A week after I learned I was allergic to dairy, almonds and coconut, a friend invited me to her birthday party. Being a little kid, I felt uncomfortable asking what kind of cake she was going to serve, but I knew I had to ask. She told me “a white cake with almond chunks and coconut shaved frosting”. I wish I was making this story up for dramatic effect, but it really happen. I tried to politely explain that I won’t be able to eat the cake but I would still like to come. Unfortunately we were so young that having a “new” food allergy was in an attack on her mother’s cooking. I was swiftly uninvited to the birthday party.
Several years later that same friend discovered she was unable to digest gluten. She was scared and refused to eat anything, so I purchased vegan gluten-free nut-free cookies, and we talked about the new chapter in her life. The moral of this short story is a chocolate chip cookie can always make you feel better.
It can be frustrating to keep up with the newest healthy food craze. If you are only preparing meals for yourself it might be easier to peruse the nutrition label and ingredients list while in the grocery store. But if you are caught in the store with little kids, you may not be able to concentrate on the fine print.
A recent New York Times article discussed the trend of gluten-free foods. It reported “a Mayo Clinic survey in 2012 concluded that only 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the small intestine when gluten is ingested and can lead to other debilitating medical problems if not diagnosed. An additional 18 million people, or about 6 percent of the population, is believed to have gluten sensitivity, a less severe problem with the protein in wheat, barley and rye and their relatives that gives elasticity to dough and stability to the shape of baked goods.”
The Stanford School of Medicine believes if one family member is allergic to something, then there is a 60 percent chance that another family member will have the same allergy. Simply put, two out of three children in a home will be allergic to the same food. This means it is easier for some households to discontinue purchasing the irritant food in favor of a food that everyone can eat. Cleansing the pantry and fridge of all foods related to an allergy is the best way to keep kids safe while encouraging independence in food choices.
So when does too many gluten-free options become a problem?
The entry into the market is easy for small facilities that sell locally, because a small to mid-sized bakery can concentrate all of the resources on producing gluten-free products. Larger companies and national chains may struggle to break into the gluten-free market because of cross contamination and problems surrounding freshness. Personally, I don’t think there can be too many products that cater to dietary restrictions. Variety is important.
Poor corporate social responsibility comes when products are advertizing gluten-free under the pretense that the recipe has been altered to make the product gluten-free. Many foods and processed products are gluten-free by nature. Adding a label to the cover of a box doesn’t alter the content of the product inside, but it does give consumers the illusion of purchasing the best product.
On the other hand, labeling products as gluten-free is good corporate social responsibility because the company is informing consumers about the product and allowing more people to try their product. In fact many popular companies like Hershey and General Mills have lists of foods that are compatible with dietary restrictions.
The corporate social responsibility component of gluten-free products is rooted in the motive behind producing, labeling and selling gluten-free items.
Do you prefer gluten-free foods? Let me know why in the comments below.