Gardening and Food Allergies

 I never thought that growing my own food would one day help me PROTECT my family.

 

Miss Muffet, Pa Hubbard, and Bo Peep posing with some of our 2012 corn harvest.

 

In the spring of 2011, we found out that Pa Hubbard and Miss Muffet are gluten intolerant (more on that in Our Celiac Disease Story). Gluten is the sticky protein in MANY types of cereal grains (e.g., wheat, barley, rye) that makes grains so great for baking. Gluten is the stuff that makes everything hold together, allowing the bread to be springy and soft, yet not fall apart.

Gluten is terribly sticky stuff (think GLUE-ten, folks). It is practically impossible to clean from food processing equipment. This means that a food that does not contain any gluten on its own, when processed on equipment that has previously been used to process a wheat-based food, even if the equipment was cleaned, will now contain trace amounts of gluten.

Living with gluten intolerance is not easy, but we’ve risen to the challenge and learned things as a result. One of the things that we’ve learned is that you cannot trust food labels in our country right now. Media coverage of California’s Proposition 37 (labeling of GMOs) is huge right now, but many people are not aware of other food labeling issues in our country. There may be as yet insufficient evidence for the hazard of GMOs in foods, but there is a very REAL danger of undeclared gluten in foods for people with Celiac Disease/gluten intolerance. The FDA has been stalled on a definition for what constitutes a “gluten-free food.” (Right now, the proposal is that it can contain no more than 20 parts per million when tested, which gives you some idea how even a tiny bit of gluten can make some people sick).

Trace amounts of gluten in foods make Miss Muffet and Pa VERY SICK (read “Our Celiac Disease Story” to find out how). They have been sickened MANY times from improperly labeled food. They’ve been “glutened” MANY times at restaurants with “gluten-free menus” that haven’t taken the time to educate their cooks or waitresses about cross-contamination. As a result, I’m insanely skeptical of anything that claims to be gluten-free. Frankly, it STINKS to have to be this way about our food. Sometimes I’m tired after working all day and I just want someone ELSE to make me dinner, doggone it!

Aren’t fruits and vegetables you buy at the store naturally gluten-free you ask? Why yes, NATURALLY they are! But they become unsafe for my family as soon as they come in contact with gluten. Frozen vegetables can be a gamble. If they were produced in a facility that also handled breaded frozen vegetables, I’m out of luck. If they have some kind of seasoning added that contains “natural flavors” (which could be wheat-based), we can’t do it. If it could have been been harvested using farm equipment that also harvested wheat, they can’t eat it.

So growing your own food can be ESSENTIAL to families dealing with food allergies/sensitivities. It’s the best way to ensure that your family’s food is SAFE. Period.

The girls help nip and string beans for later blanching and freezing. We know there is no chance of trace gluten in our foods.

But that isn’t the only reason to grow your own food. Do you know how EXPENSIVE gluten and allergy free foods are? Consider a staple in every house in America: bread. A “loaf” of gluten free bread in our store right now? $6.98. This “loaf” is really about 1/3rd the size of the loaf of bread that YOU buy. And most of these GF breads have the taste and texture of cardboard (so I bake our own gluten-free breads that are wonderful!).

I can’t complain about the price of certified gluten free foods… I get it. It takes special fields with certified seed to grow naturally gluten-free grains (like millet, oat, sorghum, amaranth, corn, quinoa) that won’t have a few “volunteer” plants of wheat or rye, contaminating the entire harvest. It takes dedicated farm equipment to harvest it. Dedicated facilities process it, and expensive testing ensures no gluten slipped in along the way. It SHOULD cost more!

But it’s no fun when you’re the one paying for the $8 bag of gluten-free pretzels that are half the size of a regular bag. In Italy, the government pays folks with Celiac Disease a STIPEND, just because they understand that certified gluten-free living is not only hard, but EXPENSIVE. We don’t have that perk here in the U.S.

So I keep my day job and I grow my own food.

You can do it too.

 

 

If you can, please take a moment and sign the petition to finalize standards for gluten-free labeling:

Finalize Standards for GLUTEN-FREE Labeling | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.