Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gluten free -- Mainstream?

Sometimes I indulge a small fantasy of mine. 

I think to myself about all of the delicious naturally gluten free food in the world, like strawberries, peaches, asparagus, or sweet potatoes, and my mind naturally follows to all of the wonderful gluten free baked goods I’ve eaten from my own kitchen and several others‘.  Scones, muffins, cookies, and pies.  All gluten free.  All just the right amount of sweet, crunch, and tenderness.

When I think of all that I eat and all that I can create to feed myself and loved ones, gluten free style, I start to wonder why the world even needs wheat, barley, or rye?  If we can eat this well and feel this satisfied without these particular glutenous grains, are they really necessary to harvest for “normal” consumption?  Especially given the evidence that suggests gluten is difficult for humans to digest in general (even for those who are not gluten intolerant per se), I can’t help but think we would all be better off if mainstream food producers started to remove the gluten altogether. 

I start to imagine a world where everyone’s go-to thickener for sauces is tapioca starch rather than wheat flour, or where dredging fish in almond meal or rice flour for fish and chips is the standard.  Bakeries stock their flour bins with buckwheat, sorghum, or coconut flours.

Would anyone miss the gluteny grains?  Would there be a mass uprising to bring back flours that contain little nutritional value and give most people troubled tummies?  I smirk at the thought of crowds of people outside their city halls and in DC holding signs, calling for the return of wheat to their Wheaties. 

My little utopia-bubble bursts quickly each time when I come back to reality and think about the mass production of wheat - it’s a historically high-yield, low cost crop that food manufacturers can use as an inexpensive filler - and it has become so ingrained (no pun intended) in our culture as a staple food product to make removing it feel like going up against “the machine.”  Plus, shifting how people think about baking, taking for granted the binding properties of gluten, would certainly be another sort of paradigm shift. 

Then, I see things like this:

Mainstream cereals going gluten free. 

No, they don’t have their “gluten free version” of Chex.  A while back I posted a review for Betty Crocker’s gluten free brownie mix.  They have a gluten free brownie mix and a regular brownie mix.  However, if you want honey nut Chex or chocolate Chex, for example, you have one option - the gluten free option.  Simple as that.  No more barley malt flavoring their cereals.  (They still have wheat Chex however, which are obviously not gluten free).  I'm not big on processed foods in general, but know very well how handy they are in a pinch, and I'm rather intrigued by such shifts in mainstream food producing.

It’s like someone in the company woke up one day and realized a whole segment of the population couldn’t eat their product because they were using a particular flavoring that could easily be replaced by something that didn’t make 1 in 100 people sick. 

While I don’t think we will ever live in a gluten-free world, I at least have hope that as consciousness grows about things like gluten intolerance, not only will individuals think more critically about what they put in their bodies, but food suppliers will think more critically about what they offer - they will ask themselves if they can create something that is slightly better tolerated, more nutritious, or less processed by changing a few small practices or ingredients.


Stephanie said...

Chex makes me happy. I don't give into the gluten-free prepackaged products often. I prefer naturally GF foods, or making my own GF versions of things. But I do like Chex occasionally. I use rice and corn Chex as crumbs for meatballs and strudel toppings on muffins. I love the honey nut and chocolate Chex (just right out of the box). However, my favorite way to eat Chex is in a bowl with strawberries and some freshly-made vanilla almond milk.

Amy @ Yard to Fork said...

Isn't it fun that Chex has so many gluten-free flavors. My fave is definitely the honey nut, too! I've loved following your blog, and in case you haven't seen mine, you might like this post. It kinda reminds me of this one you just wrote!

Destination Healthy Foods said...

I see more and more awareness of this issue almost everyday.

It won't be long before gluten free products are offered everywhere!

perfectginger said...

Very interesting post. I´m starting to think I am gluten free, even though my blood tests didn´t say so 2 years ago, but I have too many sympthoms and it´s driving me crazy. Do you know of any good site where i could read about gluten intolerances and effects, even though if you are not gluten free? Such a complicated stuff!

Lauren Denneson said...

Stephanie - thanks for the great idea to use Chex as bread crumbs. I'm always trying to come up with easier substitutions for bread crumbs when I don't happen to have any GF bread on hand!

Amy - Thanks for the link! I think it's good for people to see all of the mainstream kinds of things that are gluten free, especially when they are starting out and are likely to be freaked out :)

DHF - we can only hope, right? :)

perfectginger - Sorry to hear you have so many symptoms! I would try the Maryland center for celiac research link on my site. There is lots of good information there. Also, you might want to think about seeing a naturopath for your symptoms; they can help you feel better whether or not your symptoms are gluten-related.