Sunday, 5 January 2014

2013: a good or bad ‘free from’ year?

Was it the year of the villain?

The one who first springs to my mind is cook Stacie Stewart, appearing on Food Glorious Food, who took a fair bit of flak (largely unfairly, in my view) following some flippant remarks she made concerning gluten consumption.

Not that I’m necessarily advocating the dispensing of flak, but looking back I think there were more deserving targets for our moans. It was also the year that the Voice of Young Science’s Victoria Bryant got it wrong on ‘free from’ labelling, that the then chair of the RCGPs, Clare Gerada, did likewise on nuts and peanuts, and that Glamour Magazine cobbled together a right sorry hash brown-y balls up of an article on gluten. But relatively speaking, all these were mere typos to the apocalypse of error that was Novak Djokovic’s book, Serve to Win, released last year, which virtually from page zero made my pores ooze Domestos.

Much of this seemed to pass without much fuss, but sometimes the community got it right and was rightly stroppy in its response. North American know-it-nothings commenting on gluten were called out regularly by one of my favourite 2013 bloggers, Gluten Dude. Sam, The Happy Coeliac, launched a glorious tirade, in easily one of my favourite blogposts of the year, against the Telegraph for an odiously toned piece on the gluten-free ‘scam’. And Alpro’s plans to introduce ‘may contain’ nut labelling on their soya products inspired first a mix of outrage and upset, then a co-ordinated response via the Alpro SOS campaign, in (especially) parents (rightly) furious that dairy-free staples for many dairy-and-nut-sensitive kids were suddenly looking set to become soya non grata. It’ll continue to run into 2014 – the campaign now has the backing of BSACI, the Anaphylaxis Campaign, and the BDA – so no doubt will be featuring again here next year … for now, there’s more here on their Facebook Page.

Aside from the Alpro saga, the other major labelling story concerned the imminent approach of the changes to food allergens’ representation on ingredients lists, which will be fully effective by the end of this year, which I wrote about here. The piece contains links to pieces by two more of my favourite 2013 bloggers: Alexa of YesNoBananas and Louise of NutMums (both key figures in AlproSOS). Louise has recently blogged, with typical excellence and clarity, about the legislation which looks set to be a major point of discussion through 2014. It’s worth getting up to speed now so you know what to expect and can take part.

What else? We had the International Celiac Disease Symposium, which drew out some amazing facts about gluten and CD, which I can only relate to you because it was tweeted magnificently by a brilliant group of dedicated American social media users – I wrote about it on Coeliacs Matter, if you missed it –  and 2013 saw two gluten consumers defeat two gluten avoiders in straight sets in the Wimbledon singles finals; and it was also the year that I felt that FODMAPs really began their journey to becoming mainstream points of discussion in the food hypersensitivity conversational landscape (I’ll stick my neck out and predict low-FODMAP ready meals will be on our shelves by the end of the year. Well, maybe by 2015 …).

More poignantly, it was the year that we lost a great allergy researcher, practitioner and advocate in Dr Harry Morrow Brown. It was another event which seemed to pass almost unnoticed – perhaps because it was in the height of summer – but do read Foods Matter’s Michelle’s rich tribute to him on her blog.

Speaking of blogs, aside from those I’ve talked about, others deserve mention – although many of my favourites were quiet in 2013 (busy making babies, so they’re excused …). Madame Free From and the Wheaty Eater’s Anita has been very funny (try 5 Things Not to Say to a Gluten-Free Eater, as your starter for ten – or five …) and I’ve long liked Sarah’s Sugarpuffish blog for her ongoing it’s-not-all-about-gluten view on ‘free from’ and not holding back in criticising products she does not like – a refreshing counterpoint to the gushing reviews which seemed increasingly part of the blogosphere’s furniture last year. Caleigh, the Gluten Free(k), asked an important question – Should Coeliacs Lighten Up? – which tackled other controversial events of 2013, and SOH is a subject which also arose in the States (try The Savvy Celiac’s take). Meanwhile, Alexa’s insightful piece on bringing up a many-foods-allergic son in a mountain of supermarket ‘may contain’ labelling is well worth your time.

(If I’m permitted an indulgent 2014 wishlist regarding blogs, I’d personally like to see more criticism – justified and supported, but delivered nonetheless: the community should not be scared to ask tough questions, no matter how controversial the answers may be. Also: more specialist dietitians, allergists and gastroenterologists blogging, please. In their absence, the info vacuum gets filled with alternative therapists touting unproven tests and other traders using fear as a sales tool. This should be addressed by the experts. Presently, I don’t feel it is.)

There were lots of free from foods launched in 2013 – Free From Foods Matter have it covered so catch up there – and the Allergy and Free From Shows were both enjoyable, informative and bustling events: great places to try out new and emerging brands and products – yes, in food, but also household products, and ‘free from’ skincare. There was moderately good news on the allergy recall front: I counted 46 in 2013 – down from 73 in 2012. Still too many? Yep.

Catering and eating out was big in 2013 – and is set to be in 2014. There was the fining of Jamie’s Italian for previously serving a lady glutenous pasta, after multiple requests for gluten-free, and the removal of its gluten-free pasta from the menu, covered by Matthew at the Hungry Boyfriend blog, among others. It was the year GF pizza really made its mark, with Pizza Express’s 'masterstroke', as Michelle of Foods Matter called it, of using only gluten-free flour for all rolling out of pizza dough – gluten-free and not – perhaps trumping the rest. And it was also the year Michelle made the announcement of the launch, this year, of the Free From Eating Out Awards, which could not come at a better time, given the looming food allergen regulations which will impact catering establishments fully by December.

As for medicine, I confess to being not fully up to speed on the progress of treatment and cure research made in 2013 … but I know allergen desensitisation patches, coeliac vaccines, gluten-degrading enzymes and the like are all at various stages of development and trial, so fingers crossed for some exciting news in the next 12 months. The scientists working on all this stuff are doing ground-breaking work – so perhaps in the spirit of good will we forgive and forget any passing villains and hope for great news in 2014.

I’ve missed lots out, so feel free to share your 2013 highlights and lowlights and 2014 wishlist via comments.

6 comments:

  1. Happy New Year. Here I was merrily reading your post and up pops my name :-) thank you very much for the mention. I'm still trying to get my head around the new labelling and I will be interested to see how this progresses over the year. The Alpro matter doesn't effect me but I am supporting the campaign being made. I've always been of the opinion that Alpro is a "healthy lifestyle" brand rather than "free from" so the decision they made didn't surprise me. I hope the we can get them to change their minds or perhaps encourage a competitor to fill the gap.

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    1. Yep, I think labelling will throw up some interesting discussions this year - perhaps driven by the manufacturers who get it wrong (assuming some do - perhaps I do them a disservice in doing so) ...

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  2. Hi there! On the Alpro front I thought I would just let you know that I have had some correspondence with Vivasoy who produce soya milk in a nut-free environment. They are also looking into a product for the 1+ market...currently only made by Alpro... Have a great 2014!

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    1. Really good news - have shared on Twitter!

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  3. Ah, what a nice round up of all my favourite rants of the year! ;) 2014 should be an interesting one! Thanks again for the mention :)

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    1. Ha! - but yours was perhaps the finest :)

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