Why Are the Gluten-Free Gladiators Mostly Women?

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This is a question I've asked myself many times while researching or calling in products, or scanning the gluten-free section at any given grocery store.

I interview high-profile chefs in New York City weekly for my Serious Eats column, and there I have to conscientiously focus on bringing more women into the mix; there are plenty of incredible female chefs here, but the majority of the chefs owning and running high-end kitchens in New York are still men.

The Dusty Baker head shot
Image: Courtesy of the Dusty Baker

Yet when I scan my mental list of bloggers, writers, editors, developers, PR representatives and producers in the gluten-free field, the steep majority of them are women. Editors Silvana Nardone and Alice Woodward at Easy Eats and Living Without; writers/bloggers/developers Amy Green, Nicole Hunn, Shauna James Ahern, and Karina Allrich; web-show goddess Alex T; producers Pamela's Products, Jules Gluten-Free, Better Batter... I could show you my work address book and safely bet that at least 85 percent of those in the gluten-free world are women. Why is that?

Alex Thomopoulos has an incredible blog and a web show on Hungry - Gluten-Free With Alex T - that I'm addicted to

As someone who hasn't eaten gluten-containing products in almost 20 years (minus an incredibly unhealthy and disastrous period in college), I'm mesmerized by how grandly the food world has changed, and the gluten-free food world has developed from a few ingredients at progressive health food stores to the trend--yes, for some it's a trend--that it is now. This community basically inspired me to be a food writer, as other ambitions melted away when people around me wanted to know more about how to eat on an adapted diet (and to snatch recipes I'd been playing with for a long time).

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I, personally, am probably not the best voice for this way of eating. When someone mentions to me that they're cutting out out gluten and expects me to be excited and supportive, my response is always, "why?" I have a very specific illness that makes gluten dangerous to my health when eaten with any sort of regularity. It doesn't stop with gluten, and two-thirds of my life I've spent having the same conversation with waiters, relatives and new friends about what and why I cannot eat certain things. Those with celiac disease have it even worse than I, and there's a whole slew of other illnesses and reasons why someone would cut gluten out of their diet for the sake of their health.

Silvana Nardone is a cookbook author, the editor in chief of Easy Eats magazine, a freelance writer and blogger at Silvana's Kitchen.

But I don't, personally, expect any special treatment because of what I cannot eat. A cousin of mine, who has had an extremely dangerous allergy to milk since birth, expressed the same understanding recently when we were at a family wedding and both just assumed we wouldn't be able to eat. When I go to a restaurant, my question is always, "What can I have on this menu that takes no or very little substitution?" There's usually plenty, but if there's nothing, I just don't eat. And it's not the end of the world. We eat out for entertainment, not necessity. I understand that this way of life is a shock for those just easing into it, and maybe I'm at a disadvantage as far as advocacy goes at having grown up with this allergy long before it was more publicly understood, because I feel like my life went from famine to feast. So, no, I am probably not the most ideal cheerleader on a grand scale for this way of eating.

So I'm insanely curious: what makes this issue so inspiring that we are going back to school, changing careers and starting businesses based around the gluten-free way of eating? And why are women primarily at the front end of this movement?

Here are some possibilities that come to my mind:

  • Moms are still the majority of caregivers in many homes, and as allergies start in childhood and are very hard to monitor, it's often parents who have to be extremely vigilant.
  • Blogging has become an easy, savvy way to get on the web, and so "stay at home" moms have an outlet to express themselves and connect with others to share information and opinions. Blog servers also became visually fun rather quickly, and as it's easy to make a page look nice with a little creativity, which is obviously fun!
  • Telecommuting became popular with the recession, and many are out of work. In a time when we're ever-reliant on the Internet, more sites can get traffic and blogging can be a lucrative way to make money from home.
  • Our interest in food in general has risen dramatically with food television and celebrity chefs, and the word "foodie" now welcomes people to take what they eat and how they cook/bake at home more seriously.
  • We're turning away (I hope) from manufactured food and towards local, sustainable, organic foods, which generally brings attention to what what we put in our bodies in general.
  • Women still retain most of the purchasing power in the home.
  • Celiac disease is a real thing, and dangerous, and should be taken seriously. For those with serious problems, why not make more delicious things more accessible?
  • Women continue to make the climb in business equality, and small businesses are creating more jobs in this country (percentage-wise) than corporations (as far as I hear on NPR and read in the Times). Starting a business about something rather domestic that someone is passionate about and is a lucrative field right now may seem more feasible and exciting to women than the hard bottom line of income that many men seek (I know that reads as extremely sexist--please remember I'm throwing out questions here, not answers).

 

I could keep going, but I'm more curious as to what you think: Why are women so forcefully making their careers and social circles about eating without gluten? Why has this gluten-free world we live been so ardently created in a rather short time. What motivates those who have taken this to the next level? And why are we mostly women?!?!

Looking forward to your insight, with thanks for who you are and what you do.

--Jacqueline

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