Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The 2013 Washington DC Gluten-Free Expo

I’ve been MIA for over a month now, what with having grad school classes every day of the week among other things. For all of June I didn’t go to farmers markets to do a review, write down recipes, or take photos of gastronomic delights. But I went on an adventure of gluten free epic proportions and I finally have the time and energy to share it with you.

So where did I go?

I went to the Washington D.C. Gluten-Free Expo.

Along with two gluten-free friends of mine, we drove to Bethesda, Maryland to spend a couple hours being in absolute awe of the many gluten-free companies that have come into fruition over the years. For ten dollars, you were greeted with hundreds of samples and smiles from the various companies represented. There had to have been at least one thousand people in the main room, the majority of them munchkins who were eager to eat as many sweets as humanly possible while their parents were focused on the literature. It was fun for the whole family, and the excitement was contagious.

The term “gluten-free” has sparked a serious debate: is it a fad or is it a necessity? Are people really developing sensitivities or do they believe simply removing gluten for gluten-free sweets and treats promote weight loss? Are the companies promoting “healthy” alternatives doing it for the good of the people or have they simply struck gold with a new way of making money? 

Many people have to go gluten free out of necessity, this is true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they do it to be healthier. They do it because they have to, and so many are looking for replacements of the foods they love containing allergens that are literally killing them on the inside: bread, desserts, pastas, candies, etc. It breaks my heart that a lot of people think of a necessary dietary shift as a fad or a trend when many people wish they could simply live a normal life without having to constantly ask: “is this [insert allergen] free?” 

The majority of the companies represented were in the sweets and treats categories. A few of them used ingredients that I didn’t know and couldn’t pronounce. But that’s what a lot of people are looking for: replacements of foods they love that came pre-made and ready to eat from a box. It’s a way to keep their kids from eating gluteny treats at school, or for those who have a persistent sweet tooth and a hankering for a donut. When I first started removing gluteny stuff from my diet, I did the same thing. But something shifted when Meals with Morri started forming in my head. It no longer became a movement in the name of allergy-free living. It became a movement of knowing what is going into your body and taking charge of your individual healing process. And for me, it became a movement of changing the way the world looks at food and how we can do it with the environment, health, and ethics in mind. 

Regardless, the three of us had a blast that day. There were quite a few companies we all agreed were ones you need to know.

Now, a lot of you (at least in the United States and Canada) know some of the big kahunas that were there:

Bob’s Red Mill: One of the best gluten free flour providers out there. I am such a big fan of the quality and work they put into their products, and very much a contributing factor to the success of many a Meals with Morri recipe. There were free samples of wholegrain sorghum, something I’ve never had before and am very excited to try.   
The Bob behind it all.

Pamela’s: Seeing Pamela’s booth nearly brought tears to my eyes from nostalgia. Her Artisan Flour Blend was one of the first flour mixes I started using when I went gluten free, and it made the transition significantly easier. In fact, the success of my recipes from using her flour blends made food fun for me. With Pamela’s help, I fell in love with baking.  

Bard’s Beer: I’m usually not a beer-drinking kind of gal. In fact, I don’t drink anything remotely alcoholic but kombucha these days. Bard’s Beer is solely made from the sorghum grain, the first of its kind to bring the enjoyment of beer to gluten-freers. It’s a little too hoppy for me to drink straight from the bottle, but it is a fantastic beer to make bread with and to cook brats in a cast iron pan on the grill. I said this to the two gents behind the counter and asked what they’ve created with the beer as a key ingredient. As a result, I was given a free t-shirt because “Anyone who says nice things about our beer deserves a free shirt.”   

Delight Gluten-Free Magazine: I am a sucker for a good foodie and/or garden magazine, and this is the sort of magazine that will make you hungry just by looking at the beautiful photos they have. In every issue there are sixty recipes, the latest gluten-free news, and expert food advice. You can also follow DGFM on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Happy Family Organic Superfoods: One of the most health-conscious companies out there, the Happy Family founder and CEO Shazi started her company to craft organic meals and snacks that nourish what matters most in our lives: our families. From baby cereal (the rice cereal is perfect for any unhappy tummy if you mix it with applesauce and yogurt) to fruit and veggie twists, you know you are guaranteed quality yum. I was tickled pink to find Happy Family’s contribution to quality nutrition for children in Africa through Project Peanut Butter. Anything with peanut butter in the name is bound to be awesome. 

I was disappointed that Nuts.com, New Grist, and Tinkyáda® (who, in my honest opinion, makes the best gluten free noodles out there) weren’t in attendance, especially since their products are practically essential to any gluten free household (well, maybe not the beer drinking part, but hopefully you get my point). 

There were two companies I’d met that I believe need more attention, one because of their amazing contribution to the wonderful world of sesame and the other because it was a new kind of chip that I could actually crunch on.

“At Soom™ Foods, sesame is our passion.” Three lovely young women with stunning smiles told us the story of their tehina. The sesame hails from Ethiopia (and the tehina is manufactured in Israel), where it has this mild yet toasted persona that can be used in almost everything. They laid out two tehina recipes, one that was plain and one that was sweetened with honey. It had peanut butter making a run for its money in my heart with just a teaspoonful of the stuff. (Yes, it’s that good!) Above all else, they were an inspiration to me because they made something happen that they were passionate about, and what they make is delicious.

Since the start of my personal healthy eating movement, chips were the first to go. Very rarely can you find snack food like chips where it is gluten, soy, and cane sugar free. Quite the shame, because sometimes rice crackers can get tedious, and what do you do when you’re missing nachos (something I miss and really want to healthify for your pleasure)? Can someone save us from a life without a snack that has that satisfying crunch? Way Better Snacks did. Each chip they produce contains sprouted goodness, which you all know aids in digestion and the breaking down of anti-nutrient enzymes. My favorite was the sweet potato chip, with the black bean as a close second, and I was beyond amazed that I could not only taste the individual ingredients in every chip, but I knew and could pronounced every ingredient (and the list was not long). 

All in all, it was a wonderful Sunday spent with good friends and meeting new people. Plus, if you are looking to volunteer for a good cause, The Children’s National Medical Center has an excellent Celiac Disease Program that is looking for people. 

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring story there. What happened after? Good luck!

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