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Trending: Notes from a Centennial Celebration

Plant-based protein.
Plant-based dairy.
Vegan options.
Avocado toast, despite being very “yesterday,” won a FABI (Food and Beverage Innovation) Award this year.

The National Restaurant Association celebrated its Centennial anniversary this week in Chicago, with more than 65,000 food industry professionals in attendance.

FABI award winners included Beyond the Butcher’s plant-based, gluten free (not certified GF), non-GMO Uncut Breakfast Sausage Patty; Beyond Meat’s plant-based ground beef alternative; Fora’s Faba Butter dairy-free, plant-based butter; and plant-based Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, highlighting a recent love for meatless meat and dairy-less dairy. Of course, there were meats among the winners, too, including a turducken and a handheld breakfast sausage and gravy stuffed hashbrown. But vegan and non-GMO featured among the winning desserts as well. Congratulations to Longmont, CO-based Wild Flour Bakery for their Bravadough! gluten free (not certified) vegan cookie dough (we had a chance to visit and taste-test the baked cookies), and GS Gelato for their gluten- dairy- and GMO-free Plant-based Cold Brew Coffee Frozen Dessert.

The trend toward clean and sustainable continues in the food service world, including non-GMO and Made in the USA. We proudly displayed our Made in the USA placard and received many thanks and commendations for our certified gluten free, nut free and food allergy-friendly desserts being made here in the US. (BTW, all our ingredients are sourced here in the US as well through vetted suppliers.)

We were blessed with opportunities to sample our desserts straight to potential buyers who will then be able to provide them to you. We also found time to walk the show floors and attend sessions, meeting other company representatives like us, looking for potential partnership opportunities to improve our business, and to share the wealth with you. As we continue to grow our show presence, we learn more and more every year. There is no doubt that our focus on providing top quality desserts that are gluten free, nut free, vegan and allergy friendly is right on track with the trends of the industry. We are pleased to continue to grow and serve the food allergic community. Remember to check out our Events and Specials page to see what’s coming up, and feel free to be in touch any time to let us know your thoughts and needs.

Nourished Festival Report

What a busy week we had last week, and what a rewarding weekend!

It was the first time the Nourished Festival (formerly GF&AF Expo) visited Salt Lake City, and though turnout was not as great as expected, this allowed us the chance to have in-depth real conversations with our celiac and gluten- and nut-free friends in the community. Thanks to everyone who turned out for the event! We will continue to travel around to Nourished Festivals in other parts of the country to check in with you all. We have become “regulars” in San Diego, Denver, Schaumberg (IL) and Dallas, so continue to look for our booth in the red nut-free zone at those events. Thanks to Jen and the crew for continuing to provide these opportunities to come together to procvide for the celiac, gluten sensitive and otherwise food allergic or special diet members of the community.

We also had a chance to catch up with other friends at the show. Thanks to Elisa of My Gluten Free World Expo, Lynn of Travel Gluten Free Podcast and Erica of Celiac and the Beast for stopping in to chat. We made some new friends: Shout out to Share Your Teal, who loved our vegan chocolate cupcakes, and who have a great line up of goods to help those with food allergies stay safe, and to the guys at Imaware, who were pricking fingers all day for celiac and rheumatoid arthritis testing at a great discount. Check them out if you wonder. They will be developing other tests, and you can get a home kit that returns your results just days after you send in your sample!

Remember to check out our Events and Specials page to see what’s coming up next, and if you are planning to attend the Nourished Festival in Denver or Schaumberg, see you there soon!

Lisa gets tested for celiac at the Nourished Festival, above.

Hunger Stories

A couple days ago I received an email from an Executive Chef at a retirement community, in which he admitted that he has “a very enthusiastic gluten free and health conscious population here that still likes dessert!” As we work out pricing for new fans, navigating the realm of frozen shipping and distribution, I am reminded of food security issues around the world- and here at home in the US. While everyone deserves good, nutritious food, and even an occasional treat like a GF Flourless Chocolate Petit Four, not everyone has access. Every day we pull out our hair to find the best way to get our celiac and gluten free friends and fans our desserts, but that is just one food-related problem. What about those right here in our country who don’t have enough to eat on a daily basis?

