Tag Archives: food allergies

How often do you “contact the manufacturer directly,” REALLY?

“For the most complete and accurate information, contact the manufacturer directly.” Some version of this advice appears in every introduction to gluten- or allergy-free living worth reading—and for good reason. Getting the answer straight from the source allows you to dodge cross-contamination bullets and sample new products with confidence. It’s great!

So why does it feel so much like homework? Much like SAT vocab drills, it’s a chore that can only help me, yet still seems unbearable. I use every excuse to avoid it:

  • I’m busy.
  • I’ll just buy some other product I know is fine.
  • Customer service isn’t available because it’s a weekend/evening/holiday/they prolly just won’t pick up, man.
  • If I take it home, call, and find out I can’t eat it, I won’t want to return it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t return it. That’s wasteful!
  • All that information is online anyway.
  • Is this really my life?!

I’m curious: Am I the only one who feels this way?

Personally, if a label isn’t telling me what I need to know, I always turn to Google first. (It’s like the Seamless ad says: “The best part about having a smartphone is never having to call anyone.”) For most products, you can find bloggers who have written about their experience contacting the manufacturer, or lists on About.com, or debates on forums. Sometimes the manufacturer’s website even pops up with a handy FAQ (though said website is invariably mobile-unfriendly to the extreme). A lot of times, that’s probably enough. But not always.

You might think no one would find it in his/her company’s best interests to stop producing a line of gluten-free products or start processing a previously allergen-free food on contaminated lines, but you’d be wrong. Manufacturers change stuff all the time, for reasons both clear and abstruse (though almost all, I’d wager, connected to money). Case in point: our go-to gluten-free dried beans provider, Shiloh Farms, recently discontinued its entire line of GF legumes due to supplier costs.* (They still sell a few other certified items.)

It goes the other way, too, of course. Brands cited as no-gos in ancient Celiac.com threads have cleaned up their act, and both small and mainstream companies introduce new goods every day. Even the mighty About.com Guide Jane Anderson can’t keep pace with every recipe reformulation and label change. (She does, of course, advise us to “always, if in doubt about the gluten-free status of a product, contact the manufacturer’s customer service personnel directly.”)

We may be only 11 years away from falling in love with our computers’ operating systems (according to Spike Jonze) and 4 to 10 years away from a cure for celiac disease (according to Stefano Guandalini), but even so, the best source for accurate, up-to-date information isn’t necessarily the Internet.

girl on iPhone black and white

Unlike bittersweet photography subjects, we don’t have to confine all our interactions to typing and swiping. Hey, food issues are isolating enough as it is!
Photo © Shinichi Higashi | Flickr

You don’t always need to contact the manufacturer. You can look for reassuring label claims, trustworthy companies, and reliable certification organizations (though we all have slightly different ideas of what those are). We’re also getting ever closer to the time when manufacturers officially can’t put “gluten-free” on a label without it being, you know, true.

Of course, even if you trust a brand, you should check labels for anything new and troubling. You don’t, however, have to call every time (unless you’re in dire need of a hobby).

On the other hand, when:

  • something—like popcornshould be gluten-free, but doesn’t say it is
  • a label includes that sneaky GF-in-a-circle near-copy of the “certified” logo
  • you’re holding two cans of honey-roasted mixed nuts made by the same company and only one says it “may contain wheat”
  • you want to know why, in the name of god, Shiloh Farms would be so cruel as to take away your one source of dried chickpeas, out of which falafel absolutely must be made
  • you’ve read EVERYWHERE that egg- and bunny-shaped chocolates are usually wheat-contaminated, but you’ve found the one bag in the store that doesn’t say it is, and you need to be sure

. . . well. That’s when you call the manufacturer. Or email, if it’s available and you don’t mind waiting a day for a response. I prefer email, because I hate waiting on hold, like getting a response in writing, and am antisocial; but I do force myself to call sometimes, too.

And, you know what? In the end, it is a chore, but it’s a satisfying chore. Sometimes, sadly, you learn you can’t eat that thing (in which case—woohoo!—you didn’t waste your money on poison!). But other times, you learn you can. 

You learn, for example, that Soyboy’s online FAQ is out of date, and their products marked “GF” are not processed on lines with wheat. You learn you can open that tempeh, turn it into a Cajun stir-fry way too spicy for your sister to enjoy (sorry), and chow down. And that’s when it all—hold music included—becomes worth it.

gf-unsure-call-manufacturer-v2

When do you pick up the phone to call a manufacturer? Or do you prefer email? (Don’t be afraid to show me up, if you’re actually a responsible adult who makes phone calls and stuff.) Have you ever had a really negative, or especially positive experience with this?

