Monday, November 8, 2010

The Crispy Cook Meets Betty Crocker

Man, this past week I was the Extra, Extra Crispy Cook. I helped organize our school's annual arts and music festival on Friday, went on the road with a good bit of our used bookshop at the Chronicle's Autumn Leaves Book Fair in Glens Falls on Saturday, and worked at the shop and home at computer central in between. But even more wild was my beginning of the week adventure in Minneapolis to meet with a brigade of marketing mavens and what seemed like half the staff of the General Mills corporate headquarters.

Yours truly and ten other gluten-free blogger buddies were invited by General Mills to come for an intensive day of sessions to let the company know about the gluten-free lifestyle and how we shop, cook and live to keep our families healthy. This company, one of the world's largest food manufacturers, makes and sells some of the most popular food brands in North America, including Betty Crocker, Progresso, Yoplait, Old El Paso, Green Giant, Pillsbury, and Haagen Dazs (hurray for Rum Raisin!) so even though I generally cook from scratch, I was intrigued about being asked for my input and pleased to see that such a large company was interested in making more food options available for the gluten-free community.

I was psyched to meet so many passionate, articulate gluten-free bloggers during the day. Here's Amy of The Savvy Celiac, a great source of information and news and Minnesota area recommendations, with Cinde of Gluten Free Taste of Home, whose blog is all about gluten-free product reviews and giveaways (Amy's the blonde, Cinde's the brunette). And that's Danna Korn in profile on the far left, a rock star in the GF community who is the author of the several great books about living gluten-free, including Gluten Free for Dummies which I have recommended to many others who are new to the GF diet. Danna is also the founder of R.O.C.K. (Raising our Celiac Kids), a support group for parents. My local readers may be interested to know that there is a Glens Falls R.O.C.K. chapter.

In the photo above you can see a picture of (from left to right), Amanda of A Few Shortcuts, who gives you all the latest shopping bargains, recipes, and homemaking hints from her Florida home, Amy the Savvy Celiac, and Shelly, who, though not a blogger (yet?) is an active member of the Minneapolis/St. Paul R.O.C.K. along with Amy.

And below you can see Cinde on the right (whom you already met above) and Linda, the Gluten-Free Homemaker, who has fantastic home cooking recipes and household tips on her Maryland-based blog. Linda is the brains behind Gluten-Free Wednesdays, a link up of GF menu ideas and recipes to help make meal planning a little easier for the GF cook.

Most of our day was spent in information sessions being peppered with questions about how we've had to retool our kitchens, pay more for food on our gluten-free diets, alter our shopping habits, and the extent of our advance planning for our dining out experiences. Being an assertive and passionate bunch, we bloggers also got to fling the pepper back by making our various needs and desires known.

Chief among our desires were:

- Better certification/testing of food labeled as gluten-free (especially without the chilling afterword "may be made in a facility that also processes wheat, tree nuts, milk, etc.")

- Ingredient lists that are shorter rather than longer and which contain less chemicals and less additives that are unrecognizable as food. As in "why is there ester of wood rosin in my frosting?

- Products that contain less white rice flour, more fiber and more nutritious GF flour choices

- Less expensive GF foods.

I think our voices were heard and am encouraged that General Mills is sincerely interested in improving their product line for its GF customers. The fact is that gluten-free consumers read labels with a vengeance; we have to because eating gluten makes us and our loved ones sick and because manufacturers frequently reformulate products and add gluteny things back into products with "new and improved taste".

While a lot of smaller companies have sprung up over the past decade to provide wonderful GF foods for us to enjoy and which are available in "regular" food markets, General Mills is by far the largest company and has the most resources to be able to really expand the availability of more GF foods in mainstream markets. I think we were able to give the company a lot of important information about cross-contamination, the range of gluten-sensitivity and -intolerance and our powerful individual stories about how we and our families have been affected by gluten. I know I learned a lot from my fellow bloggers and I thought I was pretty up to speed on GF issues.

