Sort of gluten free pizza

I had a different blog post lined up for today, which for dull reasons will now have to wait a while for its ‘time’ to come around again, but an interesting development in the States caught my eye, thanks to a tweet from a gluten-free blogger called Michelle.

Domino’s Pizza in the States have launched a pizza made from a gluten free crust. You can learn a lot about it on their FB page, but the crust is made from rice and potato flours and starches, with water, olive oil and a few other ingredients.

And they appear to be rather proud of it, if this video starring their CEO is anything to by. On Monday the 7th May, their twitter stream provided ample further evidence of this, as they sent messages to a rollcall of stars who have mentioned dietary or gluten issues in the past: Gwynneth Paltrow, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Miley Cyrus (see below).

But if you’ve already clicked on the links I’ve included you may have learned that all is not quite what it may seem. The product comes with a caveat. “Domino's Pizza made with a Gluten Free Crust is prepared in a common kitchen with the risk of gluten exposure,” they tell potential customers.

Accordingly, although in the video the CEO calls the product “our new Gluten Free Crust Pizza”, he warns in a disclaimer that it is not suitable for coeliacs, due to the possibility of cross contamination in a kitchen where ordinary gluten-containing pizzas are handled.

Not everyone is happy about this, and it’s not difficult to see why. Michelle, on her blog, is left sighing in exasperation; it’s “minimising the seriousness of celiac disease,” she says.

Like her, I am left wondering who this pizza is actually for. Is it aimed at lifestyle gluten avoiders, who think going gluten free is the way to better health and weight loss? One can hardly dub most pizza a health food – and besides, most of the calories come in the toppings, not on the base.

Is it for those with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – which experts are now beginning to recognise? The problem with this is that we don’t yet know enough about the condition to appreciate whether or not trace gluten is enough to cause problems in those with NCGS, as it does in those with coeliac.

“It wouldn’t be entirely honest to guarantee that this pizza is absolutely gluten free” we are told in the video.

This statement begs this question: what is Domino’s definition of both ‘gluten free’ and ‘absolutely gluten free’?

In Europe, ‘gluten free’ is now a protected term, and means under 20 parts per million of gluten. This is an absolute definition – albeit raised a few notches from the intuitive 0 parts per million that the ‘free’ would ordinarily imply.

The thing with absolutes is that they are unqualifiable. You can’t have ‘very’, ‘quite’, ‘complete’ or ‘a bit of’ an absolute. You can’t be very dead, or quite pregnant, or a bit unique. You’re either dead or alive, pregnant or not, unique or not.

Equally, something is either ‘gluten free’ or it is not.

And so when expressions like ‘absolutely gluten free’ are used – that is, adding an ‘absolutely’ to a term which should be ‘absolute’ by definition, and therefore suggesting there are degrees of gluten-freeness – it exposes the weakness of the American labelling situation. Without a legal and protected definition for ‘gluten free’ like we have here, these sorts of situations can arise, and there is I think a risk of confusion.

Some have praised the sense, honesty and clarity of Domino’s, both in consulting with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (who, curiously in my view, have stated that they “support the availability of Gluten Free Crust at Domino’s”) and in their communications with the public. 

To some degree I can see where they’re coming from, but my concerns remain that some coeliac customers may risk it, despite the clarity of both Domino’s and NFCA in warning against it. And the effect this may have on the perception the ordinary public have of those at the more extreme end of the food sensitive spectrum is up for debate too – not to mention the consequences for catering in general.

Overall, this is an interesting development, because it seems to me that lifestyle gluten avoiders are being targetted. What is essentially, in UK terms at least, being offered is a ‘no gluten containing ingredients’ product, and I wonder whether similar products will start being produced in the UK, both in catering and on-shelf, targeting the ‘softer’ side of the ‘free from’ clientele. Such products would be cheaper and easier to produce, I imagine, given strict anti-contamination protocols will not be necessary. How would such foods be received? Would they be stocked in Free From aisles? Would they be permitted in the FreeFrom Food Awards…?

My eyebrow remain raised on this one, and it’s something worth keeping an eye on.

Meanwhile, our American friends need to decide how to act on Domino’s request to “Get it, enjoy it, read the disclaimer.” 

I’d say read the disclaimer first before getting it and enjoying it, don’t you think?

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