Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hassett Hassles Hasselbeck?

Lawsuit Breaks Out Over Books

When GFNYC last checked in on Elisabeth Hasselbeck's recently published book The G-Free Diet, it was topping sales charts. Now the book's in the news for another reason: Sue Hassett, author of a book called Living with Celiac Disease, is suing Hasselbeck for copyright infringement and plagiarism, according to

I'm still making my way through The G-Free Diet, and I haven't read or even obtained Living with Celiac Disease (which Hassett claims was copyrighted in 2008), so perhaps I'm not in a position to offer much insight at the moment. And you know what? I think a lot of the media isn't either. It seems that, at the moment, reporters are basically making hay that anti-Hasselbeck allegations have been made in this letter, even though the allegations as stated don't strike me as very persuasive.

Many of the allegations simply seem to note that both books invoke vaguely similar phraseology without recognizing that the phraseology is common (or at least not surprising) in writings about celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformus (DH). For example, both books use the phrase "Rome wasn't built in a day." But so does this 2005 message board thread about dealing with DH: "The DH will eventually clear up (especially with the assistance of Dapsone), but it takes time -- his body will take a while to clear up the 'histamine' reaction it has had for the past several years -- Rome wasn't built in a day."

Both books warn about possible cross-contamination from meat slicers. So does a 2005 message board thread: "I would say the thing for you to watch is contamination from the meat slicer in the deli. Even if the meat was gluten-free, you wouldn't be able to account for what was on the slicer, unless they totally cleaned it for you...[.]"

Both books offer lists of symptoms. Why shouldn't they?

Get the picture? Both books almost inevitably seem to repackage advice that was already "in the air" before their dates of publication.

Another example: The letter notes that Hassett's book observes that "Wheat-free is not necessarily gluten-free" while Hasselbeck's book observes "'Wheat-free' does not mean the same thing as 'gluten-free.'" But this truism precedes both books by many years: Jax Peters Lowell's 1995 book Against the Grain advises "wheat-free and all natural do not necessarily mean gluten-free." I am pretty sure that this citation is not the earliest that could be found. At any rate, it's another case of both books parroting typical and sensible information.

But the parroted information isn't always sensible: The Hassett letter also draws attention to the books' similar but unfounded warnings about anti-clumping agents in spices. According to the Hassett letter, her book says that "Some spices have a starch put in so it does not stick together you must find out where the starch is derived. Is the starch from a corn or wheat?" [sic], while Hasselbeck's book (misquoted in the letter) says "Spices: Beware the anticlumping agents added to many commercial herbs and seasonings (including those used at restaurants)—they almost always contain gluten." The problem with this can be found courtesy of the reliable resource Gluten-Free Living.

In comments expressing concern about Hasselbeck's book, Gluten-Free Living's Amy Ratner dismisses the spice advice by rhetorically questioning, "Is it a big deal to incorrectly tell someone struggling to figure out the gluten-free diet for the first time that the declumping agents in spices almost always contain wheat...?" Of course, Hassett and Hasselbeck's "declumping agent" warning (succinctly addressed here) also predates both books, as evidenced by this listserv summary post from 2000, which includes the advice that "one must be careful with spices and seasonings because often wheat-flour and other grains are used in them as fillers, to prevent clumping or as a flow agent, and aren't listed on the ingredients." So this instance strikes me as both books parroting typical misguided information.

Considering the weakness of the Hassett allegations, it's a shame that it has taken the mere launching of this lawsuit to return media attention to Hasselbeck and The G-Free Diet. For the moment at least, a far more important and sober (but less sensational) question would have to do with how reliable the information is in both books, how any errors and inconsistencies might have gotten into them, and how much either author might do to address and correct those problems. These are health-related books, after all!

An even more important question for the media to explore (completely in line with the current interest in health care reform) would be how to correctly diagnose the millions of people who unknowingly have celiac disease. But at present, much of the mainstream media merely seems to be sniffing around for the scent of celebrity scandal while giving relatively short shrift to a persistent and serious health concern that's virtually crying out to be addressed in such a way that positive and significant change will follow.

Thanks to Gawker for the lead.

UPDATE On today's The View, Elisabeth Hasselbeck made a brief statement that the allegations were without merit and that they were being handled appropriately.


Tiffany Janes said...

I could not agree more with you!! Wouldn't it be fantastic if the media picked up on the fact that celiac is grossly undiagnosed in the U.S and we are light years behind many other countries on the issue? But in this case, I think all publicity is good publicity because you never know who will pick up on the real story here in due time.

On another note - would you please e-mail me? I'd like to add your store to my web page. You can reach me through my webpage link (my bio) - thanks!

Anonymous said...

There is more to the story than the cover letter. If no one is interested in reading BOTH books before pontificating publicly - maybe you could take a little time to read this interview. There IS more to the story and I think it would behoove you to take a quick look from the poor man's perspective. or Google: The Sue Hassett Interview by Kelly

Anonymous said...

An Open Letter from the Executive Director of the Celiac Disease Foundation
Wednesday May 6, 2009

Elaine Monarch, Founder and Executive Director of the Celiac Disease Foundation, tonight sent the following open letter to the celiac community:

Celiac Colleagues:

I am writing to call your attention to the current publicity surrounding the new book, The G-free Diet, A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, by Elisabeth Hassselbeck, co-host of The View. While it is important to call attention to celiac disease, the information must be accurate – the inaccuracies in this book are potentially dangerous and detrimental to celiacs and to those yet to be diagnosed if people self diagnose and start eating GF. Our mission is to assist in getting people accurately diagnosed and the message in this book could defeat this mission. It appears that this book is being marketed as a fitness diet – eat g-free and feel so much better. Celiac is incorrectly referred to as an allergy not an autoimmune disease.

The GF diet is the medically mediated prescription that controls the condition for a diagnosed celiac. Several items in the book are misleading and inaccurate and place further limitations on the GF diet. The gluten-free lifestyle is a lifelong commitment for the diagnosed celiac, not an option, not a fad diet – adhering to the GF lifestyle requires patience and persistence. This lifestyle can not be trivialized.

Thank you.

Elaine Monarch

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I got the G-Free Diet book because it contains many tips fos us to be slim without having to sacrify eating what we love

buy generic viagra said...

I just want to give some feedback on the previous comment, because my wife tried this silly G-Free Diet and never saw a result. she was always responsible with every step... But never worked. What do you got say to his?

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