Dear Annie: The current "fad" of gluten-free products is both beneficial and harmful to those of us who must follow a gluten-free diet because of celiac disease. On one hand, it's easier to find gluten-free foods. But on the other hand, those of us with celiac disease are looked upon as if we are simply food faddists. Here are some of the problems we face:
Restaurants are more aware of the need to serve gluten-free meals, but are often sloppy in their attempts to avoid cross-contamination, not being aware of the extreme importance of "not even a crumb."
When a hostess declares a dish to be gluten-free, does she understand the restrictions of wheat, rye and barley? Will she be kind to us if we question her recipes? Will she be offended if we decline to partake?
When we are at a dinner, we often hear such ignorant comments as, "Are you trying to improve your athletic performance?" or "Go ahead, a little won't hurt you. Don't be so fussy."
Can you help educate the public about the difference between celiac disease, which necessitates a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, and those who are simply making a personal choice? - Cheryl in Pennsylvania
Dear Cheryl: No one should treat eating restrictions as a "fad," because you never know who truly has a serious problem. In people with celiac disease, eating anything with gluten triggers an immune response. It can damage the small intestine and make it difficult to absorb nutrients from food. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to anemia, osteoporosis and lymphoma.
In children, celiac disease can slow growth and weaken bones. There is often a genetic component.
On the other hand, some folks are simply gluten sensitive. Eating gluten may make them uncomfortable or tired, and when they cut gluten out of their diet, they feel more energetic. "Cheating," however, will not cause the severe symptoms of celiac disease.
Dear Annie: I read your response to "Not a Christian," who objected to a breakfast gathering that started with the blessing "in Jesus' name." You said it was inappropriate.
I suspect the majority of the people in that room find comfort in this blessing, and the rest probably don't care. Why offend many to make a very few happy? People like this are intolerant and selfish. If this person finds this blessing so offensive, he should move to another community or keep his mouth closed for the duration of the blessing. - Karen from Wyoming
Dear Wyoming: We know many find these blessings comforting, but others do not. Why offend anyone? This is not a religious gathering. It does not require a public prayer from any denomination, and it's certainly not for the majority religion to impose its beliefs on the rest, no matter how few.
Those who wish to give a blessing of any kind can do so at their own table instead of insisting on offering a prayer on behalf of others who would rather you didn't. Here's a truly tolerant solution:
Dear Annie: Many years ago, when I was a member of an international service organization, we began each of our meetings with a prayer. I, too, felt the same as "Not a Christian." So when I became president, I went to a bookstore and purchased a book that included prayers and readings from all denominations, including atheism and non-traditional religions. At each meeting, I chose a different prayer or inspirational message to read.
The members felt that this was very informative and learned a little bit each week about different religions. Perhaps this would be a solution to others. - Betsy in N.J.
Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.