WWoF: Gluten and Allergen-Free Expo Review

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JUST because we want to confuse you, we’ve taken WW (Whatever Wednesday) to Friday this week and totally displaced your fabulous links. But then we put a lot of links in this post, so you really shouldn’t feel too shorted, right? Because, really, do you always know what day of the week it is? Really? Are you lying about that right now?

So, last weekend Denise and I went down to Springfield, Mass., to blog about the GFAF Expo. Not being from the area and never having been to Springfield, I navigated us on a brief tour of Springfield before we found the Mass Mutual Center. The Expo offered a huge variety of knowledgeable vendors, an authors’ row, a promotional photo booth (which you saw if you follow us on FB or Twitter(MK)/Twitter(D) — there is no single account for the blog), and a (comfortingly prominent) First Aid booth, along with three different lectures each day.

Because of Denise’s much more extensive list of allergens (specifically corn and coconut, which are in e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.), I’m writing this up. I tasted food for Denise more than once, but there wasn’t much she could eat. Honestly, the only thing I feel really guilty eating in front of her, knowing she can’t have it, is tortilla chips, which is funny, since I really don’t think that one bothers her much. (Yeah, the corn chips, not so much. It’s low on the list of corn allergy calamities. -D)

The Expo was split, with one side being free of gluten AND nuts, which I’m sure was comforting for the nut-allergic, and the other side being just gluten-free. We started on the free of both gluten and nuts side, and there was more for me to eat there. I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive review, because despite walking the whole Expo, we skipped a lot of the booths that had food that neither of us could try.

Standouts, for me:

Both the So Delicious and Luna and Larry’s booths had coconut milk ice cream. So Delicious had bars to sample, and I really am going to have to find someone to ask why they can make a strawberry ice cream bar, but don’t sell strawberry coconut milk ice cream. I’m dying to try to recreate a bowl of Neopolitan ice cream (and I 100% blame my grandfather for that — he had some very specific ice cream tastes, likely based on his years as the ice cream delivery guy). Luna and Larry’s had a bunch of flavors I’ve never even seen here in New Hampshire, and I’ll be asking the Concord Co-op about getting the salted caramel in ASAP. I was already familiar with both brands and their products.

The chocolate company Pascha was entirely new to me. Like so many other vendors at the Expo, they said their products were available in Stop N Shop. Which is almost hilarious, given that all the SNSs in NH closed last year (right after I finally made it all the way to Manchester. <— those are sarcastic italics. Manchester is 20 minutes away). Pascha’s chocolates are extraordinarily allergy-friendly, being free of the top 8 allergens, kosher, fair trade certified, and when asked, they actually knew how their vanilla extract was made — it uses an alcohol that is not corn based, but there was a point in the process that uses maltodextrin, which is corn derived. I don’t have a corn allergy and even I was impressed by the fact that they a) knew it was important, b) asked their suppliers, and c) made sure all their staff knew enough to answer that question. They do have a 100% cacao (so unsweetened) without vanilla that might be good for a variety of baking or cooking uses (with sweeteners).

Late July, a chip company only recently available around here, has a variety of flavors that are free of most of my allergens. The chips are excellent, but this was the only table where the vendor seemed confused that I wanted to pick up a bag and read it for myself. That should surprise no one that is sent to staff a booth at a food allergy expo, but the “red hot mojo” flavor is really good. I will be considering that next time I want a flavored chip. I have so few options, but I’m grateful to have any options at all.

Freedom Foods, a cereal company, seems to have a wide variety of cereals I can eat. I’m more of a cereal as a snack, not cereal as a breakfast food, so variety in snacks is good. (I prefer consistency in breakfasts). I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for this brand in the future (they’re also in Stop & Shop).

Products I’m already familiar with and use were also represented there: Crunchmaster crackers, Hail Merry (I finally got to taste the mint chocolate tart!), Enjoy Life (chocolates and snack bars), and Find Me Gluten-Free (the free app will help you sort out restaurants that might know something about gluten-free foods, which means there may be a chance that they know something about safe food handling). Those last two were both sponsors of the Expo.