Last year in San Francisco in January, we took a break from the Fancy Food Show to hit a local establishment for a little food and drink and to watch some football on TV. Outside the window, we saw someone hand out pizza crust scraps to people in the park who accepted them gratefully. Pizza scraps. Really. Someone’s crust, after eating the rest of the pie from inside it. Whatever feeling that image brings a person, there is no doubt that there is something quite wrong here. (Related, the Specialty Food Association, which hosts the Fancy Food Show, also regularly promotes endeavors to relieve hunger in this nation, including this year members donating nearly 35,000 pounds of food after the Winter Fancy Food Show.)

As we engage with our professional organizations, it’s important to keep a bigger picture in mind. Many years ago, when I worked in the field of education for homeless and at-risk youth, one year when I attended the annual NAEHCY (National Association for Education of Homeless Children and Youth), as my colleagues and I sat at a nice catered lunch at the conference hotel in a major US city, suddenly someone entered the dining room and began to walk around speaking loudly about how could we be sitting in that room enjoying that sumptuous lunch while the very people we purported to serve were going hungry? Of course we all learned from each other, and brought new ideas and initiatives back to our own home programs, where we served children and youth locally- my own employeer was a non-profit full service agency that included a homeless shelter with meals, free clothing, medical and mental health care, educational and job services- but point taken, guy.

And beyond our professional lives, the importance of the bigger picture remains. Recently I returned to northern New England for a sorority reunion. There were over 150 women assembled, and before our big reunion dinner we attended a meeting in which two people associated with our alma mater spoke. One encouraged us all to take part in an initiative on campus to provide meal plans for students who cannot afford them. That’s right. College students who can’t afford to eat. The age old jokes about starving artists and starving college students persist, but in these days the college experience, including at public institutions, is becoming more prohibitively expensive. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, college tuition at public four-year schools has increased by 213% in the past 30 years since I graduated with my bachelors degree. (Private universities have increased tuition on average 129% in that time.) (https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has-increased-from-1988-to-2018.html) Whaaaa..? No wonder kids can’t afford to eat.

Just last evening as I left the evening bird ID program at my local Audubon society meeting, packing up the box of napkins and coffee cups I bring back to the office for the next month’s meeting (Gem City Fine Foods donates desserts to the meetings, so I hand off then collect the box with the month’s offering each time the chapter holds an evening program), a young man, college freshman, noted that the Carrot Cake tasted pretty good and there was some left over. I asked if he would like to take it with him, and his immediate answer was that he’d be pleased to have the extra cake because he had no food in his dorm room. Even those students who have a meal plan deserve a little extra sometimes, and not always is that little treat affordable. Imagine those who can’t even afford a meal plan. How can they learn and achieve without proper nutrition? If they’re worrying about how they will eat?

No doubt, you all have stories you could tell. If so, I’d love to hear them. Please contact me at the email address on our Contact Us page, or visit with me at the Sandy Nourished Festival weekend after next. For those of you who don’t know, hunger and homelessness are issues close to my heart. I worked with at-risk children and youth for many years before changing careers and eventually becoming CEO/ Sales and Marketing Manager at Gem City Fine Foods. While I am absolutely committed to being able to provide delicious treats to those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and other food allergies, I recognize a wider need to feed people right here at home.

Hunger is real. According to USDA-ERS, in 2017, nearly 12% (15 million) of American households were food insecure, meaning that “at times during the year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.” (https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx)

We all have our causes. This is one of mine, and I am fortunate to have a platform for talking about it. I hope that bringing up the reminder will encourage others to help build a bridge across the gap from those who have plenty to eat to those who may have little- to none.

