Bad product labeling: why it’s a bummer that wheat-free is trendy

Last night, I saw a package of Newman-O’s on the shelf of the grocery store. I was in a rush, saw the words “gluten” and “wheat free” and snagged them. Now my roommates and I could eat Oreos together, again!

Oreo knock-offs that have gluten in 'em.

Oreo knock-offs that have gluten in ’em.

But because I was in a rush, I didn’t noticed the small print: “Not a gluten-free product.” Stupid tasty cookies have barley flour in them. And I got to wondering: who is this product for, exactly? Why would someone want wheat-free, but not gluten-free, cookies?

So I’ve decided to do a small rant about gluten-free being trendy. As a vegetarian, I say: you don’t want to eat something? Want to make your diet healthier? Great! We should all be more conscious of what we eat.

Second ingredient: gluten-filled flour.

Second ingredient: gluten-filled flour.

However, if you’re going to call yourself vegetarian and still eat coney dogs, you ain’t really a vegetarian. If you insist you’re gluten-free, yet you’re drinking a wheat beer, you clearly have no idea what gluten actually is. And worse, you’re making the rest of us look flakey, and you make restaurant owners, product labelers and family and friends take our food issues less seriously.

And if our diet restrictions are for health reasons, that’s a huge problem.

Some background: I don’t have celiac disease. What I have is gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity: I eat wheat, and my digestive tract reacts terribly. I figured this out in the fall of 2012. After having digestive issues for most of my life, I decided to do the elimination diet. For several weeks, I was vegan and wheat-free, my digestive issues cleared up, and I gradually added foods back in. And I determined my issues were not with either dairy or eggs. But I remained gluten free.

Until one of my students brought in a tray of baclava to share with the class. And an hour later, I knew. Wheat was off the table for me, permanently.

After realizing I couldn’t eat wheat, I did have a period of mourning. I made lists of my favorite foods that I couldn’t eat: the homemade pierogies from the Polish Market in Hamtramck; Atwater Brewery’s Vanilla Java Porter; my mom’s chocolate chip cookies; my dad’s chocolate cake.

Then I started checking out gluten-free cookbooks and food blogs, and began to realize that there’s a pile of other flours our there. I became a regular at the Chinese takeout place down the street from me, and they always made my vegetable fried rice without soy sauce.

And it can be a pain. No one likes to hear people droning on about about diets or food restrictions. And I don’t think people are actually listening when they ask me what gluten is, or why I can’t eat wheat, or that gluten is also in things like barley and spelt.

I’ve made my peace. Eating out can be an adventure, and it’s a great excuse to pass up on holiday cookies. But when people announce that they’re avoiding wheat, then pour soy sauce or gravy on their food, it diminishes how seriously other people take celiac’s and gluten intolerance.  (Yes, both gravy and soy sauce have wheat in them.)

So Newman’s? Make organic, free-range cookies all you want. Just leave the words “wheat free” off your package, unless you’re actually going to make your product gluten-free.

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7 responses to “Bad product labeling: why it’s a bummer that wheat-free is trendy

  1. As someone who has celiacs disease this is even more frustrating. If I’ve make this mistake we have 3-4 days of hell to get through before feeling like ourselves again. It’s awful.

    • Getting “glutened” stinks. And when it’s because of product labeling weirdness, it’s even more frustrating. Just say what’s in your product!

  2. You asked who might want something marketed as wheat-free, and I am raising my hand! I have a wheat allergy, not a gluten allergy. I can eat foods like spelt and barley without any of respiratory or depressive reactions I get from wheat. Now…are Newman O’s healthy? No, not at all. But, when I came across them last year, I, like you, was elated that I, a person with a wheat (and dairy) allergy, could get “oreo’s” and eat them with my boyfriend! I read the ingredient list to make sure they were actually wheat and dairy free. Since I am fine with barley, I just made sure not to offer them to my gluten-free friends. So, I am someone who wants this product! Would I prefer a gluten-free one? Maybe. But them labeling the product so that passerby’s know it doesn’t contain wheat flour like regular Oreos caused me to actually stop and check them out!

  3. And if they’d changed one ingredient, folks with both wheat allergies, gluten intolerance and celiac’s could enjoy them. Glad to know the cookies have a market— I’m just wishing they had a slightly wider one.

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