This article has been inspired by my amazing friend Charlie and a few days stacking shelves in a supermarket. All thoughts are my own.
As most of us probably know by now (and most certainly those who follow Gwyneth Paltrow on Instagram)– gluten-free is becoming a nationwide health craze with a whole host of (unproven) health benefits. But what a lot of people seem to forget, is that the same sought after diet is a medical prescription for those suffering from coeliac disease, an intolerance to the protein found in wheat. In the UK, 1% of us suffer from the disease and for the sake of this post, I will refer to these as ‘needers’. Those who are choosing to switch to a gluten-free diet; I’m going to refer to as ‘crazers’.
Evidence states that of the huge rise in those consuming a gluten-free diet, half have in-fact chosen to in honour of a celebrity-endorsed healthy lifestyle or a bloody good marketing campaign. The dismissal and labeling of gluten-free as a trend is no doubt pissing our needers off and this frustration is something I experienced first-hand when travelling South East Asia with a friend and coeliac sufferer, Charlie. With the daily struggle of finding a proper meal to eat, it’s no wonder the likes of Miley Cyrus, Russell Crowe and numerous bloggers with their self-diagnosis and proclamation of feeling “on top of the world” since giving up gluten, infuriate her and others who have to spend four times as much buying food at a supermarket, ten minutes longer explaining their requirements to a waiter and have to sit a maximum of twenty metres away from a bathroom at any risky mealtime.
In the Western world, demand for gluten-free has reached a new high, so much so that if demand figures stemmed purely from needers, we could consider the disease an epidemic, sending countries into crisis when the products aren’t available. Everywhere we turn we are being reminded of the phrase ‘gluten-free’ – be it in the supermarket now with entire aisles dedicated to the products, on the menus at restaurants with the recognisable ‘no wheat’ logo (rivaling the classic green V), on a Wednesday night’s screening of GBBO or even on an episode of South Park. And with all this recognition you’d expect those crazers to know what it is they’ve chosen to give up. This is where you’re wrong, and as this fantastic Jimmy Kimmel clip highlights, crazers often refer to gluten as just “bread and cakes and stuff” or probably Satan.
But as the demand for gluten-free expands, I question whether needers may eventually have the crazers to thank. The basic economic laws follows perfect suit here in that the large market encourages an increased supply for gluten-free products which has subsequently caused a fall in the price for those consuming. There still remains a premium, but one that is diminishing as competition becomes fierce and big brands such as Kellogg’s and Warburtons step forward to play in an attempt to capture some of the premium this market has to offer. With more cash in their pockets than ever before, these businesses are able to invest more in improving their products and long gone are the rock-hard muffins and half-risen bread rolls. Even companies selling products such as chocolate and sweets, which traditionally lack gluten anyway, have chosen to label their products gluten-free in order to maximise their sales. Well I guess in that case, you could say the proof is in the pudding.
So as the market for such products increases, the range and quality of the products on offer is far superior to a time before Gwyneth Paltrow (and the price somewhat cheaper). When studying the free-from aisle of a supermarket I couldn’t help but ponder the idea that true needers owe a great big cake-filled thank you to the crazers for indirectly stacking their shelves full of choice. That being said, I completely sympathise with anyone suffering from coeliac disease and without question there is the need to revise the way the gluten-free diet is categorised. It seems unfair and frankly incorrect to place the diet in the same category as one low in fat or low in sugar and since the diet stems from a medical need, it makes sense to continue with innovation in areas such as alcohol and ready meals – food for thought for any businesses wishing to capitalise on the combined wants of both the UK’s needers and crazers.
Pictures are not my own.