*How do I know the legumes were canceled due to supplier costs? Because I contacted the manufacturer directly! Duh! And I’m glad I did. Although I was disappointed not to learn it was all some big mistake, I was pleased to hear they’re seeking new suppliers of gluten-free garbanzos. Falafel and I are not, I hope, through for good.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s move! toward awareness of food, fitness, food allergies, and the gluten-free diet (plus a contest for precocious sous-chefs)

I have a big celebrity crush on Michelle Obama. It’s not just her arms (though of course that’s part of it). I also admire the work she’s done to promote childhood healthy eating and exercise habits with Let’s Move! In a (relatively) noncondescending, nonextreme way, the organization has been pushing back against childhood obesity—arguably one of the biggest health issues the United States, among other countries, faces today.

Some don’t believe politicians should get involved with food. But like it or not, by way of crop subsidies, government oversight organizations, and more, they’re involved already. Plus, say what you will about MyPlate (and, as a vegetarian with vegan leanings, I’ve said plenty about that cup of dairy), when it comes to the “food” kids are served and the health education they receive at public schools, we could use a little help.

In a conversation about the initiative, my sister commented that it was annoying how issues of “home and hearth” still seem to fall to the First Lady, in a time when such issues should be equally relevant to men and women. Maybe that’s true. But gendered undertones aside, what Let’s Move! is attempting is important. A campaign to change the food and fitness culture of an entire generation calls for a prominent champion, and Michelle is using her pull to spread awareness about the issue in a way that most people can’t.

Whether or not it’s working is hard to say. I get their newsletter, which means I’m in the bubble, but skimming the initiative’s anniversary highlights is encouraging. In part, I think, due to Obama’s work, policy changes are being made, and large audiences reached. Even the nutrition facts label might get a makeover, and according to the CDC, childhood obesity fell by 43% over the last decade—though tough to tell how much of that can be credited to Obama’s efforts, given that Let’s Move! was only founded in 2010.

Lest you scold me for babbling about my socially liberal heroine on a blog focused on gluten, not politics, I’d argue that a generation of kids learning that what they put in their mouths has a direct impact on their health can only be good for the gluten-free. Children educated about nutrition will be better prepared to care for themselves if food allergies or a gluten-related disorder come their way. Moreover, they just might grow up into a nation of adults who know how to cook, care about food, and value wellness. Again, all good things for them and us.

The reason I’m writing about this now is that (as I mentioned) I receive the Let’s Move! newsletter, and the latest issue put out a call for “all young chefs” to enter the 2014 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.

It’s a pretty cool contest. Kids ages 8 to 12 work with their parents to create and submit a delicious, healthy, original, affordable, and meaningful recipe. A winning child/parent team from each US state will get to head to DC for lunch with the First Lady.

MyPlateThe recipe does have to be inspired by MyPlate (but the protein and dairy can be vegetarian or vegan, if that’s your thing), but it also has to have a unique story—that’s where “meaningful” comes in. When I read that, I immediately thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one of the winning stories was about learning to cook with a gluten-related disorder or food allergies—facing these obstacles together, as a family, and coming through it stronger? 

Right now, the closest I come to parenting is cooing at babies at the farmers’ market and nagging teenagers to study SAT vocab (which, by the way, is due for a change in 2016). So I thought I’d throw out the challenge to those of you who do have a budding foodie in the family.

If you and your child want to enter, you have until April 5th, and I’ll be rooting for you all the way. A healthy diet is good for us all—and a matter of life and death for some. The food allergic and gluten-free community knows that better than anyone, and our food is darn good, too.

What do you think of the Let’s Move! campaign, MyPlate, the government’s focus on obesity, and the possibly changing nutrition facts label? Will your family be entering the contest?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s the best gluten-free pasta ever found in my pantry? (Or, a very belated taste test)

This post is long overdue. In fact, I’m embarrassed by how long. When I pulled up the photos to get going, I realized they were date-stamped August 30, 2013. That means I’ve spent over six months wondering, “What should I write?,” considering this, and deciding against it.

At first, the timing was too close to the Gluten-Free and Allergy-Free Expo in Secaucus (which will be September 6–7 this year, if you want to think ahead); then I had astrology posts to write; and then the holidays hit.

