My Hands Are Tied: Health Food Trends Causing More Harm Than Help

By Kate Tattan

IMG_5001Several months ago near the start of the Fall semester, I paced in front of the Sheehan Hall POD’s, or Dining Hall’s, main kitchen counter, eying up and down the six steaming dishes that sat neatly arranged in silver pans. I stared blankly at the chicken casserole, and I let out a stiff breath of frustration. I couldn’t eat a single damn thing.

That night was not the first night I had walked back to my table with an empty plate. In fact, this had become a pretty regular occurrence for me.

I’ve battled relentlessly with multiple stomach and intestinal disorders for the past three years of college. I’m a regular at my doctor’s office and the gastroenterologist is always on my list of recent calls. There are days where I feel pretty good, but the majority of days are uncomfortable, unbearably painful, and unmanageable.

“You’ve exhausted our resources,” my regular physician had told me, putting his hands up in the air with a sigh. But, after seeing several other doctors and gastroenterologists, I was placed on the diet from hell, otherwise known as the “FODMAP” diet, in hopes to lessen my chronic gastrointestinal symptoms.

“FODMAP” is an acronym for a list of short chain carbohydrates. The intent is to lower the amount of irritating foods like high sugar, dairy and gluten. Some days it might help me, but many are still just as bad, if not worse. That’s just the nature of the disorder(s).

In light of the recent addition to the “allergy fridge” in the My Pantry section of the POD, it has come to my attention the “trendiness,” you might say, of such gluten-free and dairy-free options. It seems that that fridge loses its contents faster and faster every day.

For people such as myself and others who don’t eat gluten, dairy, or meat for ethical and/or intolerance reasons, this fridge has become a lifesaver. The allergy station doesn’t always work for my dietary restrictions, because my restrictions extend beyond your regular peanut, gluten and dairy allergies, so to see this fridge become more popular with the general public, and not just allergy students, is concerning.

The number of students at the Worcester State University campus with allergies, ethical food preferences, and dietary intolerances is relatively small, or at least small enough that the manager of Chartwells keeps a reasonably small book with the name of each student and a list of his or her allergies and dietary restrictions. So, it seems only fair to question why the allergy fridge’s resources diminish at such a rapid rate.

Eating gluten-free or dairy-free has become much less of a serious matter, and much more of the popularized thing to do, gluten-free being labeled as the most trendy of all food fads.

TIME magazine has gone as far as to label it the “number two on its Top Ten List of Food Trends.”

See article: http://business.time.com/2013/03/13/why-were-wasting-billions-on-gluten-free-food/

Similarly, dairy-free options such as soy or almond milk have become increasingly popular.
Meghan Alerie, a 2012 Worcester State Graduate and current Marketing Manager for Chartwells, says that almond milk was brought into the POD “due to student demand.” But, was this “demand” filed for people who are actually allergic and lactose-intolerant?

When the new Dining Hall was built, allergen-free foods such as soymilk or gluten-free bread had become open to the public. No longer were they hidden behind the counter. This allowed for anyone to consume these options, just as if they were the foods placed out at the cooking stations each day.

The problem is that they aren’t like those normal options. These allergen-free foods are limited, not only by the school’s access to them, but by the resources in general.

The demand for these products, specifically almond milk, has caused prices to skyrocket and with the almond market hitting an all time high of $4.8 billion, tripling its worth a decade ago, it isn’t stopping for anyone.

Drought in the Central Valley of California will stop this trend right in its tracks. Taking roughly 23 gallons of water to produce a measly glass of almond milk, the amount of water available to farmers in California, which is the main source of our beloved protein-packed nut, is dwindling.

Doesn’t drive it home for you just yet? Get this—it takes at least one gallon of water to produce one almond. Yes. One almond.

Now, think of how many almonds you might consume. Or, the cartons and cartons of almond milk we see so readily available to anyone in the POD. This trend and intense rise in popularity of allergen-free foods, specifically almond-based products, is diminishing other resources in our country.

Aside from that, consuming dairy and gluten-free foods simply out of choice and not out of need is more detrimental to those who are allergic or intolerant than you think.

With the trend growing, much like the fad with kale or chia seeds for example, the resources for those who cannot live without such allergen-free foods are taking a steep decline, heading in a direction of outrageous prices (more than the outrageous prices that they are already at) and even possible extinction of the product completely.

What I would do for a glass of regular old milk some days.

Let me tell you, if I could eat normally, I would. It is bewildering to me, why people want to ditch their normal diet simply because of a health fad. It is especially alarming when it’s causing environmental issues like drought, and lack of availability for those who truly need it.

Next time you reach for almond milk or soy milk or even maybe a gluten-free cookie, consider this: is it truly beneficial to your health and well-being? Because a 160-calorie gluten-free chocolate chip cookie from the allergen-free fridge has just as many calories and grams of sugar as a normal cookie does.

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