Since most of my (Denise’s) experience walking the floor was mostly picking stuff up and putting it right back down, or telling Mary Kate she should eat something for me, we agreed that I’d talk about our visit with cook book author, Colette Martin, and her new book, and the class/lecture on “Understanding Gluten Sensitivity” that we attended with Stephen Wangen, N.D., who runs the IBS Treatment Center, and who wrote a book called Healthier Without Wheat: A New Understanding of Wheat Allergies, Celiac Disease, and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance.

Colette Martin’s booth was one of the few booths I wanted to visit, because I have her book on Learning to Bake Allergen Free which was very helpful. Her new book is The Allergy-Free Pantry, which I bought at the show and which Ms. Martin kindly signed. (Note that I am linking to Amazon out of ease and convenience but we have no affiliation, yada, yada.) Her books are wheat, gluten, dairy, egg, soy and nut free, which gives me a head start. Because of corn, coconut and flax, I still have quite a few challenges, but the less ingredients I have to sub out the better. I don’t have a safe shortening or commercial margarine or butter-like spread, so I’ll have to try substituting my homemade margarine version or the lard or tallow I rendered. The book covers flour blends, making your own non-dairy milks, and she actually has a version of a buttery spread (which uses coconut oil, canola, and flax which are all no-no’s for me, but may be really useful for others). There are also breads, making your own jams and sunflower seed butter, condiments (including a mayonnaise using flax – I’m going to try it with chia and sub out the canola) and dressings, breakfast foods (including pop-tarts), and a chapter on making pasta. There’s also a recipe for baked potato chips that Mary Kate and I may have to make asap, a chapter on crackers, one on cookies, desserts and sweets, and a chapter that has some basics like making your own powdered sugar and vanilla extract. I haven’t had time to make anything yet because it’s only been a week, but even though many recipes still have a lot of my allergens in them, I kind of wish I’d had this book available to me just after my corn diagnosis. I wouldn’t have spent quite as much time sifting through stuff on the net and filling my Pinterest boards. 

The class/lecture that we attended with Stephen Wangen, N.D., on “Understanding Gluten Sensitivity” was interesting in that he cited a study from 1956, Bread and Tears—Naughtiness, Depression and Fits Due to Wheat Sensitivity, Proc R Soc Med. Jul 1956; 49(7): 391–394. I found this fascinating, in that there are reports of “corn rage” and emotional instability among members of the Corn Allergy & Intolerance Group on Facebook after a corn exposure, and I get a bit shaky and emotionally fraught myself. Doesn’t appear to happen with my wheat allergy, but I get accidentally corned much more often, it’s so much easier to avoid wheat than corn that I’m not sure I have the experience with it. Dr. Wangen also cited a study on Emerging New Clinical Patterns in the Presentation of Celiac Diseasestates that “[I]n adults, the majority of patients with newly diagnosed celiac disease do not have classic symptoms of celiac disease.” Fun fact right? Not. (Sorry, I had to go look at the studies, because you know, that whole research thing that law school instills in you. Plus, science.) The other thing that I particularly appreciated is that Dr. Wangen admitted that the medical community just does not have the science on a lot of this stuff yet. As a corn allergic person who reacts to a whole lot of stuff I’m not supposed to react to because the proteins have allegedly been processed out of corn derived substances, it was nice to have my viewpoint that we haven’t done enough science to know what we don’t know yet validated. Especially since I’m pretty damn sure I can’t give myself psychosomatic fluid-filled blisters that develop into open wounds from exposure to corn derivatives, which allegedly don’t have enough protein remaining to cause a reaction. Dr. Wangen also discussed other issues besides celiac disease, such as food allergies to wheat, and non-celiac gluten intolerance. 

If an GFAF Expo event comes to your area, you may want to check it out. 

Have a great weekend everyone!

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