Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gluten-Free, Aisle 9...wait, WHAT?

We've all heard the stat: 7% of kids in the U.S. now have a food allergy. My calculator doesn't even have enough digits to figure this out, but I think that translates to 21 million children. Since cooking with food allergies is a family affair, it presumably affects their parents and siblings as well, so let's say, conservatively, 50 million people.

You would think 1/6th of the country would give our merchants pause. However, I can assure you it does not.

We've lived in the same small town for almost 13 years now. There is a family-owned grocery store right around the corner. They make their living by specializing in foods you can't get anywhere else and charging through the nose for them. When we moved in, my husband was ecstatic. He assumed our special food needs and this little store were a match made in heaven! Little did we know our kind weren't welcome there.

After several requests for specialized chocolate, I finally stopped in one day to talk to the manager to see if there was any hope. "We already have 50 different kinds of chocolate," he replied. "We aren't going to carry another one when there isn't enough demand."

"But they ALL have nuts!" I sputtered. "And surely, with all the peanut- and milk-allergic kids in this country, there's demand out there!"

Several "sorry, lady" mumbles later, I gave up. Over the years, a small shelf at the store, wedged between "Oriental" and "Olestra Products", did eventually fill with a few allergy-friendly things, but no chocolate. Never chocolate.

Fast forward to last year. I rarely turned down Aisle 9 because, unfortunately, the few allergic items they carried also contained other allergens my son could not have. But...hope springs eternal, so one day I turned.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!GLUTEN-FREE HEAVEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Everywhere I looked, DOZENS of products without gluten. There were cakes, cookies, candy, sports drinks, pasta... Apparently I had unknowingly followed a trail of gluten-free breadcrumbs and now I was Gretel, staring at the witch's candy house.

The allergen-free shelf? Now two rows down and condensed to one corner.

Don't get me wrong. I understand celiac disease is a very debilitating disease. But I also know that, best guess, it only affect one in several hundred people. This aisle was not about food sensitivity. This aisle was about trendiness.

(Trendiness. Allergies. Trendy. Allergy. Why can I not make these words go together by repeating them over and over? Must. Keep. Trying.)

I've since learned that peanut allergy was OUT for 2010 and celiac was IN, courtesy of the Washington Post. (Ranking what's out, what's in as 2010 dawns)

Food fashion. At least I have an explanation. I'd hate to think my grocer was just an insensitive asshole.