Gluten free is not enough 1

At the weekend we went to the Christchurch Food and Wine festival. The weather was beautiful and the high street was packed with tourists, foodies and locals looking for a good lunch and some goodies to take home.

It was great to see the acres of home grown produce and to see so much support for the cause. We all want to have access to fresh local produce and much of it was organic. There was a huge cross section of stalls, just as you would expect at a Dorset farmer’s market. So in many ways the festival did live up to expectations and looks like it is going from strength to strength each year.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I always set off with low expectations at food markets, for Zac – as there is so rarely anyone catering to the needs of an intolerant child. Sadly, this event was no different. As I suspected there were several cupcake stalls and others selling beautifully presented baked goods. Needless to say I was drawn, as I was curious to see how many of them would be catering for the growing number of food intolerants in our midst and specifically my little boy.

It was great to see that most of them were selling a couple of gluten free options and these were clearly labelled but I did not see one dairy free cake of any kind. I saw a few ‘homemade premium sausage’ sellers, some selling ‘gluten free’ sausages. All the ingredients were listed but somehow some still had ‘e’ numbers and non-specific cereals in them. Not being totally specific in the labelling made them a risk and therefore wholly unsuitable for a wheat and gluten intolerant. It also means that they are a whole lot less ‘pure’ than you would expect. Some sadly even had lactose and other dairy ingredients! Big fail.

So it seems that although great steps have been made, there is still a lack of understanding of the ‘free from’ market and what the consumers actually need. Making and labelling your food gluten free is just not enough. I am not just grumbling because this all meant that there was not one product in the whole market I could buy for Zac. I am irritated because no-one seems to be aware of the fact that there is a massive crossover with dairy and gluten intolerance.

Many coeliac sufferers cannot tolerate lactose and other forms of dairy. So the good intentions of these bakers and sausage and pie makers is somewhat wasted, because the people they hope to attract by making their foods gluten free, still cannot buy them because they contain dairy and other random cereals which cause just as many problems.

The sales of the gluten free products could therefore have been somewhat depressed by this fact. They certainly lost our custom and I imagine it gives a false picture to any producers just dabbling in gluten free. Novices thinking that there is just not enough demand for gluten free are quite wrong. Many would be puzzled and wondering why there is so much publicity about Coeliac disease and so few bought the cakes. If they had just made them dairy free too, I imagine sales would increase significantly. I just hope they push on and don’t give up.

Poor little Zac had no expectation of being able to eat anything from the market and as usual we took his little lunch box full of ‘free from’ foods and he was happy. I was the one feeling sad and frustrated so have decided I need to do something about it.

I am going to do a little experiment of my own. I am the chair of the committee of Zac’s pre-school and we have regular fundraisers and cake sales. Between now and the next one, I am going to have a go at improving my baking skills. I want to get my ‘free from’ cakes, biscuits and perhaps even bread, up to scratch – and sell them alongside all the other goodies and see what happens. I think I will make one lot of just gluten free cakes, one lot of gluten, wheat, dairy free and then another lot gluten, wheat, dairy and even egg free and see what goes best. I know there is a good cross section of intolerants in the village, so I am sure there will be some sales.

So wish me luck. Tomorrow, I will be getting the apron on and getting that xanthan gum out to see if I can get off to a good start and perfect my rock cakes recipe.


One comment

  1. As ever I was nodding the whole way through your post. I know exactly where you are coming from! We have recently been advised to cut wheat out of Edward’s diet, along with the dairy and egg which we have been avoiding since his allergies were diagnosed 3 years ago.

    The supermarkets have a reasonably large range of products in the free from aisle for people avoiding wheat, but when you look at the list of ingredients 99.5% of them contain eggs!! There is only one wheat and egg free bread available in the supermarkets and it is not the nicest so we have resorted to home-made bread instead.

    As for dairy and egg free sweet treats In the supermarket – don’t get me started!! I bake for our local NCT cake sales and apparently my dairy and egg free chocolate cake is always one of the first to go. I strongly suspect that you will find the same when you come to sell your sweet treats! Keep us posted!

    I think we need to raise awareness amongst supermarket buyers as to the need to supply free from foods for all the main allergenic foods and not just wheat!


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