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Really Gluten-Sensitive Liberals? Investigating the Media Dem Stereotype

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Gluten-sensitive liberals? Investigating the stereotype suggests food fads unite us all

by Trey Malone for The Conversation

(The Conversation) — Sitting down for a family feast, do you need to gird yourself for battle in the ongoing sociopolitical culture war? In today’s hyperpartisan United States, common food products have become proxies for conservative and liberal values. Meat-eating Republicans versus quinoa-loving Democrats. Imported-beer liberals versus domestic-beer conservatives .

Nothing showcases this proxy war better than the rise of gluten sensitivity.

From “gluten free” water to Jimmy Kimmel clips, gluten sensitivity has permeated the modern American food culture. Despite having no data to support their claims, media voices ranging from the satirical show, Portlandia, to commentators on Fox News have poked fun at what they characterize as the gluten-intolerant left.

People on the political right, including Ted Cruz, allege that gluten-intolerant West Coast liberals are at the forefront of political correctness.

But is there reality to this perception that liberals can’t stomach gluten, while conservatives can wolf it down without complaint?

As researchers of food politics, Bailey Norwood and I often focus on how different market segments’ perceptions influence their food choices. We decided to investigate the demonization of gluten – and our empirical analysis suggests that gluten sensitivity affects people of all political persuasions.

Gluten facts

As physician Robert Shmerling describes, gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It turns up in many common foods, including pizza, cereal and beer. Gluten is what gives dough its elasticity, but it has limited nutritional value itself.

Approximately 0.5% of North Americans have been clinically diagnosed with celiac disease. When people with this autoimmune genetic disease eat gluten, it damages their small intestine, leading to other long-term health effects. The number of documented cases has dramatically risen over the past 30 to 40 years, though researchers aren’t sure why.

While consumers with celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity should definitely avoid gluten, there is no strong scientific evidence that anyone else needs to reduce their gluten consumption. In fact, there is no evidence that would support the notion that gluten-free foods are any healthier than foods filled with gluten for most of the population.

Nevertheless, disagreement rages on regarding whether gluten sensitivity is real and deserves the same universal acceptance that diagnosable diseases like celiac and other established health conditions enjoy.

The contention that gluten sensitivity goes along with liberalism takes the debate even further. If this were true, it would have serious implications for policy decisions and food marketing strategies. It would imply that gluten sensitivity is not strictly a medical condition but a social construct, which would not require the same regulatory concern as other health conditions.

Who actually says no to gluten?

To conduct our analysis, Norwood and I asked 1,086 U.S. consumers four questions about their perceptions of gluten.

We created a “gluten aversion index” by adding up each person’s responses. A score of 4 would indicate that the respondent was not at all gluten avoidant, while a score of 28 would indicate that the respondent was extremely gluten avoidant. After removing the surprisingly high 3.7% of individuals who told us they’d been clinically diagnosed with celiac disease, we looked at the linkage between political ideology and gluten sensitivity.

Contrary to the common stereotype, we found no evidence that the political left is more likely to report being gluten sensitive. In fact, when we divided our sample by preferred president of the past few decades, those who selected Donald Trump were also the most likely to identify as gluten avoidant.

So if progressive liberals aren’t actually more gluten sensitive, how does the perception take hold?

What psychologists call “motivated reasoning” is likely a primary culprit. As a time-saving measure, your mind tries to sort each person you encounter into crude buckets based on quick assessments. Once a connection begins to gain traction, it can spread, often leading to misperceptions about individual beliefs and preferences.

Gluten-free versions of foods are proliferating in the marketplace, and their consumers come from all political persuasions. ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Politicization of an ingredient

It’s not clear why gluten sensitivity became intertwined with stereotypes about liberal progressives. In fact, even far-right extremist websites such as Infowars have been known to advocate for gluten-free diets.

While we find no evidence of a clear separation between the self-reported gluten sensitivity of liberals and conservatives, it is likely that politically polarizing topics have compromised other food choices. Consider climate change and meat consumption. Vegans and vegetarians are already more likely to identify as liberal. Given the heavy emphasis placed by media on reducing meat consumption as a metric for consciousness regarding climate change, some evidence suggests that meat consumption increasingly can be divided along party lines.

What people eat is one of the most visible decisions they make each day. This is increasingly true as American consumers cook less and eat away from home more. In 2012, Barack Obama won 77% of the counties with a Whole Foods and a meager 29% of Cracker Barrel counties, after all.

Despite Americans’ political differences, many of us are deeply interested in the foods we consume. Our gluten investigation provides a gentle reminder against simplistic stereotyping around the dinner table.

Trey Malone is Assistant Professor and Extension Economist at Michigan State University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Public Health Updates From LA County on Novel Coronavirus

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently hosted a press briefing to provide an update on the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and the interagency work being done to identify and assess travelers who may have been exposed to the virus.
 
