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What are we entitled to?

November 29, 2009

With any issue, there are at least two sides to the coin.  Living with Celiac disease is no different.

When we first are diagnosed or first go gluten-free, everything we do is about adapting our former lifestyle to all of the new rules.  It’s like learning to read and write all over again, except in a different language, with everyone else still speaking English around us.  It is frustrating and confusing.  But soon, we feel good enough that it’s not a big deal – it just becomes the “new” normal.

At some point, after some period of initial shock and adjustment, we start figuring out the things that constrict our ability to consistently feel good.  Maybe it’s restaurant food, maybe it’s prepackaged food (or maybe it’s something else entirely).  And we start thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if [insert brand name here] was gluten-free?”  Or “Wouldn’t it be great if [insert company here] would just create a separate line for their products so I could eat them?”

Earlier this year, General Mills announced that Rice Chex was gluten-free and that they would be adding the GF label to their boxes. 

[Hooray!  Fantastic news!]

But unless a product is made in a 100% gluten-free facility, it can never be deemed always, 100% of the time, completely gluten-free.

If a product is manufactured in a regular facility along with gluten-containing products, the ingredients of the GF product don’t have to change for it to be cross-contaminated.  In fact, you could purchase 2 boxes of cereal at the store that came from different batches and get sick from eating one but be fine with the other.  The product that you’ve been eating safely for months or even years can suddenly start making you sick every time you eat it… or only some times (which makes it really hard to figure out).

So, does it really help us that General Mills has made attempts to ensure the gluten-free status of Rice Chex if it could easily be contaminated and not really be GF?

Absolutely.

Hands down, the more major manufacturers that understand (or try to understand) Celiac disease and move towards attempting to either make their products gluten-free or provide us with the information necessary for us to determine if their products are gluten-free, the better.   Companies putting forth the effort to understand our limitations cannot hurt us. 

Unfortunately, one of the responses to the Rice Chex problem was that we (as in the Celiac community) should call and demand a gluten-free facility.

Seriously?  Demand?!?  Because that will leave a great taste in the mouths of General Mills, who have been very good about labeling gluten.  Because one product that might be causing problems should cause us to revolt against a company that works with us on the rest of their hundreds of other products.

I’ve read that there has been at least one company that has actually added a gluten-containing ingredient to their naturally gluten-free product because they didn’t want people assuming it was gluten-free, consuming it, getting sick from CC at the factory, and then causing litigation problems for the company.

Which brings me to the question I think has been brewing in the Celiac community for quite some time:  How much does the non-Celiac community owe us?

Business experience tells me that a company will rarely do something that does not increase profits somewhere down the line.  Many companies believe that community support – i.e. support for charitable organizations – will go far to increase the brand image and therefore increase profits.  Thus, a lot of seemingly good works aren’t motivated by pure intentions – they’re simply marketing ploys.

Unfortunately, the Celiac community is just not large enough to illicit such favor towards the brand image for most companies to justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to open a completely gluten-free facility.  Most non-Celiacs aren’t going to notice the fact that a product now says “Manufactured in a Gluten-free facility” and think “Hey, that company is so kind and generous towards those with gluten issues that I definitely need to start buying their products from now on.”  And we simply do not have enough collective buying power to influence the companies based on our purchases alone. 

So, what do we do to get companies to lend us a hand?

Instead of making threats and demands from major corporations, perhaps we should try asking for small things that don’t eat into the companies’ profits.  One of the biggest things that has helped Celiacs to (mostly) safely eat packaged products is clear labeling from manufacturers.  ConAgra and Kraft are two good examples of companies that have pledged to list all ingredients on their labels – something simple that shouldn’t cost them (much) more money to do but makes a huge, huge impact on our ability to look at a product and discern quickly whether we should eat it.  Little concessions like this are what we need.

What we don’t need is less gluten-free products.  More than anything else, we need the support of major manufacturers and the way to do that is to not act like we’re entitled to anything.  Making demands isn’t going to endear them to our cause.  Acting like it’s their responsibility to provide us with 100% gluten-free products is wrong.

I sincerely hope that in the years to come, more companies jump on board with Kraft and ConAgra, to name a few.  I also hope that as more people are diagnosed and there is more collective knowledge of Celiac disease, the likelihood of cross-contamination decreases.  Can you imagine how great it would be to look at any product label and know that any gluten would be clearly listed?

Until then, I will keep reading labels and approaching packaged products with caution.  And I will keep writing appreciative letters to companies that choose to be kind to us and supporting them with my business.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2009 2:50 PM

    Amen to this.

  2. November 29, 2009 3:34 PM

    *stands and claps hands wildly*

    Awesome post!

  3. tastyeatsathome permalink
    December 2, 2009 8:10 AM

    Wonderful post!

  4. February 3, 2012 4:02 PM

    OH, LOVE this biirde in PINK!! 😀 What a great surprise!! I have this bird too–very cute bird–but I never thought to stamp it onto dp! BRILLIANT! As always ;P

  5. February 5, 2012 8:26 AM

    xZc38U lxwwylwjejab

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