Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Free From Foods are NOT a Lifestyle Choice

I published this on my other Blog Musings of a 21st Century SAHM in response to an email received today.

In my inbox this morning was a request to complete a short and sweet questionnaire about "Free From" foods. Right I thought, I'm a bit of an expert on that one... should only take me a minute! So I duly clicked on the link... how long could it take?!

Well that depends on whether you find the questionnaire possible to complete in the first place, and whether it triggers a response like this or not :-

So why I am getting so hot under the collar about an innocuous set of questions? Well here they are:-

I'll tell you what my "attitude" towards them is; that they are an essential, vital form of sustenance for my children who would otherwise become very ill. Foods which are sold as if I should be grateful, which are often poor in nutritional content and high in price, which we cannot do without.
It wouldn't be so bad if the first option in question 2 was "Medical Necessity" - because after all, that is the main reason the "Free From" food industry exists, even if it has become something of a fad amongst many, and this growth in consumption of "dietary" foods has undoubtedly increased production, which benefits us all. However, if the main focus for it's existence is forgotten, short cuts will be taken and those with medical needs will be the first to miss out precisely because  - and hear we come to the crux of the argument - for us it's NOT a CHOICE! 

Eating "freefrom" food is not a lifestyle choice for the vast majority, it's a no-alternative, medically imposed way of life and to suggest otherwise is both ignorant and offensive.

So when faced with a questionnaire asking me to rate answers as to why I choose "free from" food in order of importance, seeing options such as "helps weight loss" and "they are lower calorie" makes me not a little cross!

 The Recipe Resource  caters for children on exclusion diets. I started the Recipe Resource because having struggled for years feeding my own children with complex allergies I felt I would like to do something positive, and help others maybe avoid some of the pitfalls I had fallen prey to and impart some knowledge learned along the way.
That's the short version. If you want the long version, it's here.

My kids have EGID - Eosinophilic Disease. If they eat food their body has a local reaction to then inflammation occurs in the gut, compounded by slow motility thanks to the EDS. Basic bodily functions such as digestion, absorption and defecation don't happen as nature intended. And that's the VERY short version. EGID is a very unpleasant, poorly understood, emergent disease, with other unpleasant symptoms beyond the gut. It often goes with other disorders too, Hypermobility Syndrome, EDS and (as is increasingly noted) Autism. We have the full house here. For the EGID side of things we are dairy, soya, wheat, gluten, egg, tomato and garlic free and on minimal beef and other foods. One of my kids used to be tube fed. And we are the lucky ones - I know far too many children who cannot eat at all - some whom the media, in particular the Daily Mail - seek to advertise as rare and bizarre anomalies. Sadly their numbers are dramatically increasing.

We don't CHOOSE free from foods. It's a life or get extremely ill choice. And as for calories and weight loss - that's a pretty sick joke when many of us are desperately trying to INCREASE the calories our children take in.

The Free From food industry is as guilty as the media for jumping on any marketing bandwagon they can sniff out - with the exception of a few notable and applaudable exclusions. Many now falsely believe "Free From" food is automatically healthier! Whilst this is of course true in some respects, if you have Coeliac Disease then yes, a gluten free loaf (a third the size of a regular one costing £2.99) IS the healthier option) but I do hate the trend for "free from" exclusion diets amongst some celebrities who have little or no idea of the impact publicising false health "benefits" can have. But what is particularly depressing is that my children, like so many other children and adults are dependent on the "allergy" food industry to meet their nutritional needs - whether partially or fully. We have no choice. Without a strict exclusion diet my son was heading towards bowel surgery due to chronic inflammation and resultant nerve damage.

Click to view the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014

So whilst celebrities such as Gwyneth claim to "choose" free from food for their kids, mine (and plenty of others I know) would give their right arm to eat what the majority can enjoy. And this particularly poignant at Easter time when (as with other family festivals) there is food everywhere.

As a society we've moved on in many respects to understanding difficulties and disabilities, isn't it about time we applied a little of that awareness and understanding to those with hidden illnesses? This is currently especially true of those with non IgE allergies. And no, I DON'T mean intolerances, if you still think there is only one type of allergy, and wish to learn more about non systemic allergy read hereYou've probably heard of Coeliac Disease? Well that's a local allergy - or a type IV hypersensitivity too. 

Food is such a central part of Western society it is far more than just fuel. Rightly or wrongly we celebrate with, and by creating delicious treats to enjoy and share. There is little more marginalising, more excluding than a traditional Christmas or Easter when you have complex food allergies- or if you cannot eat at all. Manufacturing"Free From" food is a massive money spinner and people who need safe foods for health reasons are being taken advantage of whilst the media persists in promoting free from as a choice.

I deleted the questionnaire, I'm submitting this instead.


  1. Totally agree with you here, the free from industry is BIG business. To be honest it's the topic of a regular rant of mine! Have you ever considered the GAPS diet? I'm still researching it myself, as my 4yo and I both have multiple food intolerances. It looks to be an amazing cure-all for this as well as a whole host of other issues... might be worth investigating?

  2. Same feelings here as I was filling in that questionnaire this morning. I was not a happy bunny! It seemed like such a pedantic thing to do to choose free from products when the only reason I buy them every single week is my baby's allergies! Mel

  3. Thank you for writing this. For us most of the free from stuff is actually no good as we have had to eliminate dairy, soya, wheat, egg, millet, kumut and oats and freefrom food often have at least one or two from that list. The fact that my girls are not anaphylactic when they consume something that they react to makes many people think that it is just a lifestyle choice that I make everything from scratch and bring birthday cake,that my girls can eat with us to parties and won't leave them at parties. It is just too risky to do so And I am seen in such a bad light for doing so.

  4. I'm shocked at the cost of those foods. Why are they at least twice the price? Those companies really take advantage of the people who have to buy them.

  5. I have to do an elimination diet and your blog is going to be a god send as I cook from scratch for the family and I am determined not to cook more than one meal a day for us all

  6. Totally agree with this, so far we've been lucky in the fact that our girls aren't allergic to anything. It seems like anything that is different from the 'normal' food they inflate the price which is just wrong.

  7. Great post. Can completely understand why the questionnaire annoyed you

  8. Great post. I checked out the questionnaire and was completely surprised by the suggested responses- whilst we don't have any allergies in our family I found that there was no good reason provided, and no positive alternative if you didn't find think the reasons for were appropriate.

  9. I too am shocked at the costs, the cost of living crisis hits hardest and most unfair when the markets spiral out of control like this and those who NEED are faced with tough choices around diet, highly unfair!

  10. I must admit to attempting to complete that questionnaire but I found the wording confusing so never finished, I can see how it can come across wrongly

  11. You've made some very interesting points, which those of us who have no allergies/intolerances/disease probably never really think about. You've opened my eyes to a whole new issue. What I do wonder about though is how families like yours would cope in France (where I live) where there isn't a "free from " industry? Do you have any experience of this? I'd be interested to hear.

    1. We've never been abroad :S so I couldn't say, but my 12 yr old is going to France on a school trip for 4 days next month and we are having to take a lot of food and get a consultant's letter for permission. I went to the All Party Group for Allergy http://thereciperesource.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-all-party-group-for-allergy-meeting.html at Westminster last year and learned that the UK has the highest incidence of allergy in the world, closely followed by Australia (so the same indigenous population) and that the incidence of allergy has increased dramatically. In the 19th C a study into Hay Fever took years to complete as there were insufficient sufferers - it was very rare! No one really knows why our population is becoming more allergic, but you are right - it is far far less of an issue in France. (my cousin lives there)


Many thanks for taking the time to comment!

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