Respectfully,
Lisa

Nearly One in Three

As we approach Celiac Awareness Month, it’s disheartening to read in the news that in a recent report in American Journal of Gastroenterology researchers found 32% of restaurant dishes labeled as gluten free contained gluten. Not surprisingly, pizza, pasta and dinnertime dishes were the most frequent offenders, with pizza and pasta testing positive more than half the time.

The numbers are substantial enough to have merit:
“The company supplied what they had: 5,624 food tests performed by 804 users during an 18-month period. When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that 32 percent of tests revealed gluten contamination in dishes that were supposed to be gluten-free.

“Gluten-free pasta samples were positive for the protein in 50.8 percent of tests, while gluten-free pizza turned out to contain gluten in 53.2 percent of tests. Gluten was detected in 27.2 percent of breakfasts, 29 percent of lunches and 34 percent of dinners.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-celiac-restaurants/restaurant-dishes-labeled-gluten-free-often-are-not-idUSKCN1RE2CH)

There are many opportunities for cross contamination in kitchens where gluten-containing foods are also found. Many establishments are making honest efforts to serve the celiac and gluten sensitive customer. Others may make lip service. It’s good to know your local restaurant and what their commitment is. Traveling or trying a new establishment can be more challenging.

We’ve met chefs who have- honestly!- laughed in our faces when we’ve told them our products are certified gluten free, calling gluten free “a trend” or “a fad.” We’ve also met chefs and restaurateurs who ask earnestly how they can serve the gluten free consumer who walks through their door or appears at a wedding they are catering. Somewhere the information is just not getting out. Until a person experiences the problems associated with ingesting gluten -or any food allergen- some people just don’t get it.

The same question arises for me when considering this conundrum as arises when considering addiction or mental illness. Why is a broken leg understandable, or cardiac disease, but not these other medical conditions? Why is pollen allergy understandable while a gluten or peanut allergy is not?

There are organizations working on providing answers and resources. But what about people who just don’t want to hear? Who don’t want to know? For now, those of us who understand must access those resources en mass, get together in groups, be activists for self. For health. For life. If you are food celiac, gluten sensitive or food allergic, do not hesitate to help others understand what it is like for you. If you are uncomfortable facing peopel alone, find a friend, a group of people to be with to help. Together we will continue to get the word out that celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and food allergies are not just “a preference,” “a trend” or “a fad,” but real conditions that can be life threatening.

Ask questions, find answers. Don’t hesitate to walk out the door of an establishment that doesn’t make you feel comfortable you are safe. Be an advocate for yourself, and you will at the same time be an advocate for others who share your experience.

On your side, respectfully,
Lisa

Safety First

So, that package has a little “certified gluten free” seal on it. Or does it? Maybe it says, “gluten free?” And what about nuts? And the necessity for food labels to list out any of the Top 8 food allergens that are used in a food manufacturing facility? It’s a lot to navigate to feel like you can be safe, especially if your allergies are severe.

We’re asked frequently about how we manage to keep our products allergen free. Let’s go through the process at our commercial bakery, to help you understand and feel safe.

First, all Gem City Fine Foods products are made in a dedicated gluten- and nut-free commercial bakery. What does “dedicated” mean? It means we do not use ingredients containing gluten or nuts in our bakery. This is not the same as certified. A manufacturing facility itself cannot be certified gluten-free. The products can be, though, and every single one of ours is. We go through a rigorous audit annually to make sure our policies and procedures are in place and are being implemented. This includes weekly testing of our products and on ingredients when they come into the bakery if they are deemed “high risk” by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO.) And we validate testing procedures quarterly by testing a “spiked” product (one containing gluten.) We document and share test results with GFCO.

So, the lesson in this? If you see the “certified gluten free” logo on a food product, that means the product has been through tests and audits. If you see “gluten free” your risk may be higher of being glutened, especially if a food is processed in a facility that also uses gluten ingredients. And this brings us to other food allergens.

