Wednesday, May 07, 2008

is being gluten-free a fad and what to do with those annoying guests who have food allergies

I started this post a couple of months ago with good intentions to get it up within a day. Yet it has languished in my documents not quite complete until until a few events nudged it back into life.

It all began one rainy morning. I was meeting a friend for brunch. There had been a change of plans and her wee girl came too, so a bakery a short walk away seemed to be a good compromise to tempt a child with a fussy appetite and little legs. Once seated the friend announced that she’d just been diagnosed with coeliac disease, an intolerance to anything containing gluten. There we sat surrounded by a whole shop full of the most delicious wheat products. Fortunately, the bakery was Babka and there were also some toast-avoidable meals, like eggs, on the menu and sustenance could be found. But I worried that just sitting in the gluten dusted air may harm her.

That morning, before I headed of to chat and eat, I had an email from a gluten-free blogger who was enjoying the rich pickings at food nazi. It seems that every tenth person I speak to right now is wrestling with a food allergy. In the medical world, coeliac appears to be the new black, with a greater awareness amongst health professionals about the indirect ways this condition can show itself. But unfortunately large pockets of the food world still treat food allergies and intolerances as a fad.

In the past week all this erupted thanks to a piece in Epicure.

Gastronomic snobbery is nothing particularly novel. The princess and her pea are but the latest in a long historical line of snotty food wowsers. There have always been those who consider your pantry an index of refinement.

They snigger if you pronounce "l'ancienne" or "conch" inaccurately. They consider your pantry the register of your moral condition too. You know the sort. They're gluten intolerant and bring their own nut-meat and herbal tea to lunch.

Helen Razer’s rant about food snobbery, carelessly implying gluten intolerance was a fad, understandably got the backs up of many in the local coeliac community.

For those lucky individuals whose lives haven’t been touched by a food allergy, it might seem like it’s a case ‘they’ll never know – a little bit won’t hurt them’. Unfortunately it might. Some allergies can be excruciatingly painful or even fatal. Sometimes it is a case of ignorance but too often there is condescending annoyance, especially in the food world. Unfortunately I’ve spoken to many caterers and chefs who don’t understand that the client is not being fussy or wants special attention – not to be ungrateful but they’ll get sick if they eat the beautiful food and in this enlightened age people shouldn’t have to miss out and go hungry. Looking at the lunch provided by a local gourmet bakery at the local Fairfax run food talkfest, it was gluten as far as the eye could see. “What about the coeliacs” I asked, as an aside to someone in the know. The look and pithy condescending response told me the answer to that question.

I have been aware of my dairy intolerance for 20 years now. Of course, I've had it all my life but I thought it was normal to get tonsillitis or a cold every month let alone the ongoing bloating and pain in my gut. Even now two decades on at least half the time I eat at a catered event (when I have let my food preferences be known well in advance) there is a mistake or a chunk of the meal is missing, such as a dessert or a starter (if you can't eat dairy you obviously wouldn't like to eat something sweet or have dried fruit instead of the cheese platter). Or what is delivered for the same price as the standard meal is clearly lacking. I can’t count the amount of times my vegan airline meal has arrived with its nifty little “VGML” sticker, with dairy on the tray. The Wellington to Melbourne leg of my frequent, Trans-Tasman trips often have up to three milk containing items. Don’t get me started on what meat and dairy-free food I can stock up on at the airport for an exorbitant price. It’s a toss up between a 2 day old, utterly tasteless egg and lettuce sandwich or 12 hour old sushi.

Though my food allergies are of a different variety, a lot of gluten-containing recipes just aren’t that healthy so much of what I tend to cook is coeliac friendly. I am slowly retro-tagging my posts to show this but be patient it might take a while.

Next week we have a vegetarian and her meat eating, recently diagnosed, coeliac partner coming for lunch. It shouldn’t send me into a spin but for a moment I can understand that little panic that sends you back to square one to rethink the menu. Between us there are three major food restrictions to cater for. Oh no, make that four, as there will also be a hypertensive at the table, requesting a low sodium diet. When it is something out of the box, even as an allergy aware cook it can feel like you’ve hit a culinary road blog block.

After a deep breath or two, you realise there is a world of variety. Do I want to pop out to Silly Yaks in the morning and grab a gluten-free loaf of bread as a treat for the recently diagnosed one to go with a bean and tomato soup? A Spanish omelette and green salad to follow perhaps? Or a selection of curries, rice and pappadams (mild with extra chilli on the side, so as not to upset the digestion of the breastfed baby, food restriction number five)? Or just throw together a deli spread – dolmades, smoked fish, (low salt) olives, and salads so it is easy to graze around the demands of the little one?

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by low allergy cooking check out some of the following tags:

Gluten-free (as mentioned, some untagged ones also fit the category but retro-tagging 280 posts takes a while). All the salads, soups and healthy detox foods in the drop down boxes on the sidebar are also coeliac friendly.

Almost all my recipes are dairy-free with butter being easily substituted in the rest. And of course all vegan and the tautological tag ’vegan dairy free' are by definition free of all animal products including moo juice.

