Monday, August 29, 2011

Hope all is well

Gluten-Free Living survived Hurricane Irene…all of us…variously located on the east coast and, in the case of Vicki, our graphic artist, on an island reachable only by ferry. She evacuated. The rest of us stayed put.

Speaking for my gluten-free self, I was ready even before Irene became a preliminary news item. The proliferation of gluten-free food items means I always have a freezer full of food. (The preparation advice was to crank up the temperature of the refrigerator so if the power went out, warming would take longer. Also, we were advised to fill plastic containers with water and freeze them to fill any empty freezer spaces and lower the temperature further. PS: We didn’t lose power.) Amy’s daughter, her gluten-free family member, was safely back at college. As you’ve read, Kendall’s whole family was well prepared with GF food, whether they follow the diet or not! Vicki can eat anything.

Happenings like Irene might give us at least momentary pause as to what we will eat in the event of a disaster – with emphasis on momentary. As long as we are even minimally stocked, and as long as naturally gluten-free fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, beans, etc, are around, we can assume we won’t starve. Plus, now that we can depend on local supermarkets and other locations to stock gluten-free food items, chances are good we’ll find something on even the barest of shelves.

Perhaps. The reality here was that the shelves of most stores in this area were bare even early Friday. I stopped at the local A & P for a quart of milk at roughly 2 pm Friday and found nothing but goat or soy milk. And as you may know, the bottom line for the gluten-free diet is that even in an absolutely worst-case scenario, if we are starving to death and the only food available contains gluten, we should eat it! That’s advice from expert Peter Green, MD, in an article on disaster planning that we ran a few years ago. He said: “…If one had to eat food with questionable gluten content, I would bite the bullet and eat it. If gluten-containing foods are the only option, the damage created would eventually repair itself.” In other words, our intestines will heal; death is final.

As you probably know, the east coast shut down on Saturday: there was no public transportation, airports were closed, and low-lying areas had mandatory evacuations. This previously untested tactic of shutting down in advance of a storm has already been criticized and my guess is that the criticism will grow. I have no feelings on this one way or the other. But I did get pretty impatient with the media. For close to three days, it was the same on every channel, with reporters seeming to vie for the deepest flood water to stand in or the heaviest wind to withstand, with the goal of telling us not to do what they were doing! I am all for employing the media for things it can do that others can’t. Heck, we are the media! But I do think media overkill does not always influence events in a positive way. Enough said on that score because it’s a bit like biting the hand that feeds us.

With temperance in mind, our message is be prepared to deal with whatever comes, but don’t be overly concerned about whatever worst-case scenario you can conjure up. Yes, that’s the story that might make the media coverage, but it’s not what happens to most of us.

I hope all the gluten-free people on the east coast survived Irene as well as Gluten-Free Living did. But with serious flooding in many locations, the story isn’t over yet.

Ann Whelan

Gluten-Free Food in the “To Go” Bag

Prepping for Hurricane Irene was important because I live in a coastal town with a brook that cuts through the town and empties into the Long Island Sound. I’ve been told that the brook was forced to wind and bend through the down town, past the Middle School/High School campus and eventually find its way to the Marina and out.

What I have learned over the years is that this pretty little brook becomes a raging class-three rapid that runs straight through streets, buildings, football fields, basements and neighborhoods. It happened again with Hurricane Irene.

I have also learned that big, old Maples do not “bend and snap” the way palm trees do, thus leaving us with downed power lines galore. That happened again with Hurricane Irene as well.

This time, I was unbelievably prepared, even as my children mocked me for having “to go” groceries and three cases of water right by the front door…there was even dog food ready to go. I had written down last minute “tasks” for each kid on post-in notes so in the scramble to go, if we had to, then everyone would scramble in a productive manor…I did not let them know about these, how much eye rolling can a mom take?

I checked my supplies, and we still had plenty of LED candles and batteries from the December 26th snow storm! Everything was placed on the kitchen table and everyone went to bed Saturday night with a flashlight.

In all reality, if we had to leave, we all would have been eating Glutino pretzels, ThinkThin and Pure Fit bars, Trader Joe’s fruit crushers, Sesmark crackers, Tasty Bite Madras Lentils, tuna and peanut butter. I decided to pack mostly gluten-free food in the bags because it seemed easier in the long run.

We would have also been eating a lot of homemade baked goods too. Out of sheer boredom on Saturday, my kids made enough baked goods to open a bakery. Now I need to re-stock my gluten-free mixes and go for a jog to work off the calories from the brownies and pumpkin muffins and cookies that have been tempting me for two days.

We were very lucky and kept our power and had little water damage, so now one case of water goes with one daughter to her dorm room on Thursday, another goes with a daughter to a soccer tournament and the third will be used over the next few weeks for various tennis outings, soccer and football practices . The sun has returned to the sky and my “to go” food has been unpacked and returned to the pantry.

To those who are dealing with major damage, I hope help is on the way and that things return to normal as soon as possible. To those like me, who were prepared, but dodged one this time, I feel that I learned something new and will be even more prepared when the next storm comes around.

Kendall Egan

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gluten-Free French Toast in Cape Cod

We have traveled to Cape Cod and stayed in Dennis for so many years that I never do research or prepare for a week’s stay on the Cape. I know the Stop and Shop will have gluten-free food on the store shelves and in the freezer and that lobster with butter is gluten-free, so what else could I want?