You will note, if you look on one of our food labels, that we specify our desserts are produced in a facility that uses eggs, dairy and soy. Let’s look at soy first. The soy you will find in our bakery is in the form of soy lecithin, which is found in the chocolate used in our Flourless Chocolate Torte and our Mocha Cheesecake. For those of you who are cooks, you may know that lecithin is often used as an emulsifier. For those of you who are allergic to soy, you may know whether you are allergic specifically to soy lecithin. People who are allergic to soy are not necessarily allergic to soy lecithin, which contains very little of the amount of soy protein that stimulates allergies. This does not mean that everyone is immune. Your doctor or allergist can help you determine if you are allergic to soy lecithin.

OK, soy down. Let’s move on to eggs and dairy. Cow’s milk and eggs are two of the most common food allergens. And we have not removed either dairy products (though they are hormone-free) or eggs (cage-free) from our products, aside from Vegan Chocolate Cake and Cupcakes. So then, how do we make sure those of you with either or both of these allergies is safe when you consume our Vegan desserts? We both clean and sanitize between production runs, so that those allergens are removed from the production area before we make our Vegan products. And to be sure our cleaning and sanitizing procedures are being implemented properly and are effective, we test for general allergen proteins weekly on surfaces that have been sanitized recently.

No procedure is failure proof, but we do our best to minimize opportunities for cross contamination, beyond the production area, including with a separate break room, hand washing, and removal of outer clothing that is worn in our production, packaging and storage areas so it is not exposed to allergens outside those areas.

If you are in the Salt Lake City area and are interested in seeing how we do what we do to help keep you safe while enjoying a delicious treat, we will be holding a Bakery Walking Tour from 6:30-8:30 pm on Tuesday, April 30, and would love to have you join us. The tour is limited to the first 15 people to register, and you can sign up here:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdlOmSGPBQgrSUh-l0Gn2HqXbEkQ-4-2w-P-BwyM44dip3a7w/viewform?fbclid=IwAR3kur7iAjMXsaAouzQjsFQq00ixtMjRO7wUcWu9D0LONfl56TneMpXCUcI

We’d love to have you join us!

Nuts to Airlines

Internet stories, especially shockers, can circulate on social media indefinitely. How often have you see a story come around on a friend’s post, and found out later that the event actually happened several months or even years ago? (We’re not talking rumours that turn out to be untrue here, but stories that happened and continue to come around, like the celebrity who dies multiple times in various social media universes.)

This morning, a blog post appeared, detailing the story someone who had sent two unaccompanied teens home aboard a major carrier and then an airline partner flight across the ocean. So says the story, that apparently the kids were bumped from the flight after one disclosed a severe allergy to peanuts and the partner airline decided not to accommodate him. A little bit of research on our faithful internet reveals many stories such as this, from news articles to opinions expressed about such incidents.

As we have branched out to serve a more broad food allergic consumer group, we have been learning about food allergies and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). Succinctly stated by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) on their website (https://www.foodallergy.org), “Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, eating and breathing, and affect your heart and circulatory system, eating and your digestive system, breathing and your respiratory system, and more. All of these life activities are at risk for a person with a life-threatening food allergy.”

So, if you have severe food allergies, you’re covered under ADA, right? Not necessarily. Commercial airplanes are exempt from ADA, and covered under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). But what does this mean?

Generally speaking, Department of Transportation does not consider food allergies to be disabilities, though if a food allergy is sufficient to limit a major life activity (such as breathing!), then the allergic person meets the definition of person with disability (ABC News, June 6, 2017, https://abcnews.go.com/US/flying-peanut-allergies-airlines-react/story?id=47795670). The problems seem to really begin with a lack of clarity or continuity in how airline policies and employees, even within airlines, handle severe food allergies. The ACAA does state that airlines may not refuse transportation on the basis of a disability. The Act also states that airlines can exclude a person if having that person on board could compromise the safety of the flight- note this is not the same as the safety of the person with allergies.

