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Hey, Party City: Gluten-Free Isn’t ‘Gross’

So, it’s that time of year when corporations are busy pulling together clever, witty and unforgettable commercials for the Super Bowl. Some of these are actually funny, some are touching, and some are worthy of a solid eye roll, but Party City made the mistake of coming up with a Super Bowl-themed commercial that totally makes fun of people who don’t eat gluten — because, ew, they’re gross.

So, Party City’s big idea to capture the hearts (and dollars) of people everywhere was to disparage those who must go without gluten? It’s annoying enough that the gluten-free selection in their fabulous Super Bowl spread was obviously an afterthought (I mean, there are oodles of options for those with celiac disease — it doesn’t have to be gluten-free crackers or nothing!), but the women in the commercial, when trying to remember if they even knew “anybody like that,” ultimately said the gluten-free gal they did know was “gross.”

More: Celiac Disease: When Gluten Has to Go

I have a daughter who has celiac disease who went through about a year of pain before doctors found the answer when she was 7 years old (and getting diagnosed is no walk in the park, especially for a child — it requires anesthesia and a stomach and intestinal biopsy). And really, we were lucky. There are people who go years and even decades before they know the food they are eating is what’s making them sick.

Before anyone knew celiac disease was a thing, in fact, kids actually died as a result. People still die from celiac disease. While it is a lifelong, incurable autoimmune disease (not an allergy), it is treatable — by completely, 100 percent abstaining from gluten. If a person with celiac is accidentally exposed (yes, even to a teensy, tiny bit of gluten), it will make them super-sick. I’ve seen it, and it’s not funny. One bit.

More: Healthy Gluten-Free Bread Made Easy

So using “gluten free” as the butt of a stupid Super Bowl ad joke is garbage. Just garbage. I know it’s “funny” and “trendy” to make fun of people who are on special diets, but those of us whose lives are directly impacted by the medical needs that make them necessary aren’t laughing. It trivializes people with the disease and the struggles they go through, and it’s just not funny, and nobody who can’t have gluten is “gross.”

Party City is undoubtedly feeling the massive clapback from this outrageously insensitive ad. They’ve released a statement, which notes they’ve pulled the ad and will make a donation in support of celiac disease (although what this donation is and where it will go is still a mystery). But based on the comments on, well, every Party City thing out there right now, people are not happy.
It’s completely wild this ad made it from the drawing board all the way to production and distribution. I hope this incident helps others understand that poking fun of medical issues is not a good look, even if it seems like the trendy thing to ridicule. I’m sure Party City does now, but the damage to their business may be severe.

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