Tuesday, June 30, 2009

O Canada!

July 1 is Canada Day

Just thought I'd offer a round-up of various items related to our neighbors north of the border....
  • At this week's Fancy Food Show in New York City, I enjoyed the gluten-free (and egg-free) butter crunch (sample at right) from Toronto's CocoMira.

  • Quebec microbrewery Les bières de la Nouvelle-France now advertises two gluten-free beers: Messagère pale ale and the new Messagère Red Ale. Judging from the website, it looks like the brewers expect distribution in the United States soon!

  • Thanks to Saskatchewan dietitian Shelley Case, I'd like to draw your attention to Health Canada's Celiac Disease: The Gluten Connection, a clear, concise, and recently produced overview of celiac disease. (For the inevitable United States comparison, click here to see materials produced as part of the Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign of the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).)

  • Here's Health Canada's Celiac Awareness Month 2009 statement (May 4) from Canadian Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq.

  • And here's a videotaped May 4, 2009 statement by Ontario politician Yasir Naqvi.

    Source (1:29)

  • Sunday, June 28, 2009

    GFRAP Expands on Long Island

    Adds Restaurants in Nassau and Suffolk

    The Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) recently added two Long Island restaurants to its roster.

    Pizza Bistro (4952 Merrick Road, Massapequa Park; 516-797-4747) includes pizza, pasta, and mozzarella sticks among its gluten-free options. Pizza Bistro's GFRAP participation is coordinated with the Suffolk County Celiacs (SCC).

    Il Capuccino (30 Madison Street, Sag Harbor; 631-725-2747) is an Italian fixture on the South Fork. Il Capuccino's GFRAP participation is not coordinated with a local group.

    Friday, June 26, 2009

    Food, Inc.

    See It at the Film Forum

    Robert Kenner's documentary Food, Inc., currently at the Film Forum, isn't about celiac disease and its one mention of gluten has to do with corn gluten, but it's still relevant to anyone on a medical gluten-free diet (and, for that matter, anyone who isn't).

    Food, Inc., which features talking heads Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, documents how far food production in the United States has moved from small farms to large and very powerful food corporations. These big businesses, with the help of government subsidies, seem able to deliver mass quantities of relatively cheap food for the masses but their modus operandi includes inhumane treatment of animal stock, bullying of small farmers, workers, and consumers, heightened risks of serious infection, suppression of information, and the increased marketing of junk food (i.e. soda and chips and fast food) rather than nutritious food items.

    One part of Food, Inc. that is of interest to the gluten-free is the coverage of two food safety lobbyists who lost a child to contaminated hamburger meat. They have spent years trying to get Congress to approve legislation that would enable the government to shut down plants that repeatedly produce the killer meat. On related notes, the film shows big business interests fighting against consumer-friendly labeling and also touches on how the FDA, USDA, and other agencies that should protect us have actually been weakened over the past decades of government policy-making. This is what our advocates have been up against when lobbying for improved labeling and enforcement of reasonable standards. Will the Barack administration be able to turn around this sickening trend?

    Another pertinent section of the film is its suggestion that the food industry tends to solve its problems through complication rather than simplification. The main example has to do with E. coli contamination of meat. The industry seems to want to solve the problem by adding ammonia to mass meat production instead of employing the simpler method of feeding cattle a natural diet of grass (rather than the standard, infection-inducing, artificial diet of subsidized corn). This reminds me of the pharmaceutical industry's investment in gluten-neutralizing medications: I'm all for research and innovation, but I wonder whether there will be significcant downsides to the development of those medications when a simple, gluten-free diet already seems just fine as a treatment. What would be so bad about our society simply making it easier and easier to stay on the diet? (And, once again, where's the investment in getting as many people as possible correctly diagnosed as soon as possible?)

    Similar thoughts crossed my mind during the films' extended sequence showing how Monsanto's genetically modified (GMO) soybeans have come to dominate the market in the United States. Monsanto, which acquired a patent on the soybeans, aggressively goes after farmers who resist becoming a part of what has become Monsanto's near-monopoly. Monsanto even goes after farmers whose crops have become naturally "contaminated" (illegally invaded?) by the company's patented soybeans! This part of the movie led me to think about efforts to create GMO wheat and other grains that would be safe for people who are gluten-free. What would be the chance of the "safe" wheat being contaminated by or confused with "unsafe" wheat? What would be the chance of the "safe wheat" patent owner abusing its power like Monsanto does? How much should this path be pursued, when today it is already possible for masses of people to maintain healthy gluten-free medical diets?

    Food, Inc. is, ultimately, an advocacy film that calls for its viewers to reverse the bad trends by at least voting with their dollars when they buy groceries. Changing one's food-buying practices can require major adjustment, as those who have switched to being gluten-free already know.