We also got a little time in Betty's kitchen to bake some sweet treats, though the General Mills staff didn't realize that possible gluten-contamination of wooden utensils used to make all their many other previous baked goods was a health concern, so they were disappointed that our gang of bloggers was not partaking of their specially prepared sweets. I know that this was a good education for them.

I was a baking partner with Jill of Hey, That Tastes Good, who is a wonderful food photographer and GF food adventurer. I was already a fan of her blog, as we gave her Fried Calamari recipe a test drive recently and I became a kitchen hero. That used to be Dan's favorite appetizer when we would dine out in the pre-GF era.

Jill's the one not wielding the gluten-suspicious rolling pin.

From left to right, my other new blogger friends included the effervescent Maureen of Hold the Gluten, who writes her information-packed blog posts about cooking, travel and health news from New Jersey, Vanessa the Celiac Princess, a newlywed (check out her gorgeous wedding photos and the spectacular GF reception spread) and author of a much-dogeared and beloved cookbook at our house, "The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook", Lyn of Lyn's Kitchen Adventures, an Oklahoma mom and splendid from-scratch baker who keeps things gluten, tree nut, peanut and sesame-free in her kitchen, and Shirley of Gluten-Free Easily, who finds the time to lead a celiac support group back home in Virginia when she is not blogging up a ton of recipes whose emphasis is on naturally gluten-free foods and whole foods.

Feel free to add comments about what you'd like to see in the best of all possible GF worlds and I will be happy to pass them along to my contacts at my next opportunity. I can tell you that General Mills is listening and made lots of staff available to meet with our group, so this bodes well for our future.

I hope you all find time to visit the blogs of my new GF friends and say hello. They are all wonderful women with lots to share and interesting points of view and I was inspired by them all.


Cinde said...

Rachel, this is a fantastic post! I am getting all sentimental reading it... missing you and all of my new GF blogging buddies. Hope we can all meet again! Keep in touch. :)

Linda said...

It's fun to read everyone's recaps and the slightly different ways we do it. I like the way you highlighted each blogger. It was great meeting you, and I look forward to the next time!

Lynn said...

It was great to meet you and all the other gluten free bloggers. It was a great event and I learned so much from all of you.

Claudia said...

You are giving me the urge to go "on the road", for food classes, conventions, sampling, etc. etc. Sounds like fun.

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Rachel, it was terrific meeting you! Really great post! :-) You covered all of our concerns and the many highlights of this event. I only wish we'd gotten to visit more with each other. We were "working," even when we were eating! ;-)


Maureen (Hold The Gluten) said...

Hi Rachel! Great post and pics!!! It was so great meeting you in person after following your blog for so long :) I hope we can get together again soon and hit that Spam Museum!

Diane-The WHOLE Gang said...

I'm really enjoying reading everyone's post on this trip. It will be interesting to see if GM really makes any changes that make a real difference.

Unknown said...

Hello Rachel!

My name is Alex, and I'm Jill's husband. I really don't know how to say this, but your article about your recent trip to Minneapolis, where you finally got to meet Jill (my favorite trouble maker), is very inspiring. You guys are the rock stars of the GF community. Thank you for everything you do. Your voice makes all the difference. And that photo of the 2 of you posing with the rolling pin is just too cute.

Cook Scrap Craft said...

I came to your blog from Hey, That Tastes Good! and I'm so glad the General Mills is taking celiac disease seriously. My husband has the disease and it's really hard for us (both of us work) to find the time to make things from scratch, but at the same time, we can't afford to pay a bajillion dollars on pre-packaged gluten-free foods and we certainly can't rely on our cheap, pre-celiac standbys. It would be great if more food manufacturers understood this and gave us a little help!

Rachel said...

Hi Everyone:

Thanks for your all kind words and thoughts.

For my "GF Bettys", I truly enjoyed meeting you all and exchanging ideas. I think our comments were heard and will result in positive changes for the GF community. I feel energized after meeting you guys in person and am thinking of all kinds of posts I can do in the future base on our flurry of meetings.

Cinde said...

Hi Rachel,

It’s Cinde from Gluten Free Taste of Home again... my General Mills post is finally up! Here is the link if you want to check it out:

Happy Holidays!