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baguette

Is Gluten an American problem or a worldwide scandal?

Gluten allergies and coeliac disease seems to be a growing issue in the US, while it remains widely ignored in France and most of Europe. Are Americans aware of something we don’t know, or is it just a fad?

Ah Paris! Les bistros! Les cafés! Les Brasseries!! That is definitely one of the top five things tourists look for when they visit the capital of France. And often, Americans have a way of eating that challenges the traditional French meal. No fat, vegans, kosher, it is very common for US travelers to bump into the empty or appalled look of a waiter when asking for a diet that is very easy to get back home. But lately, a new generation of Americans reach our shores with a crucial diet discarding all flours and wheat: the Gluten-free diet. And in the country of baguette, they’re running to a wall.

As a tour guide, I did not even know what gluten was until a couple of years ago. But in the past two years, I have seen an increasing number of visitors demanding gluten-free meals. While on the French scene, I never heard of anybody ever concerned with anything other than weight when eating a croissant. So what is happening? There’s only three possibilities.

First possibility: it’s a fad. One of these typically American diseases that are trendy and that we never get in Europe. Like ADD -Attention Deficit Disorder-, which excused hundreds, if not thousands of school kids for having poor grades, while down here it never existed, and if, like me, you had a hard time concentrating on a class instead of day-dreaming, it was just considered a lack of discipline. Yet ADD can be socially useful (man, it really helps to have a « condition » that prevents you from studying!), while Gluten allergies and the coeliac disease are a total bummer, and if I can understand that a handful of social perverts might want to act like their life is threatened each time a toast with foie gras gets close to their mouth, I really don’t think such a large number of people pretending to be allergic to gluten are depriving themselves of the heavenly pleasures of breads and pastries for the heck of it. So I would tend to discard this possibility, I believe too much in the power of Puff Pastry.

Second possibility: it is a worldwide issue, and we, ze stupide Frrrrench, we don’t know about it and we are slowly poisoning ourselves. After all, the US is a scientifically very advanced country, and the awareness of the impact of food on our health is way more developed over there than it is over here. Yet, these Americans do have symptoms. Digestive disorders, nausea and more walk with the gluten allergics, not to mention the possible complications that awaits he who ignores his own symptoms. But in France, nobody seems to suffer from it. Maybe we confuse it with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome… Who knows? But all in all, that fact remains: it doesn’t seem to exist here in Paris, which is why there are so few restaurants and bakeries that can accommodate people with a gluten-free diet.

The third possibility tries to stick to the reality: What if this syndrome only existed in the US, and not here in France? I always discarded it, thinking that we are all human and therefore sensitive to the same things, but talking with people in the US and here shed a new light. The food standards are not at all the same in the US and in the EU. In fact, a few things are very different, starting with GMOs which are legal -and everywhere- in the US while in the EU a product cannot have more than 0.9% of GMO without clearly saying so on the packaging. So maybe a beginning of explanation could be seen here. I am not against GMOs personally, but I find this topic questioning, and the amazing silence around that question even more questioning. Because in Paris, where we host over 3 millions Americans each year, we are well aware of this, but the fact no article nor research is ever made public on this topic is puzzling. And we know some issues needs to be clarified on this, as proven by the European regulations that prevent GMO from getting everywhere, or the study of Professor Seralini on GMO fed rats developing cancer. Although the official reaction to that very study was that it was not statistically sound, it would have been more interesting to study further to prove that the study is simply wrong. Which hasn’t been done…

So all in all, there is no answer to this issue at this point, but it is a growing concern, and soon, people and governments won’t be able to ignore Gluten allergies and Coeliac disease anymore…

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