But mostly, I’ve just never cared much about pasta.

gluten-free pasta taste test

Not care about THIS? Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it; in fact, in some preparations—lasagna, you say?—I love it. But pasta’s sorta . . . boring. Too easy. The default vegetarian dish at every omnivorous dinner party. Liable to be mushy and bland. Long before the advent of my gluten-free excuse, my friends expected me to groan when Italian was announced as the choice of restaurant for a night.

I’ve heard it said that those with allergies or intolerances crave the thing that sickens them. But the opposite may have been true for me. As a kid, I didn’t like bread, donuts, many pastries, and most cereals (I did eat corn and rice Chex. See? I knew). I have vivid memories of eating hearty homemade bread—which, mind you, was one of my dad’s specialties—and needing to leave the table midchew to spit out a mouthful that had suddenly become doughy and repulsive.

There were exceptions. I never seemed to have trouble with, say, cake. However, overall, wheaty foods like pasta were things I’d avoid. Though I didn’t start experiencing noticeable celiac symptoms until the end of college, looking back, I wonder if those aversions were an early manifestation of the disease I now know I have.

But enough about me. This post is, oddly enough, about pasta. Long ago now, through some combination of changing taste buds, impulse shopping, and the lure of the forbidden, I wound up with four different kinds of GF pasta in my pantry.

So Sprue Jr. and I invited over some friends and had an awesome pasta taste test. I couldn’t wait to share the results. And then, I did. For half a year.

Molly with gluten-free pasta options

I’d have tried to pass this off as having happened last week, but the hair’s a dead giveaway.

But forget all that. Since I know my opinion about pasta is in the minority, I’ve decided to break my silence. I hope that if you like pasta more than I do or are looking for meatless options to carry you through some Lenten Fridays, my notes—and the notes of my fellow tasters, two of whom are gluten-eaters and all of whom are better qualified than I to comment on pasta—will come in handy. 

Head on over to My Life With Food Allergies, where the rest of the post appears, to learn which gluten-free pasta won in our very scientific taste test (corn, rice, quinoa, or red lentil).

What’s your favorite kind of gluten-free pasta? Do you ever procrastinate for months on end before writing a post? I’ll feel ever so much better if you do. 

[I shared this at Tessa the Domestic Diva’s Allergy-Free Wednesdays linkup.]

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Are Food Allergies the New Eating Disorders? Cosmo tells all.

Yesterday, I bought my first (and quite possibly last) copy of Cosmopolitan ever. The February 2014 issue boasts a flashy pink cover, “85 ways to get your dream hair,” and a 4-step “bikini body plan.” Good stuff.

But what really interested me was this:

I’d heard about the article the night before (thanks to Anna Luke, @Gfreegimme3), and I opened to page 182 ready to hate it. 

I wasn’t totally disappointed.

The piece, by freelance health writer Jessica Girdwain, makes the case that some people use allergies as an excuse to eat less, and so control their weight. It urges readers to determine whether they’re truly allergic or intolerant to a food, or in fact struggling with disordered eating.

[Edit: You can now read the entire story online here, so you don’t have to spend the four bucks. No, I don’t know why it’s categorized under “Party Ideas & Tips.”]

The story bugs me in several ways. It:

  1. Features a truly repulsive visual of a lipsticked, nail-painted hottie sensuously devouring what looks like an entire naked pizza crust. It also prints the phrase “eating disorders” in the title with a backwards S and a couple misaligned letters. Like, get it? It’s disordered. Cute!
  2. Muddies the waters about celiac disease: Girdwain calls celiac “an extreme form of gluten intolerance,” then states that “with an intolerance, you may be able to eat dairy, gluten, sugar, or eggs in limited amounts . . . And you may be able to reintroduce the food into your diet in the future.”
        Girdwain and her editors might know that people with celiac can’t eat even small amounts of gluten ever again, but Cosmo’s 78 million readers worldwide may not. The way this article is worded, they still won’t.
        Note: The world’s leading experts on celiac disease now agree that the umbrella term gluten intolerance “carries inherent weaknesses and contradictions” and should be ditched in favor of gluten-related disorders. So let’s start. (I’ll abbreviate it to GRDs for the rest of this post.)
  3. Completely ignores the existence of male eating disorders. Then again, it is a women’s magazine. In its pages, men are merely gods who demand satisfaction by the ritual sacrifice of female dignity.
  4. Appears opposite an ad for Hydroxycut: Really, Cosmo? You’re going to lecture us to avoid restrictive diets, then sell us a weight loss supplement? That’s . . . well, that’s exactly what I’d expect.

