Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gluten-Free Tasting Event... Eh.

          Maybe I’m just in a mood, but I feel awful right now. I'm not entirely sure why, seeing as how I’d been looking forward to this evening for several weeks. Lori’s Natural Foods, a health food store in Rochester, NY, hosted a Gluten-Free tasting event from 6 to 8 pm, and I happily drove the 30 minutes to get there tonight. Free samples, gluten-free food tastings, brand reps, raffle prizes—the works. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet people and find new foods to enjoy. How could I not be excited?
          But I went to this thing today with such high hopes, and I somehow left feeling drained, disappointed, achy, and nauseous. 
          Was it the swarms of people crammed into such a small space, elbowing into each other in the tiny aisles? Was it the incredibly loud and overzealous raffle announcer screaming into the loudspeaker every 15 minutes with a winning ticket number that wasn’t mine? (Story of my life: I never win anything…) Was it the fact that over half of the products being featured were packaged, milk-containing cookies and other sweet treats? Or was it my mistake of eating all those tiny portions of everything from chocolate vanilla bean cupcakes to coconut milk cookie dough ice cream to macaroni salad and ginger snaps one after the other after the other, so that my belly (and my brain) grew dizzy from the spin of it all?
          Yes, there were baked goods. And yes, there were crackers and nut butters. There were juice companies and protein shakes. They even threw some supplements and digestive tablets into the mix. Yippee. Oh yeah, and I got a free chair massage. That was nice.
          But something was amiss. The open dialogue I was so hoping to have with the folks at the product stands, perhaps? Or more likely, the overall sense of health and well-being that I so eagerly anticipated encountering?
          Because instead of fresh, whole foods, most of what was on those tables was packaged, and ridiculously overpriced. Looking around, instead of feeling inspired and eager to try all these new foods around me, I felt overwhelmed, and disheartened at the realization of how unbelievably unrealistic the pre-made, pre-packaged gluten-free lifestyle truly is for the average American.
          Take me, for instance: I’m a single woman in my late twenties, working as a waitress and a freelance copyeditor while I go back to school to earn my master’s degree. I cringe every time I’m at the grocery store checkout when I see how much my small handful of purchases is going to cost me. And I often find myself wondering if the clerk thinks I’m crazy for spending such gross amounts of money on such a measly selection of goods.
          I can’t even imagine how one would shop for an entire family.
          All in all, I suppose it’s a semi-good thing that these products are so unaffordable. Because the more I study foods and learn about various ingredients and how they affect my body, the more inclined I am to cook my own meals at home and stay away from packaged products and pre-made meals. And whole foods are most certainly better for anyone's body than the stuff that comes in boxes.
          But I’m an American girl. And I've always liked that quick, convenient, easy access aspect of living in this country. I love prettily packaged, satisfyingly delicious grab-and-go products and the conscientious companies who make the food-allergy friendly ones. Hence the Pamela's cookies and the Whole Soy & Co yogurt and the Daiya cheese. They're simple, and they make me smile. And that is, after all, the American way: all the foods you could ever possibly want—right at your fingertips, all for a low price…
          Unless you need to eat gluten- (and dairy) free, in which case the price shoots through the roof.
          Sigh. In spite of my disillusionment, I did sample some truly tasty treats—most notably the Lori’s chocolate vanilla bean cupcakes, baked and sold right in the store, the freshly baked bite size pieces of Namaste spice cake, made straight from their baking mix, and some raw flaxseed crackers, of which I am totally forgetting the name.
          These three items were so flavorful and satisfying—they helped the whole thing seem worthwhile.
          Anyway, if I hadn’t gone, I would’ve wondered what I was missing. So I’m glad I was there. But why oh why can’t the food-sensitive world be more reasonably priced? I know agribusiness runs the show when it comes to cost, and so I understand that quality ingredients cost more. But isn’t there a way around it?
          Because even cooking at home gets expensive when you care about where the veggies come from.
          Sorry to be such a downer.
          On a sweeter (and entirely unrelated) note, my mom just got herself a new puppy yesterday! She's been wanting one for a while now, and when she randomly came across an ad in the newspaper for a cavalier king charles spaniel that a woman was practically giving away, she had to jump on it. If you know anything about the breed, this was an extremely rare find, so she drove an hour and a half and picked the little guy up. He’s adorable, and very snuggly. 
          I may just have to steal him.