    Some images of animal treatment in the film can be hard to take, but the shock is a small price to pay to heighten one's awareness of how foods such as eggs, meat, and milk make come to the table.

    Oh—and GFCO participant Stonyfield Farm has a promiment role in the film.

    Here's the opening of Food, Inc.

    Source (3:30)

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Hassett Hassles Hasselbeck?

    Lawsuit Breaks Out Over Books

    When GFNYC last checked in on Elisabeth Hasselbeck's recently published book The G-Free Diet, it was topping sales charts. Now the book's in the news for another reason: Sue Hassett, author of a book called Living with Celiac Disease, is suing Hasselbeck for copyright infringement and plagiarism, according to TMZ.com.

    I'm still making my way through The G-Free Diet, and I haven't read or even obtained Living with Celiac Disease (which Hassett claims was copyrighted in 2008), so perhaps I'm not in a position to offer much insight at the moment. And you know what? I think a lot of the media isn't either. It seems that, at the moment, reporters are basically making hay that anti-Hasselbeck allegations have been made in this letter, even though the allegations as stated don't strike me as very persuasive.

    Many of the allegations simply seem to note that both books invoke vaguely similar phraseology without recognizing that the phraseology is common (or at least not surprising) in writings about celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformus (DH). For example, both books use the phrase "Rome wasn't built in a day." But so does this 2005 message board thread about dealing with DH: "The DH will eventually clear up (especially with the assistance of Dapsone), but it takes time -- his body will take a while to clear up the 'histamine' reaction it has had for the past several years -- Rome wasn't built in a day."

    Both books warn about possible cross-contamination from meat slicers. So does a 2005 message board thread: "I would say the thing for you to watch is contamination from the meat slicer in the deli. Even if the meat was gluten-free, you wouldn't be able to account for what was on the slicer, unless they totally cleaned it for you...[.]"

    Both books offer lists of symptoms. Why shouldn't they?

    Get the picture? Both books almost inevitably seem to repackage advice that was already "in the air" before their dates of publication.

    Another example: The letter notes that Hassett's book observes that "Wheat-free is not necessarily gluten-free" while Hasselbeck's book observes "'Wheat-free' does not mean the same thing as 'gluten-free.'" But this truism precedes both books by many years: Jax Peters Lowell's 1995 book Against the Grain advises "wheat-free and all natural do not necessarily mean gluten-free." I am pretty sure that this citation is not the earliest that could be found. At any rate, it's another case of both books parroting typical and sensible information.

    But the parroted information isn't always sensible: The Hassett letter also draws attention to the books' similar but unfounded warnings about anti-clumping agents in spices. According to the Hassett letter, her book says that "Some spices have a starch put in so it does not stick together you must find out where the starch is derived. Is the starch from a corn or wheat?" [sic], while Hasselbeck's book (misquoted in the letter) says "Spices: Beware the anticlumping agents added to many commercial herbs and seasonings (including those used at restaurants)—they almost always contain gluten." The problem with this can be found courtesy of the reliable resource Gluten-Free Living.

    In comments expressing concern about Hasselbeck's book, Gluten-Free Living's Amy Ratner dismisses the spice advice by rhetorically questioning, "Is it a big deal to incorrectly tell someone struggling to figure out the gluten-free diet for the first time that the declumping agents in spices almost always contain wheat...?" Of course, Hassett and Hasselbeck's "declumping agent" warning (succinctly addressed here) also predates both books, as evidenced by this listserv summary post from 2000, which includes the advice that "one must be careful with spices and seasonings because often wheat-flour and other grains are used in them as fillers, to prevent clumping or as a flow agent, and aren't listed on the ingredients." So this instance strikes me as both books parroting typical misguided information.

    Considering the weakness of the Hassett allegations, it's a shame that it has taken the mere launching of this lawsuit to return media attention to Hasselbeck and The G-Free Diet. For the moment at least, a far more important and sober (but less sensational) question would have to do with how reliable the information is in both books, how any errors and inconsistencies might have gotten into them, and how much either author might do to address and correct those problems. These are health-related books, after all!

    An even more important question for the media to explore (completely in line with the current interest in health care reform) would be how to correctly diagnose the millions of people who unknowingly have celiac disease. But at present, much of the mainstream media merely seems to be sniffing around for the scent of celebrity scandal while giving relatively short shrift to a persistent and serious health concern that's virtually crying out to be addressed in such a way that positive and significant change will follow.

    Thanks to Gawker for the lead.

    UPDATE On today's The View, Elisabeth Hasselbeck made a brief statement that the allegations were without merit and that they were being handled appropriately.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    S'MAC Anniversary Special

    Discounted Mac-and-Cheese All Day Wednesday!

