Celebrating National Celiac Awareness Month
Those of us who have Celiac disease or those, who, for whatever reason are following a gluten-free diet have so much to celebrate this month in honor of Celiac Awareness month. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 1999 and since then have witnessed an amazing transformation that has affected nearly all aspects of our gluten-free lives from the heightened awareness level to product availability in mainstream supermarkets, (not just health food stores), to the prevalence of gluten-free items available in restaurants; many, many restaurants now have gluten-free menus and I must admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve received the blank stare when mentioning the words ‘gluten-free’ to a server. In fact, just about everyone is now familiar with the words ‘gluten-free’ and most, at the very least know that it has something to do with wheat.
There have been so many milestones reached in the last few years due to the hard work, tireless energy and commitment of several noteworthy individuals championing the cause from physicians like Dr. Alessio Fasano and Dr. Peter Green to individuals focused on legislation with labeling laws like Andrea Levario Executive Director of American Celiac Disease Alliance; leaders of Celiac organizations such as Alice Bast, Executive Director National Foundation for Celiac Awareness; Deborah Ceizler, Director of Marketing Celiac Disease Foundation; Mary Schluckebier Executive Director Celiac Sprue Association and Cynthia Kupper Executive Director Gluten Intolerance Group to owners of gluten-free food manufacturing companies who have risked everything as entreprenuers, at first to offer gluten-free foods when there were none, then to offer more variety and better tasting products and to countless dieticians, nutritionists and leaders of gluten-free support groups in virtually every city in the country who help people understand and navigate the difficult world of the gluten-free diet month in and month out. This is such a grass roots movement that it is impossible to list all the great men and women who have helped to change all our lives but my hat is off to all.
The heightened awareness has done much to improve the lives of those of us on a gluten-free diet and as is human nature, when anything receives a certain level of attention, it seems the flood gates open and everyone wants on the band wagon. This situation is in full play and was evident last year at Natural Products Expo West which was host to an unprecedented number of food companies shouting claims of ‘Gluten-free!’ This year it was almost more difficult to find a company that did not offer gluten-free items.
At first blush this seems like a dream come true, so many companies now claim to be gluten-free or are offering gluten-free items. But dig a little deeper and it might be the wolf in sheep’s clothing. In an effort to capitalize on the ‘gluten-free fad’, many companies review their product’s ingredients and in finding no obvious gluten ingredients, slap a ‘gluten-free’ or worse, a ‘No added gluten’, claim on the label. This is an irresponsible, confusing and dangerous practice. I, like millions of others, have Celiac disease and for me, this is not a fad, it is a lifestyle that I must adhere to for the rest of my life. I expect the gluten-free products I purchase to be truly gluten-free, meaning that all ingredients included in the product have been tested for gluten, that the facility that produces the product is dedicated gluten-free or certified gluten-free; completely free from cross-contamination and that the company has an on-going gluten-free testing program. There is concern that many food companies whose focus is not or has not been gluten-free but who are now offering gluten-free items are not meeting these standards.
Enter two more champions to the cause, Jules Shepard and John Forberger, a winning gluten-free triathlete and gf blogger. Jules is the owner of Jules Gluten Free, a gluten-free food company focused on flours and mixes and a speaker, author, consultant and instructor within the gluten-free realm.
Jules, John and friends have banded together to draw attention to the FDA’s inaction to finalize standards for gluten-free product labeling in a very creative way. In 2007, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) tasked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to finalize standards for gluten-free labeling. Four years later, the FDA has failed to fulfill that mandate. To the millions of Americans who eat gluten-free food, this inaction is a big deal.
To draw attention to the FDA's inaction, and to galvanize the burgeoning gluten-free community, leading members of this community will host Capitol Hill legislators, noted celiac disease researchers, gluten-free community leaders and food corporations to the first Gluten Free Food Labeling Summit, in Washington, D.C. on May 4th, 2011. Coinciding with the newly recognized National Celiac Awareness Month, the event will also feature the world's largest gluten-free cake – symbolizing the big deal that clear, accurate, reliable labeling plays in the lives of people dependent on labeling for their health.
As more and more companies jump into the gluten-free space it is essential that standardized gluten-free labeling legislation is in place to ensure that the claim ‘gluten-free’ truly is gluten-free.
So how big will the world’s largest gluten-free cake be? 12 feet tall! For all of us who are familiar with gluten-free baking, we know this is no cake walk, as they say!
For more information on this event, visit the website, www.1in133.org.
Happy Celiac Awareness Month!
- Chef Yvonne