  1. I hear your despondency, it makes me think of my post a few days back. I also see from your blog, like me, you're interested in the food security, anti-fast food nation stuff. Unfortunately, typically American (well really Western) food is grossly processed and packaged (because it's so stuffed with preservatives it'll keep in a box for aaages). And while you might like it, or think it's convenient, that's just because we've all been duped into thinking it's great. Sure, cooking your own does take a lot of time, but only at the beginning. I promise, the more you get into knocking together your own baked goods, dinners, yogurt, it'll take less of your time up. Do you have a freezer? Well, make friends with her. Spend 1/2 day a week in your kitchen making things for the week ahead: bake some gluten free bread, slice it and freeze in slices. Luckily, gluten free baked goods seem to freeze even better than wheat stuff. Weird, huh? Whiz up a batch of hummus, salad dressing or pesto, it'll keep a couple of days in the fridge. Make some non dairy yogurt, again, it'll keep for a week in the fridge. Cook some brown rice and freeze in small portions. These are all things I like to do at the weekend, it makes life easier through the working week and means with all that in hand, I'm less likely to buy processed things- although they come in pretty packets, what they do to your body ain't so pretty. Preaching to the converted here;)
    That said: there's nothing wrong with a little packaged goodies now and again. But go for things with as few ingredients as possible. Make it a treat, and your body and your wallet will be happy. I know too that gluten free baking can be pretty expensive too. My advice is again to bake treats just occasionally, and eat healthy vegetables, pulses and wholegrains most of the time- it's what humans are meant to do. If you're worried about buying expensive flours and not using them often enough, put them in airtight containers in the freezer- they'll keep much longer that way:)
    That's a really long-winded haphazard comment! On my way out to work but had to give you some sympathy!
    Hope you're feeling better about everything soon:)

  2. Dude, what a great post! This is what annoys the shit outta me about the whole gluten free movement. Going gluten free can do some wonderful things for your body. BUT eating gluten free processed foods IS JUST AS BAD for you as eating gluten-filled processed foods!

    Not to knock your Pamela's. There was an occasion, almost a year ago, where I drove to a supermarket, bought 2 boxes of double chocolate Pamelas, parked in a nearby empty parking lot, and stuffed my face with them.

    So yeah, no judging here. This stuff is TASTY. No joke.

    But I agree with Dukka. Making your own treats is way healthier. Case in point - the Pamelas made me sick. When I ate your peanut butter cookie/cake recipe, I didn't get sick at all!

    Right now, my big problem is space. I live with my parents, which means I share a fridge with five other people. So I end up eating Pamelas instead of making my own.


    Love this post. Thank you!

  3. You are both so right. And thanks, Farty--glad you enjoyed it!

    I'm a big fan of avoiding anything too extreme, so I'm pretty sure I'll never let go of my packaged gluten-free goodies for good, but I totally hear you, Dukka, about the less ingredients, the better. I learned that one years ago when I first started investigating all the gunky junk that makes up the majority of non-organic processed foods... ick. As a result, I'm already pretty picky with my purchases (to the point where my boyfriend says I'm a "pain in the ass"). But I have a long way to go in terms of shifting to a whole foods diet, which is my ultimate goal. So thanks for the tips!

    And Farty, I too am sharing a home with four other people right now, so I know how difficult it can be to create your own space in the kitchen. I do cook for myself (and bake), but not as much as I'd like to or should!

  4. I just discovered your blog through Farty Girl - what a great post. I so agree with you. I did read somewhere (and I am sorry I forget where) that one way to think of it is as follows: the total cost of food and health, meaning, if you buy overprocessed food now, you pay later in medical bills/prescriptions etc, while if you buy unprocessed whole foods now, it's expensive now, but you dont have medical costs later. Obviously I am oversimplifying, but there is something to be said for this, you know? At least, that's what I tell myself every time I spend money on organic food :)

    As for the processed debate - my approach is as much whole foods as possible, but there is occasionally daiya in my refrigerator.

  5. Thanks, Valerie! So glad you found me. And I agree... in the end, it's worth every penny. My body has healed significantly over the past seven years since I began changing my dietary ways, and I'm hoping for that trend to continue ;-)



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