    Once again, GFRAP mac-and-cheese joint S'MAC (345 East 12th Avenue, with a dedicated takeout storefront to the east) is celebrating its anniversary by discounting its All-American nosh. This Wednesday the gluten-free version will cost you $2.00.

    The rules:
  • Limit one All-American nosh per person.
  • Valid for dine-in and takeout only, not for deliveries.
  • Must eat/pickup in person at the restaurant.
  • Not valid in combination with other offers.
  • Not available with multi-grain pasta. [Big whoop.—Ed.]
  • Not available at our Upper West Side location.
  • The special does not include the other varieties of mac-and-cheese, but that doesn't mean you couldn't, say, order the Cheeseburger. Look at it there...isn't it tempting?

    Video by David Marc Fischer (00:05)

    Saturday, June 20, 2009

    Word: GF Gets Shout-Out in Viral Rap!

    "Arlington: The Rap" is a parody video that recently went viral. It's of particular interest to those familiar with life in Arlington, VA, but I suspect that even those of us who haven't been in that 'hood know where GoRemy is coming from...especially when he throws down a line about dropping gluten from his diet (around 1:31)! But who's gonna tell him he can't have his puffed kashi?

    Source (3:58)

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    "Going Gluten-Free at Age 13"

    A Segment of NPR's Morning Edition

    Here's Allison Aubrey's June 15, 2009 segment (4:00) (plus text and recipes) about a family learning to accommodate a gluten-free diet.

    One word of caution: In the text accompanying the piece, a reference to Amy's pocket sandwiches wrongly suggests that they are gluten-free. Still, this is a welcome follow-up to Aubrey's gluten salute of May 2007, "For Most People, Gluten Isn't a Diet Enemy."

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Hot and Sour 'Shrooms?

    On a whim I thought I'd try the Organic Spicy Shiitake & Vegetable Soup mix by FungusAmongUs. To my surprise, it turned out to be very close to Chinese Hot and Sour Soup!

    Since then I've also tried the Organic Smoked Oyster Mushroom Chowder, which calls for cream. I liked it warm, I liked it cold, and I liked it with a little herring added, too.

    I found the mixes discounted at Westerly Natural Market, but I'm not sure how long the stock will hold out, or whether it will be replenished.

    Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Shameless Shirt Promotion

    Still looking for a Father's Day treat?

    Visit The Gluten-Free NYC Boutique for a wide range of gluten-free goods!

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Best Doctors in New York 2009

    Better for GF Kids than for GF Grown-Ups

    As far as celiac disease is concerned, there is not much change from last year in this year's Best Doctors issue of New York magazine: The same five pediatric doctors appear, but no adult specialist receives recognition. And that's a problem: What's a gluten-challenged grown-up to do?

    So once again, especially for visitors who come here seeking an informed doctor, I note that Manhattan is home to the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University (CDCCU), where the adult celiac disease specialists include the founder and director, Dr. Peter Green, who remains a widely recognized authority on celiac disease. (Full disclosure: He is also one of my doctors.)

    Regarding the general credibility of the listings, I wrote the following in 2006:
    How reliable are the lists? At Slate, physician [Kent Sepkowitz] prescribes taking them with a grain of a salt. "To my expert eye," he writes, "every year the New York survey gets it about half right: Half of the selections are first-rate doctors, no doubt about it. Another 25 percent are people whom I don't know well (though I have my doubts), and 25 percent are certifiable duds--doctors who (hopefully) haven't seen a patient in years but have risen to the lofty realm of high society and semi-celebrityhood."

    I haven't charted my own experience with the list, but that sounds about right. I think that, when searching for a physician in the medically populous metropolitan area, it's good to seek and consider the advice of doctors you already trust, support group members, and friends in addition to the Best Doctor/Top Doctor guides. It's not easy to sort through all of that, but the method might give you the best odds of getting optimal results.
    So this year, when you search for the best doctors under the keyword celiac, you again get these five pediatric gastroenterologists:
    Dr. Philip Kazlow
    Pediatric Gastroenterologist
    New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital (Manhattan), Valley Hospital (Ridgewood, NJ)

    Dr. Joseph Levy

    Pediatric Gastroenterologist
    NYU Medical Center (Manhattan)

    Dr. Keith Benkov
    Pediatric Gastroenterologist
    Mount Sinai Medical Center (Manhattan), Englewood Hospital & Medical Center (Englewood, NJ)

    Dr. Leonard Newman

    Pediatric Gastroenterologist
    Westchester Medical Center (Valhalla, NY), Montefiore Medical Center—North Division (Bronx)

    Dr. Michael Pettei
    Pediatric Gastroenterologist
    Schneider Children's Hospital, North Shore University Hospital (Manhasset/New Hyde Park, NY)
    Regrettably, for the second year in a row, the Best Doctors list continues to leave much to be desired for anyone seeking a non-pediatric celiac disease—or dermatitis herpetiformus (DH)—specialist in New York City.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    GF Diet Responsible for GM Turnaround?