Still, the article gets some things right. Girdwain recognizes that food allergies and intolerances are real and are serious. Her primary example is a woman who gets her doctor’s approval to go gluten-free, then spirals into orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with eating only “healthy” foods).

It’s a realistic story, but the argument it illustrates is guaranteed to get eyerolls from the food allergy and gluten-free community. Many of us struggle to have our needs taken seriously, precisely because we’re perceived as fad dieters or disordered eaters.

There is a connection, though.

Looking into it, I found there are many links between eating disorders and food allergies, intolerances, and GRDs. For example:

  • Celiac disease can be misdiagnosed as an eating disorder.
  • Made-up or perceived allergies can mask or exacerbate an eating disorder.
  • A person with celiac disease can develop an eating disorder.
  • A person with an eating disorder can develop food intolerances.

About 1% of the population has celiac disease, and up to 1 in 13 kids has one or more food allergy. Similarly, data from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) suggests that about 8% of Americans have an eating disorder. With so many people affected by these conditions, there’s bound to be some crossover.

But there’s more than just coincidental crossover.

Run a Google Scholar search on, say, “celiac disease and anorexia,” and you’ll find that the two often go hand in hand. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center even includes the disorder on its list of celiac disease symptoms.

The association may be because:

  • Sticking to “food rules” or diets can lead to obsessing over food, restricting intake, and/or binge eating.
  • Associating food with suffering can encourage eating less.
  • Social and familial issues related to health issues can spur an eating disorder.

If you think about it, a gluten-free (or dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, and so on) diet is disordered eating. It’s highly restrictive; it encourages religious avoidance of minute quantities of certain foods; it brings fear and anxiety to the dinner table; it drives a wedge between you and those with whom you dine. Sure, for us, it’s the healthiest option, but that doesn’t make it entirely healthy.

Someone already “on the spectrum” of restricting and binging could easily slip, once allergies and GRDs (real or fictional) get involved. And (according to the ANAD) 7 to 9% of people who go on any kind of diet eventually develop a partial or full-blown eating disorder. Small wonder, then, that embarking on an ultra-restrictive diet for health reasons might point people down that path.

Getting personal . . .

In my experience, disordered eating and celiac disease are intimately linked. Though I don’t have an eating disorder (and don’t want to co-opt the term), I’ve got my own share of food issues. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease myself, one of my first and nastiest thoughts was, “Yes! A new, valid excuse to refuse food when it’s offered to me. Maybe I’ll lose weight!”

Sure, I didn’t actually need to lose weight, I knew that more people who go gluten-free gain weight than lose it, and I had more important things to think about—like my health, and what to do about my kitchen. But still, I thought it.

I wrote about this more when the topic came up at Gluten Dude almost a year ago (the firebombs thing was a joke), and I’m sure I’ll write about it again. For now, I’ll conclude, with some surprise, that . . .

I agree. With Cosmo. Do you?

Some women (and men) do rely on excuses to avoid food, consciously or unconsciously; and the actual rise in food allergies and GRDs lends the “fakers” more credence. And people with legitimate reasons to avoid foods sometimes take it too far.

Cosmopolitan February 2014 issue

Oh, Cosmo.

To be honest, I find it refreshing that a magazine like Cosmo would include an article warning against restricting foods to lose weight. Of course, the very next spread is an “I Dream of Bikini” workout, and the women pictured in the issue are the very Photoshopped, personally trained waifs we’re all killing ourselves to imitate. But what’s a little hypocrisy among friends?

The article, with all its flaws, spotlights a real issue, albeit an uncomfortable one. I’m interested to see how others in the community respond, and I’d especially love to hear YOUR thoughts.

Have you read the article? What did you think? Do you have thoughts or personal experience you’re comfortable sharing about the GRD/allergy and eating disorder connection, or the blurry lines between them?

Sources (I accessed the full texts through my alumni network, so you may just have to trust me):Anorexia Nervosa and Celiac Disease: Two Case Reports,” “Eating disorders and celiac disease: a case report,” “Coeliac disease and eating disorders – forgotten comorbidities?

Other reading on this topic: “Eating Disorder or Celiac Disease?…Or Both?” on About.com, Carrots and (Candy) Stick‘s response to the Cosmo articleLiving Without‘s 2012 article, “Celiac Disease and Eating Disorders”

Thanks for reading! If you stuck through to the end, double thanks! When me and my dream hair and bikini bod are lounging on the beach this summer, I’ll think of you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: