Raleigh-Durham-Triangle Deserves a Celiac Safe Gluten Free Event
This post is being preserved for historical reasons. The actual situations involved have evolved. However, it's important for newly diagnosed people to see the kinds of pressures that lead businesses to offer people with Celiac disease inappropriate food choices. You must always make your own decision about what you will eat after diagnosis. That includes "events" that "cater" to the "allergy" and "gluten" free community, it includes every restaurant, even the 100% GF ones, and it includes all buying choices. Even certified GF foods may have a supplier problem and undergo a recall. Don't trust something just because it's claimed to be gluten free. Yes, the phrase is a legal phrase. But if you relax and decide to trust all such claims, and one of them is wrong, it's your health that is hurt.
I've had a long standing frustration about the GFAF Wellness Event that runs regional conventions. When I first attended, I thought, "Great, these are curated businesses that cater to my needs." Not so. These vendors are businesses that say they cater to my needs, but might not. And the event isn't safe for Celiacs or people with Wheat Allergy.
So where are we? We're back to claims being made that we as consumers with an illness have to carefully evaluate. I was hoping for an event that would make me feel safe and feel that there is an abundance of options. Instead, I felt like I was participating in a marketing experiment.. "Will the gluten free customers buy your claims?"
So let me clearly answer that question. No. Not unless your food or product is Celiac safe, and if you claim Wheat Free, it had better be allergen safe.
I'm sure it's difficult to find local Celiac Safe vendors to participate in any GFAF Event. But when I went to the Charlotte event I saw the tip of an iceberg which finally crystallized when the event came to my location:
" ... I was glutened in Charlotte by a different vendor. And I was told that it couldn't have been that vendor, despite the vendor acknowledging that they aren't celiac safe. I no longer trust this event, after this posting. Neomonde says this on their website: (*Although the following menu items are made without gluten ingredients, because our food is prepared around ingredients that DO contain gluten we cannot state that our food is strictly gluten-free) To me that says not celiac safe. I'm not picking on this vendor. There are plenty of others who think that wheat free means gluten free (that's false, for a start). But I think this event is losing its relevance to the Celiac community. Now that it's over I hope future events will bring a more strict Celiac focus."
I think it's great when local vendors offer gluten free opportunities to our community. But a clear signal must be given if the food is not safe for people with a disease. Neomonde is trying to do the right thing, they clearly labeled their food as not celiac safe, and used the term "wheat free" which should be a signal to those with Celiac.
However, wheat free also means something else for those with wheat allergy, it means allergy labeling laws. So even saying "wheat free" isn't enough. It can't have "a little gluten" and be safe for Celiacs or people with wheat allergies. This is a Gluten Free and Allergen Free event. This vendor is neither of these. This is not the only example of a vendor that I don't consider to be good enough for an event like this (yet... see below for how such vendors can improve).
The problem is in the selection of vendors, not in the choices local businesses make. Local businesses will respond to our needs. But when the largest local event gives the signal that it's okay to blur the Gluten Free and Allergen Free definitions, how will businesses justify the expense and effort required to be helpful to us? This is a medical diet, not an opportunity for an upsell.They don't publish the vendor list so I can't be sure if any of the gluten free meal prep businesses were there or not. It's possible the fees were too high for some of them. I didn't see them mentioned in the run up to the event, and some of them run small catering companies from their homes. You can find them on my Resources page, under catering.
Business owners who are reading this, I really appreciate your efforts, but it has to be a product that actually is safe if you're offering medically required food for people who need it. For many ill people, this is not a choice. You might reach out to the a Restaurant association and ask them for advice, and also note that a food service certification does exist for gluten free food service. There is training for Allergen Safety as well. I invite you to take part in the training that already exists to support you. I look forward to being your customer someday, Neomonde and every other vendor who walks this fine line.
Update: 9/5/2018 -- Despite assurances, the event coordinator has not yet posted a vendor list in the event website: http://gfafwellnessevent.com/ (Raleigh might have different vendors than Charlotte, for example), the only thing available is a sponsor list and a speaker list, but a program with each vendor is not published before the event. That's why I was using facebbook to track who would be there and using it to decide whether it was a safe event for me.