Tag Archives: gluten-free grocery shopping

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.

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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.

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Breaking news: blogger seeks “likes” on Facebook

Hey all, just a quick update today: Based on a Sprue Story is now on Facebook! Click here to like my page and get updates on your very own news feed.

All of my old posts have been added, so you can scroll through and see them all thumbnail-style (and share them with everyone you know, of course). It’s an easy way to follow, especially for those of you who were so cruelly abandoned by Google Reader.

facebook

Plus, check out yesterday’s post and share a story about grocery shopping now that you’ve had some time to think about it. There are some great ones there already.

Hope to see your smiling thumbs-upping faces soon—and wishing you a great Thursday.

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Tell me a sprue story about…grocery shopping

In the wake of the FDA finally announcing gluten-free labeling rules (read about it here, here, and pretty much everywhere), I’ve been thinking about grocery shopping even more than usual, if that’s possible.

In the spirit of celebration, I’d love if you would share YOUR stories about gluten-free grocery shopping—make them sad, funny, infuriating, short, long, general, specific, anything you want…as long as they’re “sprue.”

Gluten-free aisle

Photo © Memphis CVB | Flickr

Here’s mine.

For me, shopping with celiac in tow is only slightly more stressful than it used to be (and still likely not as stressful as having, say, a toddler in tow—or with both, a plight with which some of you are familiar).

That’s because even before I went gluten-free, my grocery shopping trips were already interminable processes of pausing, considering, picking up, rejecting, and repeating. I blame this on:

a) calorie consciousness, which adds time spent reading labels and doing little calculations like, “X calories times Y servings per equals WTF HOW CAN THERE BE THAT MANY IN THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for more reasonable choices;

b) money consciousness, which adds time spent chewing over this option versus that option and more little calculations like, “X dollars divided by Y servings equals WTF HOW CAN IT COST THAT MUCH FOR THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for sale items (something that now takes less time, because it’s simple: the gluten-free items are NEVER on sale);

c) lack of spatial awareness or visual memory (I can’t see images in my mind, perhaps due to mild dyscalculia, which would also explain why the aforementioned calculations always take me so long), which adds time spent wandering slooooowly down aisles looking at each item and hoping that one of them will magically turn out to be the thing I came in for, which I sort of thought I’d seen before somewhere, but in which aisle or store I couldn’t say;

d) vegetarianism, which adds time spent scanning ingredients lists for gelatin and trying to remember which cheese brands use microbial rennet (and trying to nail down once and for all my viewpoint on animal-derived rennet—a philosophical dilemma that also, incidentally, adds time to my shopping trips);

and I could go on.

In other words, with or without gluten, I suck at shopping. With so many hem- and haw-worthy items in mind, I dawdle my way through the aisles. When I finally emerge from a Whole Foods or a Fairway or a TJ’s, I feel a bit like a mortal departing the fairy underworld, leaving behind halls bursting with enticing and enchanting food, and having no idea how much time has passed in the outside world.

I lug my bags home in a daze and often find, as I sort through the treasure, that in a sudden panic after too much time spent deliberating I managed to buy several items I do not need, will never use, or cannot use (such as, recently, those two boxes of granola bars whose first ingredient—oats, even gluten-free—is one I do not eat). Perhaps I do this unconsciously to form a link between myself and those magical realms; I must return, you see, to make the return.

Despite all this, and even though nobody likes a slow shopper during the afterwork rush hour, I always make it through with my sanity intact. And even after a rough trip when nothing is certified and everything is overpriced, I don’t feel discouraged for long.

Because…I must admit…I like grocery shopping. I like discovering interesting new ingredients, I appreciate marketing slogans and packaging strategies, I enjoy checking items off the shopping list, I indulge in people- and cart-watching, I sniff the bottoms of pineapples like a pro, I savor the sudden chill of the freezer aisle and thrill to the sight of a good bargain, and, above all, I know it’s all in service of a great cause: delicious gluten-free, vegetarian, (mostly) thrifty, nutritious, home-cooked meals.

Worth every second.

Don’t forget to share your story about gluten-free grocery shopping for you or others. Alternatively, tell me how you feel about the new labeling rules. Are they everything you hoped they’d be? (Links to your own blog posts on the subject are, of course, welcome.)

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