If you are one of those people who still thinks gluten free is a fad, check out the June 5 Sunday Styles section of The New York Times. On the front page of the section, sandwiched between a story about the Dutchess of York Sarah Ferguson's descent "into the gutter" and a piece commemorating Iraq's rising art stars, was an article featuring the growing number of later-life entrepreneurs who are building new careers by catering to the burgeoning gluten-free lifestyle.
As The Times reports in its article "Looking for a Plan B? Make it Gluten-Free," Helene Godin, Edie and Dan Irwin, Christine Reed and Michelle Gillette are all living out once-dormant dreams as the owners of gluten-free bakeries and cafes. "The appeal of gluten-free bakeries speaks to the current interest in food and health, and to our allergy-laden times," writes Times reporter Hilary Stout. "It also has that all-crucial Plan B element of providing joy, satisfaction and pleasure to others."
Several things struck me from this article. The first is that gluten-free has gone decidedly gourmet. From the seeded sorghum slow-rise baguettes sold at The Sensitive Baker to the carrot bundt cake prepared by Wholesome Foods Bakery, the exquisite offerings featured by The Times demonstrate that just about anything can now be made "gluten-free friendly." As Helene Godin told The Times, she's worked hard to make sure she's delivering the "best, tastiest gluten-free treats around."
But just how gluten free are all of these baked goods? That was the second question that hit me—probably because, as NewHope360 recently reported, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to issue any formal labeling requirements for gluten-free products. As a result, anyone can call a product gluten free without having to adhere to any manufacturing standards. This might not be a huge deal to the woman who buys a gluten-free cake because she's heard about the potential health benefits of limiting gluten consumption. But for the child with celiac disease, the lack of regulatory oversight in the gluten-free market could have serious health ramifications.
I don't mean to imply that the entrepreneurs featured in The Times don't take their responsibility as gluten-free bakers seriously; but without the labeling regulations promised by the FDA seven years ago, consumers really have no way of truly knowing whether a product labeled as gluten free is really that.
Make no mistake about it: Gluten free is hot. And rather than fade into history like low carb and other dietary trends, I believe gluten free is destined to become how a large percentage of Americans choose to eat. I just hope the FDA will finally do its part to help ensure the integrity and safety of the gluten-free products flooding the market.