Perspectives differ on this issue. The internet sphere abounds with comments from people who claim those with severe allergies should be kicked off flights rather than the other passengers give up their peanuts, while the other end of the spectrum is vocal as well, asking if people can’t just give up one little snack in order to allow someone to travel on a plane?

As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) “food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern” (February 14, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/foodallergies/index.htm.) The issue of how to best accommodate all air travelers is not set to fly off into the wild blue yonder any time soon.

Think Spring.

Sitting in a hotel room in Athens, GA, looking out on an unseasonably cold day, it’s a challenge to believe the “think spring!” message of the latest issue of Simply Gluten Free Magazine, gearing up for our first National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) regional conference. But spring will come, just like every season does annually, weather or not. And spring brings renewal, including a direction we’ve discussed moving toward for a while at Gem City Fine Foods.

One article in this March/April issue of Simply Gluten Free discusses the rise of chronic illnesses among children, among them asthma and mental health conditions, which can impede daily life. The subject is not a new one to those who have suffered from celiac disease or related conditions. “Have suffered” is the operative term here. Modern medicine has made it easier to diagnose celiac disease and gluten sensitivy, which means though more people are being diagnosed, more people, some who have suffered for decades, can be treated so their symptoms ease and their lives improve- usually dramatically.

Which leads us to our directional shift. For many years we have done our best to provide a superior gluten free ready-made desserts to those who follow a gluten free diet through grocery stores and more recently online (now via both Amazon and through our own online store.) You can now buy a truly decadent and safe dessert anywhere in the continental US, and that includes those diners with peanut and tree nut allergies. But are we touching the lives of everyone we could?

Recognizing an increase in food allergies among younger people, and the concerns parents and care givers have in sending them off to school, where they may find themselves in a less controlled environment, we want to have your back. We’re excited about the direction so many colleges and universities are taking in making dining areas and experiences accessible and safe to students and staff with food allergies.

We’ve had the pleasure of talking with several food service representatives from various schools in the US and Canada over the past few months, and are really looking forward to our foray into the NACUFS world, not only to showcase our certified gluten free, nut free, and even Top 8 free desserts for food service, but to learn more about how nutrition is shaping up on campuses today. The more we learn, the more we can help you and yours eat well and safely.

Our mission remains to build Gem City Fine Foods as the premier provider of delicious gluten free desserts. This spring we advance our mission as we advance our new direction, looking forward to meeting with those who can help, and to serving you.

Out and About and Meeting YOU!

Last week we had the pleasure of participating in our first Nourished Festival, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in southern California. We have been part of this event in the past, when called the GFAF Expo, and it was fun to see people coming to visit who follow a Keto, Paleo or Plant Based diet, in addition to those with gluten and nut allergies. And it felt really great to be able to say, “You can buy our products locally at Bristol Farms and Lazy Acres stores,” when last time we were able only to let customers know how to access Gem City Fine Foods desserts online. For those of you who shop in other stores, we are always working on getting our products into new locations so you can enjoy. Meanwhile, if you are in SoCal, please do check out the stores noted above, and give them some love.

Best of all, because we had a helper, we were able to leave the table to network with others. I found myself at the back of the hall hobnobbing with the food allergy authors, and am happy to share some of their information with you. First I stopped to talk with Tracy Hill, author of two beautiful cookbooks: Delightfully Free, with 141 gluten- dairy- and sugar-free recipes, and Even More Delightfully Free, with 166 gluten-. dairy-, refined sugar-, corn-, yeast-, soy-, oats-, peanut-, dye- and artificial sweetener-free recipes. See more at www.DelightfullyFree.com.

Then I enjoyed a conversation with Elizabeth of www.YourComfortForLife.com, a wellness strategist and lifestyle mentor who holds classes and has written a few books, most recently Bone Broth Meals. I was particularly interested in her book Survival for Sensitive & AutoImmune Skin, as someone who has experienced an increase in allergic reactions to skincare products in my own life recently. Elizabeth and I discussed the myriad ways chemicals can encroach through everyday life and the products we choose to use, including food.

