I've recently read a few articles describing gluten-free diets as trendy. Heck, The Daily Beast added gluten-free food to its list of Top Ten Biggest Food Trends of 2010 , right alongside coconut, bacon-flavored sweets, and 'tricked-out popcorn.' It seemed a bit insensitive to me at first. While I agree that gluten-free diets do fall in line with the general definition of a trend, in that there seems to be a greater prevalence of individuals being diagnosed with celiac's disease or at least a sensitivity to gluten, describing something as "trendy" also implies that it is a fad- popular, current, and possibly passing. And unfortunately for those who do have an intolerance to gluten (and therefore wheat and nearly all related grains), adopting a modified diet is anything but passing.
“So many people have wheat allergies, and even if they don’t, they just feel better if they don’t eat wheat,” says The Fancy Food Show’s Ron Tanner. His point was evident at this year's event, where it seemed labels like organic, vegan, and gluten-free were everywhere you looked. Even the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, the association organizing the show, felt similarly. Publicist Jennifer Lea Cohan was quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “Judging from this show you’d think the whole world had celiac disease.”
Lately, I've thought the same. In planning the International Food Blogger Conference, due to take place at the end of August here in Seattle, I couldn't help but wonder if half of our attendee list was gluten-free. I've received emails and Twitter messages asking about the event, the agenda, and most frequently, the food. Will there be gluten-free options? Making careful note that many of our guests have dietary restrictions, I've spent time informing chefs that our hope at the event is to have quite the inclusive spread. A range of dishes for every palate and preference.
Only recently have I taken a closer look at the hard numbers of guests with these special dietary concerns. Now, with the conference sold out and hopeful attendees placed on a waiting list, I'm able to assess the list of roughly 250. What a surprise it's been. Below is the distribution of eating restrictions for IFBC. To be clear, if someone was both gluten-free and vegetarian, they were counted once for each category. On the list of food allergies, no more than one or two people were noted as being allergic to each food.
IFBC Food Allergies and Eating Restrictions:
- Gluten-free: 17
- Vegetarian: 12
- Dairy-free: 9
- Vegan: 2
List of allergies:
Egg yolk (large quantities)
Raw onion (shallots, leeks, chives)
Roasting peppers (fumes)
Stone fruit (nectarines, peaches)
Interesting. Not nearly the stats I'd imagined from all of my correspondence with guests inquiring about gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options. How naive of me to think that a dozen or so emails meant gluten-free was taking over the world. Of course I'd only be hearing from folks with food allergies or serious restrictions. An omnivore isn't going to send me letter informing, "I eat everything. Please plan accordingly." The individuals with gluten-intolerance are wise to speak up about their needs. And while their voices don't make them a majority, the prevalence and more mainstream status of the G-Free community can be viewed as a success. In her Examiner article, health writer Liz Schau points out, "Our lifestyle diets and ways of eating will be taken more and more seriously, in hopes that new standards for gluten-free certification and quality control and labeling will become regulated."
What do you think about the prevalence of gluten-free diets? Do you think g-free food merits a spot on the Top Ten Food Trends of 2010?
-Andrea Mitchell, Foodista staff and blogger at CanYouStayForDinner.com