Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand,
put a little love in your heart…
– The Reverend Al Green and Annie Lennox
The following is a list of things needed in 2018 to make gluten-free living easier and safer.
1. More Gluten-Free Certification
For those who aren’t gluten-free, allow me to explain why a trip to the local grocery store is a nightmare. You can’t pick up those ready-made salads and entrees (sorry, link is in french only). You can’t just hope the spices in those packages will be gluten-free. You can’t just trust any brand of coffee or tea that “seems” safe. You can’t pick up lunch meat or fresh fish from behind the counter. You don’t get to choose from cheese that’s been sliced on store equipment. (On another note, I once picked up a package of popsicles that claimed to be gluten-free, only to find my stomach swollen after eating two of them…)
The above examples demonstrate why it’s important for foods that would naturally be gluten-free (spices, meats, sweeteners, coffee, tea, frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, rice, quinoa, etc.) to be tested (see here -french link- and here also) and to be manufactured under strict guidelines. So, to all companies everywhere, I challenge you to make your products -be they foods, drinks, cosmetics, sunscreens, soaps, toothpastes, floss, menstrual products or household cleaners- as gluten-free as possible. For product certification inquiries, please consult the Gluten-Free Certification program webpage. This program is endorsed by Beyond Celiac (USA), the Canadian Celiac Association (Canada) and the Fondation québécoise de la maladie cœliaque (Quebec).
2. Celiac-Safe Environments in Hospitals, Prisons, Educational settings, Seniors Residences, Nursing Homes and Homeless Shelters
My own hospital is not equipped to deal with Celiac patients. There are some Kind bars, granola bars and chips in the cafeteria areas, but not much else. If you go in for day surgery, the nurses will offer you cookies and/or popsicles. Also, I tried typing in the words “gluten-free” on the hospital website and nothing came up. I did find a page about special dietary requirements, but honestly, I would feel very uneasy about trusting my intestines to hospital staff (there or anywhere else for that matter). There is also a brand called Steamplicity that is being used in some hospitals for patients, but I couldn’t find anything that would tell me if they have safe gluten-free options. For more information about that service, please consult the following webpage here.
This same lack of awareness is also present for nursing homes and senior residences. I visited a relative in his nursing home and there were no Celiac-safe options and all residents’ food is prepared in the same kitchen. I also went to visit another relative in her seniors residence. She was disappointed because I couldn’t partake in any tea or coffee that was offered there. (She’s a very sweet woman and she used to spoil me and my family with baked goods, so it broke her heart that we couldn’t share a meal together now).
Elsewhere, students across the country, from primary level to post-secondary, can’t get a safe gluten-free meal on school grounds. When I went to high school, there was no mention of “gluten-free meals” and I doubt anybody on staff had even heard of Celiac disease. I guarantee that the majority of elementary and high schools don’t offer safely prepared meals for Celiac and gluten-sensitive students. While some would make the arguments that most students in these environments bring lunch from home and therefore, Celiac-safe meals are not necessary, they are forgetting the less fortunate students who participate in breakfast programs, who are faced with the choice of either eating the food that is being served to them or starve.
An article published by Gluten-Free Living noted that students who head off to post-secondary, don’t follow a strict gluten-free diet. In addition, most campuses don’t offer many gluten-free options that are safe, therefore putting students with Celiac at risk for cross-contamination, which will severely impact their chances for academic success (for further information, please consult the following HuffPost article). My own academic environment doesn’t offer a separate kitchen space for Celiac students and there is no completely gluten-free dining hall or restaurant on campus.
With regards to homeless shelters, I would like to take this opportunity to advise readers that most people with Celiac disease don’t know they have it. In addition, in order to test for the disease, a person has to pay for “Celiac panel” blood test that costs over a hundred dollars in Canada, a test which may or may not be covered by an insurance company and would not be able to be purchased by a person who is living in poverty. I would also like to note that people with undiagnosed Celiac disease who don’t follow a gluten-free diet will find themselves unable to function or have successful employment, due to fatigue, irritability, depression, anxiety, neurological disorders, ADHD and cancer (for more information on that subject, please consult the following articles here, here, here, here and here). On another note, gluten-free foods are more expensive than “regular” foods which forces people to choose between health and emotional well-being and the roof over their heads.
The above facts might could also explain certain behavioural problems and mental health issues in the prison population. A gluten-free diet could mean the difference between a repeat offender and a person with a bright future ahead of them. (Certainly, I realize that Celiac disease is not completely responsible for criminal activity, but it could be a contributing factor.)
For more information regarding gluten-free programs for restaurants, bakeries and hotels, please consult my post of the GFFP here or visit this webpage and this post from the Fondation québécoise de la maladie cœliaque (which are in french only).
3. Gluten-Free Pet Food
In all my many searches on the internet, on the PetSmart website and elsewhere, I haven’t been able to find a truly gluten-free pet food brand.
I realize that at this moment in time, somebody somewhere is banging their head on their keyboard, screaming at their monitor, “YOU’RE NOT THE ONE EATING IT YOU IDIOT, SO WHAT DOES IT MATTER!”
To that person I say:
You can’t call me an idiot. The biblical definition of an idiot is a person who doesn’t believe in God. I believe in God; therefore, I can’t be an idiot. Furthermore, you shouldn’t call people idiots without knowing their religious beliefs or lack thereof beforehand.
Also, it does matter. You will be handling the food and breathing it in, which puts you at a risk of being glutened. In addition, your pet might jump on kitchen counters and tables, spreading the crumbs of their dinner around your house, and in places where you eat, thereby increasing your chances of getting sick.
Let me ask you this, how many of you know what’s in your medications and what those compounds are derived from?
You don’t, do you?
It’s sort of ridiculous that we insist on testing foods for gluten, but not medications, which also travel through a person’s digestive system. The majority of medications don’t have allergen warnings or “may contain” labels. I don’t even know what kind of facility these drugs are being produced in. Is there gluten there? Are there any gluten by-products there? I don’t know, but I want to know. It only takes a little bit of gluten to make a person sick and repeated exposure to a gluten source can lead to a whole host of complications, (for more information on that topic, please visit the following webpage here).
I realize that this will be a lot for many readers to take in (whether ye be Celiac, gluten sensitive or otherwise), but these resolutions will help make a better York Region, a better Canada and a better world. Increased screening for this disease and the implementation of certification programs will help keep Canadians out of hospitals and reduce the strain on healthcare services. More people will be able to manage their conditions successfully, have access to safe foods and live fuller lives.
You can help out Celiacs and gluten-sensitive folk this year by donating allergy-free or gluten-free foods to food banks (a list of gluten-free brands can be found here) or by donating money to a Celiac Organization. If you are a business that is interested in serving the gluten-free community, I would encourage you to have your products certified and to try to replace gluten-containing ingredients with gluten-free ones.
[Please note that the photos in this post come from wikimedia commons].