You must have noticed it, too. Suddenly everywhere – the words “gluten-free” appear. They’re on packages of foods and bottles of beer and advertising supplements for grocery chains.
Companies that produce food have begun to take notice of those of us who cannot eat gluten. According to a report by Packaged Facts, a market research company for the food and beverage industry, the gluten-free foods market in the United States has grown an average of 28 per cent annually since 2004. In 2008, gluten-free foods brought in $1.5 billion US. This is a boon for those of us with celiac disease.
However, there’s a flip side to the attention. Every week or two, a new article appears in a newspaper or magazine that’s skeptical about living gluten-free.
It breaks my heart that these stories present the increase in awareness as an ephemeral trend that is followed by superficial folks wanting to lose weight or reach some nebulous sense of health. There’s the obligatory brief paragraph explaining celiac disease. And then there’s the rush to compare this to the Atkins diet, or the all-grapefruit regime, and to question the motives of anyone eating gluten-free. What’s worse are the incensed comments on the articles, spewing bile at anyone who eats gluten-free. I grow so angry at this ignorance.
Those of you who have to eat gluten-free can chime in on this one: who would do this for the heck of it? Who would examine every label for soy sauce or malt flavouring that did not have to? Who would quiz the host at a dinner party about whether wooden cutting boards were used to cut the vegetables for the salad unless she had to avoid the slightest trace?
Gluten-free awareness is on the rise because the medical profession is just starting to understand the prevalence of celiac. After decades of being taught that only 1 in 5,000 people have celiac, doctors are slowly realizing that the numbers are much higher, with the Mayo Clinic recently suggesting the real number is 1 out of 100. Another untold number of people have gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, a condition even more difficult to diagnose than celiac. More and more of these people are being diagnosed, and they need food.
Eating gluten-free is not a fad.
Whenever I read one of these articles, I let go of my indignation by writing letters to the editor and breathing. I remember again that this is why I say “yes” so loudly. And I start writing it again. I write about living gluten-free, joyfully, because I have celiac disease. It’s real, and it’s not only me. Less than 5 per cent of those with celiac disease have been diagnosed. I worry about those with celiac who will never find out because they are afraid to be part of what they are told is a mindless trend.
For Shauna’s “Curried Sweet Potato Gratin” recipe – see Allergic Living magazine’s Spring 2010 issue.
To order that issue or to subscribe, click here.
Shauna James Ahern’s and Daniel Ahern’s new cookbook is Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, published by John Wiley & Sons. Their blog is Glutenfreegirl.com