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Network Splits With Actress Over Gluten: Is Celiac a Real Malady or a Dietary Choice?

The reactions to Jennifer Esposito’s story can be neatly divided between those who empathize and those who think this is some spoiled actress’s crazy diet issue.

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No doubt part of the range of responses to Esposito’s very public insistence that her employer was unsympathetic to her condition stems from what she herself calls on her blog “the serious lack of information out there and just the general disregard for this disease.” Her lawyer says that she  “had a medical emergency on the set caused by her celiac disease … [so] Jennifer and her doctor requested she be allowed to work on a reduced schedule.”

Esposito may be helping raise awareness of her disease via her blog and her outspokenness, but she is also simultaneously contributing to the chorus of eye-rolling you may have noticed lately whenever someone conspicuously shudders at the garlic bread at a dinner party, or goes all Josh Romney dead behind the eyes when a fellow parent at the playground tries to expound on the virtues of her newly gluten-free kitchen. Why? It’s right there on Esposito’s blog, in her anecdote about “a friend who had been complaining of bloating and irritability asked me for help. Finally, I thought! I had been begging her just to try and go without gluten for a few weeks to see if her situation changed.” She provides a “2 Week Challenge” and a list of “symptoms of a gluten problem” because “my belief is  everyoneshould avoid gluten.”

See, this is an issue. If you’re talking in one breath about a serious, debilitating disease and advocating that anyone who suspects they have it see a doctor, that’s a world apart from suggesting someone self-diagnose a “problem” because she could “lose almost 20 pounds.” It doesn’t help alleviate “the general disregard” for a disease you’re trying to get people to take seriously. There are already a whole lot of people out there jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon as this month’s Atkins diet — and even more, who don’t understand the distinction between a severe food intolerance and a “ Yeaaaaah, cookies make me bloaty.”

Whatever truly went down between Esposito and CBS, we probably won’t be seeing her on “Blue Bloods” any time in the near future. In the meantime, Esposito says, “If you feel this is unjust use your voice. That’s all we have sometimes.” Good advice. It’s not just what you put in your mouth that matters. It’s how carefully you consider what comes out of it.


Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.            

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