Gluten-free bloggers everywhere

Gluten-free for good by Melissa who incidentally is a coeliac (like all the following bloggers) and is a nutritionist. If all this it new to you, keep an eye out for her evolving celiac (yes that’s the way they spell it in some parts of the world) FAQ.

Gluten A Go Go

Gluten-free Goddess, Karina is an artist and author as well as a cook, with links to a great vegan and vegetarian section at Karinas Kitchen.

Gluten-free Girl, who has turned her whole life around by embracing what her body really needed. Though so many of her recipes are out of bounds for me due to the dairy and meat content, I recommend anyone newly diagnosed with coeliac and those wanting to understand it, check out the early posts starting with The Diagnosis.

Gluten-free in Melbourne

Melbourne Naturopath, Gill Stannard’s RRR segment and write up on wheat allergy and coeliac.

Silly yaks a long running coeliac café in Northcote (which even makes gluten-free beer!). I’m told that Pizza Farro just down the road in Thornbury has also started making it’s own GF beer. More gluten-free beer courtesy of the Beer Guide.

S.KomatsuStill waiting on some feedback about this one, a dairy-free and gluten-free restaurant in East Melbourne.

Some gluten-free eateries and more dining links from the Victorian Coeliac Society

Allergy Block is a store in Carlton specialising in allergy-free products. It also has online shopping. Flinders Organics ,a part of the IGA supermarket chain in the CBD, has a growing array of gluten-free and dairy-free foods.

..and more coeliac, even celiac, gluten-free, allergy friendly links

Keep the comments coming and I will add your site to the links

Sure foods living a comprehensive gluten-free and allergy-focused site with medical updates, gluten-free recipes and a heap of great resourses.

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Blogger K Allrich said...

Great post! And thanks for the shout-out on my blog Karina's Kitchen- recipes from a Gluten-Free Goddess (one side note- my name is Karina, not Cheryl ;)).

Be well! And take care- Karina

2:04 pm  
Blogger GS said...

Sorry Cheryl - I got confused with a link, I thought there were two of you:) Will correct it.

2:12 pm  
Blogger K Allrich said...

Thanks a bunch! :)

2:26 pm  
Blogger Johanna GGG said...

I think you are right that gluten free is the new black! I first came across people with these restrictions at work and then in my family. I don't think it is that hard to cater for gluten free if you are willing to change your approach. (Although I know my colleagues get sick of risotto and flourless cake.) I look out for gluten free recipes (and mark them on my blog) because of the people I know and there is lots of interesting stuff out there. But I also am aware that if I were to be diagnosed I would find it hard to give up bread and cakes.

It heartens me to see my little nieces get excited at a special gluten free cake for their sister. The 5 year old also is getting her head around me being vegetarian - apparently when they were singing 'everybody loves bacon' the other day she turned to her mum and pointed out that I didn't like bacon! Smart kid! Makes me hope that maybe we will have a generation growing up with different sensitivities to ours.

4:23 pm  
Blogger GS said...

Oops Karina, I if Cheryl the gluten-free nutritionist out there, please let me know and I will correct it.

Note to self: Trying to finish a post in a rush because its a work day is not a good idea. I spent all of lunch time attempting to correct the mistakes. Perhaps I should have eaten instead? :)

5:10 pm  
Blogger food bling, Brisbane said...

great post! at least more people out there are starting to understand what coeliac disease is. I wish we had somewhere like Silly Yaks in Brisbane

7:05 pm  
Blogger grocer said...

interesting post. I think with all maladies of the day there are genuine cases, borderline cases and bandwagon cases.

Unfortunately for those that are genuine, the rest of the population gets jaded. The cynic in me says that there are more of the latter cases than the former.

Having seen what a milkshake can do to my father, or a dribble of pesto oil to a friend that cannot eat seafood, eggs or nuts (requires immediate medication) - nor chicken when he is in scandinavia (they feed them fish meal over there).

I personally have never liked commercial breads much but never thought much of it until day 3 into an Italian holiday having eaten pizza, pasta and breads of some kind with each meal my stomach started eyeing off a gig as a contortionist. Now I don't say I'm gluten intolerant, but I suspect that the level of gluten I was consuming was a factor... On the other hand I love the slow risen sourdough, spelt and miche...

I think the key in all of this is humility and consistency. I cannot abide the "don't ask, don't tell" vegetarian mentality, nor the "I only eat chicken breast, tasmanian scallops and abalone caught by blonde divers in blue wetsuits!"

7:31 pm  
Blogger worldpeace and a speedboat said...

thanks for the interesting post, and especially for all the links!

my mum was diagnosed as a late-onset Coeliac back in the early 80's, brought on by a protracted case of Giardia. genetically she would have always had the tendency but the illness brought it out.

in those days it was diagnosed by barium swallows and rather uncomfortable invasive methods - protracted and hard to diagnose too, because at first they thought she had Crohn's disease, which upset her no end for a while.

non-Anaphylactic conditions can be of such a varying degree, too, that sometimes people think they can get away with sneaking things like gluten in, and of course, they're (partially) right, because being a Coeliac (for example) isn't immediately life-threatening. but that's not a very helpful attitude.

