Joanne Palmer: Gluten free or sanity free?

In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at or

Joanne Palmer

Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at

Find more columns by Palmer here.

Poor gluten. No one likes you anymore. It’s getting hard to find a food product that doesn’t have a gluten-free option. There is gluten-free bread, gluten-free beer and, worst of all, gluten-free Halloween candy.

Gluten is enjoying a prolonged 15 minutes of fame, and everyone loves to hate it. No one wants to eat gluten anymore. Restaurants offer gluten-free options on their menus. How much longer until resorts start offering “gluten-free vacation packages”? The airlines, ground transportation and lodging will offer nothing but gluten-free fare and fun. Marketers are working overtime to figure out how to get a piece of the gluten-free prize. I’m surprised the keyboard I am typing on isn’t gluten free.

What exactly is gluten? It’s a funny-sounding word — a hybrid between a gargle and a snore — but gluten is actually a protein composite. This protein, found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains, makes pizza dough stretchy, bread spongy and soup and sauces thick. If you have an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease, it is critically important to ban gluten from your diet. I am glad anyone suffering from this disease or a gluten sensitivity has so many options.

However, I am tired of worrying about what, when and how to eat. It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to put anything in my mouth.

Grocery stores need to have an on-site medical staff because if you weren’t a hypochondriac before you went to the store, you will be by the time you come out. Here are all the things I now can worry about when I go to the grocery store: Is it organic? Is it loaded with good fats, bad fats or hydrogenated fats? Is it fat free? Or gluten free? Or lactose free?

Going to the grocery store just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Take, for example, the thought process behind buying a week’s worth of groceries. Let’s start with cereal. There are hundreds of choices that fill the shelves and take up an alarming amount of space in one aisle. There are sugar flakes, frosted flakes, corn flakes, chocolate flakes, organic flakes, low-fat flakes, fat-free flakes and gluten-free flakes. While standing there, perhaps you remember you are out of milk to put on the cereal, and you have to not only jump through all the same mental hoops again but also worry if you are lactose intolerant. In the yogurt section, you can worry about your intestine and whether or not you should add probiotics to your diet. In the meat department, you can worry about getting either E. coli or pink slime and rush over to buy fish instead. That isn’t any easier because you have to decide whether to buy farm raised or wild fish and then still worry about where it comes from. Once, I was about to buy some frozen fish until I realized it came all the way from China.

All of these mind-boggling choices and decisions can send your blood pressure skyrocketing. Oh, don’t forget about the salt-free options.

Dazed, confused and mentally spent, you realize you have forgotten your reusable bags in the car, so now you can beat yourself up for destroying the environment.

It’s too much. I’m planning to kick back on Halloween and eat Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups until I’m full. I’ll worry about the consequences Nov. 1.

Community comments

Note: The Steamboat Pilot & Today doesn’t necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy.

(Jill Conner) jc93080 says...

"However, I am tired of worrying about what, when and how to eat. It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to put anything in my mouth."

If you're not gluten insensitive, have a wheat allergy or are a celiac then you don't have to worry about, which makes the point of this blog completely ridiculous. But for those of us who do, EVERY trip to the grocery store is tedius and time-consuming so that we don't accidentally ingest something that will cause severe pain in our abdomen, migraine headaches or various other symptoms that not only are debilitating, but also cause us to miss time off from work, time spent with our families and loved ones.

I'm so sorry that this extra step that our grocery stores and food manufacturers have taken to assure our health and safety is so tedious for you. Hopefully for your sake though, it's just a made-up fad that people will stop capitalizing on and we'll just wake up one day and be cured. Because that would make your grocery shopping easier!!! Man, if only all of those people with peanut allergies would figure their stuff out too so you didn't have to worry about peanut label warnings. I can only imagine how much more sleep at night you'll get.

If you want to talk about insensitivity, I would suggest reflecting upon the insensitivity of this blog post entirely. Hopefully this will stop you from writing one about how all of those wheel chair ramps are really getting in your way.

Posted 24 October 2012, 8:54 a.m. Suggest removal

(John St Pierre) fishcreek says...

I thought this was a great little piece of writting...... It never ceases to amaze me how mankind has survived these million of years without all the "food discoveries" of the last few years...... only in America!!! ... Entire industries built on eating right...... or someone's perception of what that should be.....

But ponder this while we get all wrapped up arguing about "gluten-free"....... Over half the worlds population lives in starvation... I imagine a slice of "wonder bread" looks pretty damn good to them....
The next time you wander down a grocery aisle remmeber this.. Thank God you live in a country where you have the luxury to worry about Gluten Free!!!!

Posted 24 October 2012, 11:58 a.m. Suggest removal

(Phoebe Hackman) Phoebe says...

Jill, lighten up. Joanne acknowledged the medical necessity to avoid gluten in the sentence you chose to ignore, "If you have an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease, it is critically important to ban gluten from your diet. I am glad anyone suffering from this disease or a gluten sensitivity has so many options." I believe she is just trying to illustrate, with a little humor, that the food industry would have us believe that gluten (or lactose or sodium or whatever) is bad in and of itself and everyone should avoid it. When lactose was the sensitivity du jour, everyone jumped on the soy bandwagon and now little girls are developing breasts at 8, little boys' cajones are not developing at all, and rickets were making a big comeback until they started adding vitamin D to soy juice. You can find find evidence pro and con, but my point is, the food industry does blow this stuff out of proportion. A little information is a dangerous thing and too many people only see "gluten free" and decide that, for reasons they won't bother to research, gluten must be bad and they should avoid it. Anyway, whatever your food issues are, "humor intolerance" will definitely have a negative impact on your health.

I'm lucky that I don't need to avoid gluten, peanuts, sodium, sugar or lactose. So far, I don't need to worry about those things, but I sympathize with people who do. Here's what I worry about ... beaver anal gland juice. Yep, that's right, beaver anal gland juice. The FDA allows it to be listed as "natural flavoring", 'cause, well, it's natural, right? It's used as a flavoring in vanilla, strawberry and raspberry beverages, ice cream, candy, etc. It's also used in cigarettes for flavor. According to wikipedia, it was used in the 18th century to treat several ailments, including hysteria. Makes me hysterical just to think of it. The FDA considers it generally safe and, while I'm pretty sure I'm not allergic or intolerant, I'm just as sure I don't want to ingest it. Just sayin'.

Posted 25 October 2012, 12:38 p.m. Suggest removal

Post a comment (Requires free registration)

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.