Friday, 8 March 2019

NOT a lifestyle Choice - why the Free From Food industry needs to reconnect with it's primary consumers

I published this in 2014 but it's oh-so-pertinent again. Marks and Spencer recently introduced their "Plant Kitchen" range in response to the new Vegan trend (nothing wrong with that) but forgot those of us NOT dealing with choice and included wheat and dairy in meals/foods previously free of these allergens. Sainsbury's started slapping "may contain ...  all of the top 14 allergens" on their fresh meat and now the media are flagging up the "chemicals" in gluten free foods. It's time we remembered why the such foods exist, and what their primary market is.

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.

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