Recently, presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz decided to bring up the issue of gluten free in the military. He seems to tag the medically required diet for 3 million people with celiac disease as politically correct.
He told South Carolina military voters last week,
“That’s why the last thing any commander should need to worry about is the grades he is getting from some plush-bottomed Pentagon bureaucrat for political correctness or social experiments — or providing gluten-free MREs.” — Sen. Ted Cruz qouted by CNN.
MREs are shorthand for Meals Ready to Eat.
The Politics of Gluten Free
I actually have two thoughts about this. My initial thought when I read the headline last week after a long day of mission work in Haiti was Why? What is the point? Why can’t the gluten free community just be left alone, especially when people with a medical history of celiac disease aren’t even allowed to enlist.
On the other hand, I wonder what is it about being gluten-free that makes people think we are so lame (meant both figuratively and literally). I thoroughly enjoyed Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center’s stand they took on Facebook yesterday. “…when Senator Cruz mentions gluten-free meals as a sign of political correctness, he goes from factual error to real offense.”
The statement from the center went on to explain that celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. Wheat, barley and rye, which contain the gluten protein, trigger an immune response in the gut. Undiagnosed celiacs can have upwards of 300 symptoms, or can even be asymptomatic. Staying on gluten, when you have celiac, can lead to a host of long-term health problems including lymphoma. The center called celiac disease a “slow-growing epidemic”.
Going gluten free after a lifetime of being able to eat whatever you want is NOT for the faint of heart. Suddenly denying yourself your favorite pizza or the pasta at your favorite restaurant is a huge challenge. As a result, not everyone diagnosed with celiac maintains a strict gluten free diet, even though that is the only path to find true long-term health with this disease.
The center wrapped up its stance by asking Cruz to study up on celiac,
“Perhaps in your learning about celiac disease and the difficulties of the gluten-free diet, you will use your position to spotlight the need for more research in preventing, detecting, and treating this condition; the National Institutes of Health, which Congress funds, could do a great deal more to support studies that answer critical questions about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. So if you want to keep gluten in your stump speech, please use it to help our community, and not for a cheap laugh.” -Center for Celiac Disease at Columbia University
Miltary and Celiac Disease
There are people who still serve our country despite having celiac disease. Gluten-Free Living magazine interviewed B. Donald Andrasik in 2013. He wrote a book on being gluten free while being deployed in Afghanistan.
He explained that when he joined the military, he explained that he had celiac disease. He was asked if he knew what he could and could not eat and he said yes. And he was in.
Andrasik wants the military to have more gluten free food available. One person commented when Gluten-Free Living posted the article to its Facebook page that she and others in the military have celiac disease and are accommodated with gluten free food.
However, that is not the stance from the military. When I interviewed Cynthia O. Smith a Department of Defense spokesperson in 2013, she told me “A person with celiac disease and/or a gluten intolerance or sensitivity would not be eligible for entry into the military.” She also stated all military members must be “available for worldwide duty 24 hours a day without restriction or delay.”
As I wrap up this post, I still am left with so many questions:
- Even with this official military stance, then why does Sen. Cruz go on the tirade about gluten free MREs? I don’t get it.
- For me, as a mom of someone with celiac, I have seen what it is like when my daughter can’t eat. So I do wonder, Why would you want to join the military if they can’t feed you (I have the same stance about college too). But then again, I understand that some people are called to defend our country and I am very grateful for that.
- And aren’t there aren’t any MREs that are naturally gluten free?
What are your thoughts on being gluten free in the military?