A significant number of resources across Los Angeles County are focused on protecting the public’s health at large,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health.

“To date, there have been no reported coronavirus cases in LA County and currently the risk of local transmission is low according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We will keep everyone informed as more information becomes available. We are urging the public to remain calm, as it is very unlikely that they are at risk of contracting this virus,” she added.
 
The CDC announced the first case in the United States on January 21, 2020. Recently, hundreds of cases of pneumonia associated with a novel coronavirus in Wuhan City have been identified.

Public Health will continue assisting the CDC to ensure that travelers who may have visited Wuhan City that have a fever or respiratory illness symptoms are appropriately screened, tested and receive care. Travelers who have visited Wuhan City who are not ill upon their arrival to the LA County are advised to contact a healthcare provider and seek care if they become ill while here.

While there is no cure for this virus, hospital partners and clinical providers are able to test and care for ill travelers to minimize transmission and treatment for symptoms.
 
Health care professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control practices at all times.  Public Health will continue to provide updated information about the diagnosis and management of cases of novel coronavirus to health care providers and all hospitals in the County in an effort to identify and contain any future cases.

About Coronavirus

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning that they cause infections that usually exist exclusively in animals but can be transmitted to humans. However, some coronaviruses are also able to be transmitted from person to person, like SARS and MERS, while others are not.

While there is no specific cure for infections caused by the novel coronavirus, hospital partners and clinical providers are able to provide care for symptoms caused by the infection. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

People who have traveled to Wuhan, China since December 1, 2019, could have been exposed to the virus. Seek medical care if you traveled to Wuhan and develop a fever and fever or respiratory symptoms within 14 days of your return. We want to underscore that there is no need to exclude anyone who has traveled to or from Wuhan City, or China in general, unless they are symptomatic, at which time they should seek a medical evaluation.
 
There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with this novel coronavirus, and investigations are ongoing in China and at least five other countries.
 
For more information about 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) visit  publichealth.lacounty.gov, or call 2-1-1.


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LA Public Defender Leads $1.2 Million Grant to Help Mentally Ill

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LOS ANGELES — The LA County Public Defender’s Office is the lead agency for a $1.2 million grant to divert people suffering from mental illness out of jail and into treatment.

LA County has been awarded the two-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation to directly address the over-incarceration of the mentally ill.

Los Angeles County operates the world’s largest jail system and its jails remain critically overcrowded. One of the main drivers of the local jail population is the incarceration of the mentally ill.

The grant will allow the Public Defender’s Office, working with other County and City agencies, to expand pre-plea diversion for those in custody as a result of a mental disorder. The effort will work toward breaking the cycle from medical and mental health facilities to custody, with a focus on the homeless population.

“Mentally ill people do not belong in jails,” LA County Public Defender Ricardo D. García said. “The startup funding provided by the MacArthur Foundation represents a substantial opportunity to mitigate the counterproductive use of criminal courts and jails as holding centers for the mentally ill men, women and children of Los Angeles County.”

This new initiative will include embedding mental health professionals in high volume courtrooms, same-day assessments of defendants who appear to suffer from a mental health disorder, and the pre-plea release and diversion of qualifying individuals into mental health treatment programs.

To help guide the launch of this program, the initiative will utilize provisions of AB 1810, a state law enacted in 2018 that allows pre-plea diversion for some defendants with mental health needs.

Partner agencies in this endeavor include the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender; Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office; Department of Mental Health; Sheriff’s Department; Department of Probation; Department of Public Health; Health Agency Departments; County Counsel’s Bail Reform Team; Project 180, with support from the Superior Court.

The $1.2 million MacArthur grant will go toward diverting people suffering from mental illness out of jails and into treatment.

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L.A. Teachers Sue Delta Airlines for Fuel Dump on Elementary School

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L.A. Teachers Sue Delta Airlines for Fuel Dump on Elementary School

LOS ANGELES — Delta Airlines just got hit with a lawsuit because one of its jets allegedly dumped fuel on an L.A. elementary school.

Video showed Delta flight 89, a Boeing 777 bound for China, turning back to LAX Tuesday to make an emergency landing, and spewing fuel as it went in preparation for landing. Unfortunately, that fuel ended up dousing children at Park Avenue Elementary in the city of Cudahy, CA.

Four teachers at the school have hired Gloria Allred to take on Delta. In the suit, obtained by TMZ, they say the pilot was asked by air traffic control if there was a need to dump fuel before landing … and the pilot said no.

The suit alleges the pilot dumped the fuel without notifying the control tower … and the big problem is … it was done at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. According to docs, that’s simply too low to allow the fuel to evaporate before it reaches the ground — it should be done at 5,000 feet or higher.

In the suit, the teachers say their clothes, flesh and eyes were coated in jet fuel — and it also got into their mouths. They say they had trouble breathing and needed medical treatment.

They’re suing Delta for negligence … and seeking damages.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)


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