I do think the western diet has become too focussed on wheat as its staple and this is now being shown up as various gluten and/or wheat intolerances. before the advent of mechanised bread making (and later, slicing) in the Victorian era, there was a much greater variety of grains being consumed. slowly they've been squeezed out of the picture, and you're left with digestive tracts dealing with a lot more wheat than they would have 200 years ago. wheat ain't evil, it's just that its consumption is way out of proportion.

interestingly, apparently pale-skinned, pale-eyed and pale-haired people are most genetically inclined towards being a coeliac. can't remember which doctor told mum that but there you go.

I personally am fascinated by the rocketing % of peanut Anaphylaxis in the current generations of children. where is it all coming from? I do believe in the link between exposing children to dirt and dust and animals to promote a good immune system but still... there's a LOT of peanut allergy out there.

8:35 pm  
Blogger Antoinette said...

Love this post! You've listed some great resources here, I'll definitely check out the ones I haven't heard about.
Babka's were totally gracious and accommodating weren't they? hehe...pretty cool considering they're a bakery.

Being gluten-free has made a massive difference to my health really quickly. I don't seem to get colds every 3 weeks for a start! I'm turning the chronic anaemia and fatigue around too.

Attitudes do seem to be changing, my workplace were great about organising some gluten-free stuff for a lunch meeting last week. Didn't bat an eyelid. I'm also trying to be a bit less apologetic and embarrassed for being this way too.

Anyway, your recipes give me lots of good ideas, so thanks to you to for making it all a whole lot easier.

9:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there -- thought you might be interested to read a post I wrote a while back... Is gluten-free a fad?. Especially since I mention Australia!

6:02 am  
Blogger grocer said...

AOF, I've replied to your email but it keeps bouncing back...

One other thought I had is that I have a friend who has trouble with animal protein / some kind of kidney issue. When we first me she said they don't "do" dinner parties. Yet the more I talk to her, she's actually quite into food and cooking, and it seems this is just her way of taking care of the cringe factor.

Oh and the nuts - apparently that is owing to the way they are processed these days as well. THere is a company called 2die4 that do fermented nuts and pepitas (delicious but expensive) so you might want to check them out as they have some info on that topic.

10:20 am  
Blogger Naomi Devlin said...

I went and read that article and it seems that the writer was suffering froma bad case of misplaced anti-authoritarianism. She rants on and on about people with high ethical standards as though we parade our worthiness like a badge of honour.

Somebody who has the urge to squirt cheese into their mouth from a can in front of a cheese stall selling the real thing, needs to take a long hard look at themselves.

Food allergies and intollerances aren't fashionable, but they are more prevalent because of the environment we live in now. Whilst I don't preach to others about what they should be eating (unless they ask me professionally), I expect them to respect my choice, whether it's a fad, allergy, stand point or just my taste.

Thank goodness we have such a great online support network, when we are faced with such blind prejudice from folks like her.

x x x

6:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A really interesting post, aof. On the nuts - cultures that eat a lot of peanuts, such as the Chinese, often give them a prolonged cooking before consuming them, where we don't.

Personally, I enjoy the challenge of making a menu that welcomes everyone to your table.

(And I love the "culinary road blog"!)

7:59 pm  
Blogger GS said...

Zoe - I made so many errors writing this post, wanting to get it up in a hurry after it languished so long. The 'culinary road blog' is gonna stay I reckon - its a good insight into the workings of my mildly dyslexic brain :)

8:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It'd make a great blog name too ;)

12:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this mention! I do appreciate it and when I come up for air, I will definitely return the favor. I've been spinning my wheels in a parallel universe lately. Busy, busy! Hopefully things will slow down and I can find more time for blogging around! I'll be back!

In good health,

7:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

see more gluten-free eateries at

3:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gluten has exactly the same effect on the small intestine as rat poison has. So everyone eager to find out how it feels to be a celiac should try and have some. Can please someone go to tell this outrageous snob writing about food snobbery she should try some milligrams. Maybe then she can develop a little empathy.

4:22 am  
Blogger ThrtnWmsFam said...

Just found your blog when I googled "gluten-free diet fad", prompted from a very wrong news report the other night. Ticked me off... said gluten was only in wheat. Said all turkeys are ok (not if they have an injection), and more.

My son is gluten-free not because of celiac, but because gluten products, in addition to peanuts, tree nuts, soy and cow's milk, make him off-the-deep-end hyper and suicidal. On top of all of that, he's a picky eater.

I've written a lot of recipes on my own blog, many of which are gluten-free. I hope you will check them out... ... Thanks... Vikki

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its interesting that growing up in a poor community in the 70s nobody had problems with wheat, dairy or whatever people flinch at. I'm now affluent, vegan and surrounded by middle class intelligentsia - you'll be unsurprised to hear that wheat/dairy intolerance is rather popular. Strange that?

5:31 am  
Blogger GS said...

This link in the Wall Street Journal of all places gives a coherent overview and lots of studies to try to explain why gluten intolerance is more prevalent (twenty fold increase in twenty years of medically proven cases).

It aint no fad! Blood tests and scopes show this is the real deal.

8:15 am  

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