On the one rainy day of our vacation, I went into a Rite Aid and indulged my love of magazines, picking up several for some cozy reading. I purchased Cape Cod Magazine due to the great cover article called “Where to Live, Our Guide to the Best Neighborhoods of the Cape.” It has been a lifelong dream of mine to own a place on the Cape…just eleven years of college tuition first!

As I read it, I saw a special box in the restaurant section with the header, “Hold the Gluten.” In the town next door, Yarmouth, there was an entirely gluten-free restaurant called Idgy’s! You should see the photo of the praline French toast.

We had been planning to go out for a big breakfast one morning. There is a great place in the Harbor and I never mind eating an omlete. But, my husband suggested that we just get up a little earlier and have breakfast at Idgy’s. He would drop us off, take the dog for a run on the beach and then pick us up. His guess was that the teenagers would still be asleep when we returned home.

I had a quiche with tomatoes, onions and linguica sausage and my celiac had the praline French toast. We had both wanted a cinnamon roll to go, but they were in the mixer as a work in progress. We also bought lots of treats for later.

I was watching other orders come out from the kitchen, a huge Belgium style waffle, crispy bacon and toast. I wish I had more room in my stomach. Our breakfasts were really good and we were trying to figure out how we could come back for “Pan’Idgy’s,” a GF version of a Panini’s.

I learned something as a “seasoned” celiac, it’s still important to do a little research and look around for those gluten-free gems, even in places that are very familiar.

Next year, I am going to have some pizza’s built by Idgy’s and pick them up on the way to Dennis. The one thing we have always wanted to do was have pizzas on Mayflower beach for the sunset and so far the local pizza places do not have gluten-free options. So, I will pop back to our rental and bake them up and then pick up all the pizzas, with sodas and beers and celebrate the day’s end with all the other families on the beach.

I can’t believe I have to wait an entire year for sunset pizzas on the beach and a whole year for cinnamon rolls!

Kendall Egan

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Update on Gluten-Free Labeling

It will be at least another year before gluten-free consumers can expect to get clearly defined gluten-free labels on food.

That news came out of a teleconference the FDA held Tuesday to announce that a long-awaited assessment of safe levels of gluten for those who have celiac disease is finally finished and open for public comment.

But after all the years the safety assessment has been cited for delaying a final gluten-free definition, it got little attention during the FDA teleconference with members of the gluten-free community.

In part that's because the FDA coupled release of the safety assessment with an announcement that the agency will open the entire gluten-free labeling proposal to a renewed round of public comment. Details on how to comment are available on the Federal Register.

Callers representing celiac support groups, the medical community, food makers, gluten-free media and consumers wanted to know when the FDA now expects to finalize a definition, how that definition will be enforced and whether it will still be based on a standard of 20 parts per million.

The FDA said it expects to have a final definition by the third quarter of next year. Once its in place, the FDA will develop rules for compliance and could enforce them through warning letters to food makers that violate gluten-free rules, seizures of product improperly labeled gluten free, injunctions and mandatory recalls.

Mike Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said the agency believes the 20 ppm threshold in the proposed definition strikes a balance between providing safe food for those who have celiac disease and enabling food makers to produce a wide range of products at reasonable prices. But he noted that the FDA wants to hear all points of view and to get comments based on information contained in the safety assessment.

While the teleconference included little mention of the safety assessment, the federal register notice outlines the assessment's conclusion that very low levels of gluten, far less than 20 ppm, "would be protective of the vast majority of those who have celiac disease, including the most sensitive."

The 93-page assessment, called the Gluten Report, concludes that less than 1 ppm of gluten in foods protects the most sensitive people with celiac disease and, as a result, protects the largest number of people from harmful health effects related to long-term exposure to gluten.

The FDA in the federal register said decreasing the gluten cut off to much less than 20 ppm could "have an adverse impact on the health of Americans with celiac disease." The agency said it should set a threshold for gluten-free labeling that helps those with celiac disease adhere to a life-long gluten-free diet while also protecting them from harmful levels of gluten.

 Labeling rules that lead to less gluten-free products at higher prices could reduce compliance with the gluten-free diet and result in serious health complications related to celiac disease, according to the agency.

The FDA said the findings indicate that a safety-assessment approach to defining gluten free could lead to a "conservative, highly uncertain estimation of the risk to individuals with celiac disease associated with very low levels of gluten exposure."

Michael Landa, acting director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said during the teleconference that the safety assessment was expected to come up with low numbers for safe levels of gluten tolerance. In part, that's because of the kind of studies it includes and excludes for evaluation. In addition it bases conclusions on the most sensitive people who have celiac disease, not the majority that celiac disease experts say can safely eat foods with less than 20 ppm of gluten.

Instead of using the safety-assessment approach, the FDA said the analytical, test-based approach originally proposed for defining gluten free should be used for the final definition. The analytical approach takes into account the reliability of available testing, the FDA noted. Currently there are no reliable tests for less than 1 ppm of gluten.

But even if the analytical approach is used, the safety assessment could  have consequences for gluten-free labeling. The FDA asks whether, in light of the safety assessment, gluten-free foods that contain a trace level of gluten less than 20 ppm need a qualifying statement. For example, the label might also say "does not contain more than 20 ppm of gluten."

During the teleconference the FDA emphasized how important comments on all aspects of gluten-free labeling are and noted that they will have influence on the final definition. Landa compared the value to real estate, where it's location, location, location. "In rule making, it's comments, comments, comments," he said.

Look for more details on the FDA's plans for gluten-free labeling in our upcoming issue of  Gluten-Free Living.

Amy Ratner