview I did with the author about my study of life satisfaction (“happiness”) in Quebec and the rest of Canada since 1985. The data show that Quebec has gone from the least happy province by far to the happiest among the big provinces. By a strange sequence of logic, the writer gets from there to his suggestion that the Charter of Quebec Values would make Quebec happier by increasing social conformity. I reject the idea that reducing diversity would make for happier communities in Canada. Nor did I suggest the 2012 student movement would make everyone happier; I did suggest that part of what happened would pull some people together. Feeling engaged with others, and with one’s home, tends to be supportive for higher life satisfaction. I agree with the editorial’s final claim that Canada is remarkable, precisely because of how we have embraced immigration. Like any successful immigrant society, we have learned how to form larger, inclusive identities that thrive alongside the cultural identities of newcomers, rather than replacing them. But this observation undermines the rest of the editorial, which suggests we might need to reduce diversity in order to continue our happy trend. There is no such dilemma, and Quebec’s social policies of the last quarter century should not be reduced to such a caricature when viewed from the rest of Canada. – Chris Barrington-Leigh, Montreal

Dining out on a fad-free diet

Cathy Gulli underscores the struggle that many health care professionals face in her article, “Gone gluten-free” (Society, Sept. 16). Widespread promotion of diets that eliminate gluten or other categories of foods without medical justification or guidance puts the health of Canadians at risk. Consulting a registered dietitian before making a dramatic change in diet can lead to better outcomes and prevent unnecessary food costs for families. Our priority should be to ensure access to affordable and nutritious food for all Canadians, and access to health professionals, including dietitians, for assessment and advice when changes in diet are needed. – Kate Comeau, M.Sc., RD, Dietitians of Canada, Montreal

In your article, I did not see any downside (or actual danger) identified in going gluten-free. If it leads to people eating more vegetables, lentils, buckwheat, rice and nuts, and less bread, cakes, cookies and doughnuts, then what is wrong with that? Of course, our pharmaceutical industry will not benefit from this. Maybe that’s the only “down side.” – Linda Doll, Port Elgin, Ont.

As someone who has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, I can only say that I am currently very thankful for this “biggest health craze.” When I found it necessary to eat gluten-free five years ago, there was little or next-to nothing available off the shelf that I could safely eat; anything that was there was exorbitantly expensive or unpalatable. As far as those who wish to criticize us who need or choose to eat gluten-free, I would like them to prove that gluten is necessary for human health. Most of us who need to eat this way know about the lack of fibre in
many gluten-free starches; one hopes we all know how to add fibre to our diets to compensate for this. – Elsie Hodges, Steinbach, Man.

As a waitress for the past 30 years, I’ve seen every food group demonized, then, 10 years later, lauded. Today’s superfoods are tomorrow’s villains. Meanwhile, restaurants are left to cope with legitimate allergies, religious restrictions and dietary needs. The latest trend, gluten-free, is just another example of the “food terrorists” winning. Meanwhile, what I would really love to see is some Dr. Quack gain credence purporting that lemon water causes loss of libido and fresh ground pepper is linked to baldness. Give us something in the service industry that makes us feel less like slaves to your egos and more like we are helping clients with valid concerns. – Patricia Toderan, Regina

Gluten has been linked to many autoimmune and neurological problems (including migraines, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) and digestive complaints. You do not have to be celiac to have a problem with gluten. There is a classification of patients who are non-celiac gluten-sensitive. Your article mentions there are only 300,000 people in Canada who are celiac. When did 300,000 become a small number of people? For every celiac patient, there are eight to 10 gluten-intolerant patients. So that number jumps to three million Canadians and about 30 million Americans. – Sachin Patel, Mississauga, Ont.

