Helen Yang examines the sociology of gluten-free diets in U of T's Undergraduate Sociology Journal

January 15, 2019 by Kate Paik

Helen Yang published  "The Seed of Contempt" in Volume I of the Undergraduate Sociology Journal (USJ).  Her work explores the emergence, expansion, and effects of the gluten free market. Under this framework, she discusses both the immunological and sociological influences and implications of the gluten-free diet trend. Although celiac disease  only occurs in 1% of the population worldwide, non-celiac gluten sensitivity  is a more common and controversial dysfunction that has brought gluten insensitivity to the forefront of public discourse. Its rising prevalence is evident in the growing consumption of gluten-free diets, which tripled in the United States from 2009 to 2014. While some may attribute this change to the effects of increased diagnosis of the pathology, Helen argues that sociology is in fact the driving force behind this. Effects of the gluten free lifestyle continue to challenge our understanding of individuality, diet consciousness, and equity. Amidst ongoing debates surrounding both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, its presence is a testament to the sense of ambiguity that is in all scientific and sociological endeavours.

Helen is in her fourth year at the University of Toronto, with a specialist in pathobiology and a double minor in immunology and psychology. Sociology is fascinating to her because it is the study of both social relationships and institutions, which allows one to examine, compare, and contrast the Canadian social infrastructures to the diverse life experiences of its citizens. In particular, she is interested in the sociology of health and illness, which investigates how social interactions and institutions can affect health and morbidity. She believes that the spectrum of health should be defined by more than just a biological approach. This sentiment is also explored in her paper for the USJ. Her favourite sociology course has been SOC101: Introduction to Sociology. It is through this course that she was able to learn a variety of sociological perspectives and research methodologies. The instructor, Professor Christian Caron, also greatly enhanced the quality of her learning through his efforts to integrate and help students during lectures and office hours. In the future, Helen aspires to become a physician scientist and apply her knowledge into clinical practice.