Next was a visit with Angela of The FLog Journal. This is an incredibly comprehensive 6-month journal for people searching for their own food sensitivities. I wanted to purchase The FLog Journal, but it is large enough I wasn’t sure I’d have room for it in my suitcase! It’s available online, and in e-book format, so I can have it after all, and so can you. Check this gem out, and learn Angela’s story as you go through the pages on your own journey.

Before heading back to our table in the Nut Free Zone, I stopped to talk with Kathlena The Allergy Chef of Free and Friendly Foods about food allergies, and purchased The Corn Free, Gluten Free & Top 8 Allergy Free Cookbook, a brief hard cover book I found especially alluring because of the resources in the front. And super fun: Free and Friendly Foods has a blog all about allergy friendly foods- and Legos! Check that out at www.foodandlego.com.

If you happen to get in touch with any of the authors mentioned here, please let them know I sent you and that I truly appreciated the opportunity to meet each one last Sunday in Del Mar. And if we at Gem City Fine Foods haven’t met you yet in person, please take a look at our Events and Expos page to see where we will be next. We look forward to the opportunity!

With respect and commitment,
Lisa

Lisa Cox, CEO/ Sales and Marketing Manager

More Research, More Firepower

I just ran across a feature in The Scientist Magazine from June 2017: The Celiac Surge. We are often frustrated in the search for recent statistics on celiac prevalence, with the most common numbers thrown out there being 1 in 133 people in the US diagnosed, or about 1% of the population, and another 3 million thought to be gluten sensitive. But these figures are more than a decade old- and seem low to those of us who provide gluten free options for the consumer.

So I was please to read this article, even though it’s nearly two years old, in which a study across a Denver area group, extrapolated to fit the general population, found the prevalence of celiac disease to be closer to 3% of people by age 15.

I don’t mean it was pleasing to learn that there are actually a higher number of people afflicted with celiac, according to this study, but that research continues to grow to support the fact that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are REAL. Sadly, too many people still scoff at the notion, and as a result, those who suffer are not taken seriously and not only are deprived of good gluten free food choices, but are placed at risk of being exposed to gluten in dining situations in which the condition is neglected.

Below is a link to the article mentioned here. And I encourage those of you who have been diagnosed or suspect you are celiac or gluten sensitive to take advantage of the resources that exist to help you navigate. For instance, the Celiac Disease Foundation offers a free Symptoms Assessment Tool, links to clinical trials, and more. There are organizations and people who support those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, and the more research, the more information that becomes available, the more ammunition we have in the battle to make the celiac and gluten sensitive- and other food allergic- voice heard.

https://www.the-scientist.com/features/the-celiac-surge-31438?fbclid=IwAR1bBEZyCZBiZidFfHuEfBMKNZs_yVeCb_d_9GmlfLRoN8PJNsFDXzUABZ8#.XFHZCX106R0.facebook

With respect and commitment,
Lisa

#ChefsForFeds

Chef Jose Andres, recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for disaster relief efforts through his non-profit World Central Kitchen, is in the news again, this time for working to feed furloughed federal workers through #ChefsForFeds. The initiative opened last week at Pennsylvania Avenue, right in downtown Washington, DC, and now is spreading around the country.

To see a current list of locations, click on this link: https://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/chefsforfeds

The chef and restaurateur announced the expansion of services and call for volunteers on Twitter. You can follow him and the movement @chefjoseandres.

The World Central Kitchen website details a number of projects from a chef’s eye view to solve challenges of hunger and poverty around the world with health, education, career and business initiatives based around the kitchen.

Chef Jose Andres has asked us all to spread the word about #ChefsForFeds. We like the mission, and are spreading the word about World Central Kitchen. Check out the website for yourself.

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