Say “peanut allergy” to people in the food-preparation business and they immediately react with both concern and detailed attention to their food preparation and serving practices; they are well aware of the potential consequences— including death—to sufferers of this allergy. Say “celiac” or “gluten allergy” to those same people and they react with not nearly as much concern, as they have learned that the vast majority of customers requesting gluten-free meals are simply fad dieters. As a result, true celiacs are at risk every time they consume a meal other than one they or their families prepare. The risks are serious, ranging from many hours of physical pain, diarrhea and vomiting through to dehydration and even death. One hopes that education results in celiac sufferers being treated as seriously and as diligently as those suffering from a peanut allergy: for the good of all concerned. – James Winter, St. John’s, N.L.

The tables have turned

The irony behind Pamela Wallin’s outrage at the press’s “witch hunt” (“Fall from grace,” National, Sept. 23) is that, if she were still a member of the media, she would be on this story like a cop at a doughnut shop. – Janet Pole, London, Ont.

Poland’s ghosts

While commenting on a recent Polish court decision regarding the ritual slaughter of meat, your article draws an extremely offensive comparison between Nazi Germany and contemporary Poland (“A policy that’s hardly kosher,” Society, Sept. 16). Readers may think the recent court decision in Poland somehow followed in Hitler’s footsteps. This is historically wrong and unacceptable. No issue should prompt journalists to use such a very unfair comparison that hurts Poland, which was the victim of cruel Nazi terror during the Second World War, and which was home for millions of Jews for centuries beforehand. – Marek Domaradzki, President of the Polish Canadian Association of Calgary, Calgary

Poland has joined banning ritual slaughter with such countries as Sweden, Norway and Latvia, all of which historically had been accused of supporting Nazi Germany during and prior to the Second World War. There is no doubt that this is fuelled by religious intolerance of both Jews and Muslims. In 1946, just after the Holocaust, Poland participated in pogroms against its decimated Jewish community. Lech Walesa, the hero of Poland in its resistance to the then-Soviet Union, accused his rival of having Jewish ancestry in order to attempt to give himself more legitimacy and to gain support in one of the elections in which he had a viable opponent. He would not have bothered with this commentary if he had not thought that it would give him an advantage with an anti-Semitic population. – Tom Weinberger, Toronto

Engineering a crisis

I was dismayed to read about the “critical shortage of engineers” in “Structural problems” (Future of Jobs, Sept 16). As an employer, I’ve interviewed an engineer working in a grocery store and another working as an irrigation technician. Someone recently offered to work for free. Employers complain about an engineering shortage, but what they really mean is that they want an engineer fully trained in their specialty—without doing the training. Engineering can be a very rewarding career, but we have to deal with both the employers’ reluctance to train
engineers for their specific jobs, and the general problem of oversupply. Canada’s economy is just not creating enough jobs for all the engineers entering the Canadian labour market. – Ray Givens, P.Eng., Ilderton, Ont.

Let’s stay together

My late husband and I were part of the growing number of couples outlined in your article “Living apart together” (Society, Sept. 23.) We were married for 28 of our 32 years together. However, these arrangements can produce negative financial consequences. When my husband died early this year, I made a claim to Veterans Affairs for benefits under its Veterans Independence Program (VIP) spousal continuation. My application and subsequent appeals were denied because I was not considered his primary caregiver— for the simple reason that we did not share the same address for a minimum of 12 months prior to his death (or confinement to a long-term care facility). That requirement implies that any person living with a veteran for the stipulated time period is deemed a primary caregiver eligible for VIP benefits. – Alice Rixson, Hanover, Ont.

Rise of the machines

I was delighted to discover in the recent article “The curse of small families” (Society, Sept. 9), that, by the time I reach my golden years, a convenient robotic solution may be in place to tend to my most intimate senior needs. I imagine dressing up my eldercare robot, perhaps with a tea cozy on the head and a “Kiss the cook” apron—or, on darker days, an “I’m with stupid” T-shirt. But, given the trouble I have in getting even my smartphone to listen to me, I do worry about the level of care I might receive. I can only handle so much humiliation at the hands of technology. – C.S. Kennedy, Elora, Ont.

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