    General Mills Switch to GF Chex a Possible Factor

    Reuters reports that General Mills stock recently increased by 3.6%, with the company optimistic about the months to come.

    One reason might be the company's reformulation of some Chex cereals so that they would be gluten-free.
    Sales were up 10 percent in the first nine months of the company's fiscal year, with volume increasing 4 percent.

    The company attributed that growth to investments in product innovation. Last month, it introduced gluten-free versions of its Chex cereal brand.
    Keep your eyes peeled for more gluten-free Chex variations to hit the market—just check the ingredients to ensure that you're buying the right one.

    Also, look out for new gluten-free mixes from Betty Crocker, another General Mills concern. If you don't see them and you really want to try them, go ahead and ask your grocer to make room for them! And, if you do see them, feel free to tell us where!!

    Thanks to Michael Thorn for the lead to the Reuters article.

    Monday, June 08, 2009

    LI News and Vendor Fair 2009 Lookback

    With Many Thanks to Erin Smith and Gluten-Free Fun

    Thanks to Erin Smith at Gluten-Free Fun, I see that the 2009 L. Lodico Walk for Celiac Disease (LLWCD) scored television coverage on NY1.

    Also thanks to Gluten-Free Fun, I see that Long Island gluten-free bakery Joan's GF Great Bakes (JGFGB) got very positive coverage in The Washington Post.

    And thanks to the message board of the New York City Celiac Disease Meetup Group (NYCCDMG)which Erin organizes—I see that Joan herself will be at Plainview, Long Island's Get Healthy America (GHA) (148 Manetto Hill Road, 516-931-1900) on Saturday, June 13, 2009.

    But Gluten-Free Fun also informs me that before then—tomorrow evening from 7 to 8, actually—Michael Thorn will give a talk about celiac disease at the Wild by Nature (WBN) store in Huntington, Long Island. Having met Michael and heard him interviewed on the radio (here's a recent talk), I think this sounds like a very worthwhile event, especially for GF newbies on LI.

    I most recently saw Michael at the 2009 Gluten-Free Vendor Fair on Long Island (GFVFLI). Amidst all the hubbub, I savored the yummy strawberry cake samples from Get Healthy America...

    ...and enjoyed talking with Michael and special guest Cynthia Kupper of GIG (below). Don't blame them if they don't seem especially cheery—they were trying to be patient with my photographic skills—or lack thereof!

    Besides the strawberry cake and bagels and English muffins from Joan's GF Great Bakes, my other LI favorites at the fair included the artisanal chocolates from Centerport's Azure Chocolate, crusty bread from Everybody Eats of Brooklyn, cannoli from Mama's of Oakdale, desserts from Buena Sera Restaurant/The Gluten-Free Solution, and the BBQ offerings from Northport's Smokin' Sloe's.

    Photos: David Marc Fischer


    Hm. I'm not sure how this blank (until now) post got here, but somehow it attracted a comment about the restaurant Opus....

    Saturday, June 06, 2009

    Celiac Disease by Tori Winslow

    Congrats to Tori Winslow for winning a Student Educational Video Award for this short documentary (2:35) about celiac disease. (For more on modified food starch, see this note from Gluten-Free Living.)

    Thursday, June 04, 2009

    Vinegar Revisited. Again.

    Distilled Vinegars are Gluten-Free, Just Check Others

    The dietitian Tricia Thompson, who did the research that measured significant wheat contamination in oat brands including McCann's, recently collaborated with other gluten-aware dietitians in addressing concerns about the possibility of gluten in vinegar.

    Their findings—summarized in Tricia's blog post, "Vinegar: When Is It Gluten-Free?"—were generally consistent with research published in Gluten-Free Living suggesting that the vast majority of common vinegars are gluten-free.

    The main points:
  • Distilled vinegar is gluten-free, no matter what the source material may be, because (the ancient and medically reliable process of) distillation separates all proteins from the final product.
  • "Vinegar" simply listed as an ingredient can be considered safe—made from apples.
  • Check non-distilled and flavored vinegars. The most common non-distilled vinegar that would be of concern is malt vinegar; some Asian black rice vinegars might also merit concern.
  • The contributors to this recent statement are all dietitians notable for their expertise concerning celiac disease: In addition to Thompson, they include Cynthia Kupper of GIG, Melinda Dennis of Boston's Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (CCBIDMC), author Mary K. Sharrett of Nationwide Children's Hospital of Ohio (NCHO), Anne Lee (formerly of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University--CDCCU), and Pam Cureton of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research (UMCCR).