Rachael Hunt is the creator of Gluten Freedom Inc, the definitive online platform for those navigating gluten-free dining, cooking, traveling and living.
What is Gluten Freedom?
“Gluten freedom is the ability to dine out with confidence; to bring back the joy of the dining experience with friends and family. I could not dine out freely. In order to maintain a social life, I started calling certain restaurants and asking what they could provide that was gluten free. I discovered that a lot of places could accommodate me. It wasn’t public knowledge, though, because they weren’t promoting or labeling it. Through increased awareness, chefs and restaurateurs have been taking on that challenge and attracting more customers. My mission has been to live with gluten freedom by being able to maintain that level of normalcy that we all seek when we dine out.”
How did these allergies and restrictions have developed?
“I’m not a scientist, but what is believed to have happened is that the over-processing, or genetic modification of wheat in North America is being resisted within many people’s digestive systems. The protein, gluten, has become a poison for our bodies. It’s become like “Franken-wheat”. Wheat has dramatically changed over the past twenty or thirty years. And, because it’s so easy and cheap to mass-produce, it’s used as filler in everything.”
What about rice?
“Rice is fine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat products or any derivative of wheat like rye, barley or malt. Rice is not derivative of wheat. Neither is quinoa. Rice can be glutinous, but it is not gluten. “Glutinous” is an adjective, a descriptor, but it does not refer to the protein itself. Gluten is a protein.”
Is a gluten free diet healthier?
“A gluten free diet can be healthier, but just because something is gluten free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Just because it doesn’t contain gluten doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain other ingredients. A gluten free muffin or cookie is still a dessert; it’s still sweetened with fat and sugar.”
What suggestions do you propose to restaurants?
“By taking extra steps to evaluate what your menu is offering to the gluten-free consumer, in terms of preparation and serving, and then making that more transparent, it shows a level of education and awareness. For example, a restaurant could offer gluten free pasta, but boil it in the same water as regular pasta. That’s taking a risk with someone’s health. There’s always that risk of being accidentally “glutened”—and it happens. When a restaurant shows that they’ve taken the time to care and make those adjustments, it puts the consumer at ease.”
“The way I’ve pitched restaurants, or partnered with restaurants to curate events, is that it’s about inclusivity. If you’re not able to accommodate me, then you’re not accommodating my friends and family either—if I’m not able to dine at a place, you’re not just cutting me out, you’re cutting them out as well, and you’re losing out on business. If I can’t eat at your restaurant, I’m going to take my friends elsewhere. Many restaurants are recognizing the reality of this, and are modifying recipes for sauces or dips that would traditionally have gluten in them. Now, instead of having a gluten free version and a regular version, they’re just making the gluten free version, and in that way, the restaurants are able to cut their own time and costs. It’s good business.”
What advice do you propose to gluten-free consumers?
“You can’t just go into a restaurant and assume they’re going to be able to provide you something. To be fair, not every restaurant can do that. It’s important to ask as many questions as you can. When you’re not sure, call ahead of time. Health is number one; it’s not worth it to get sick. Ensure that you feel confident in that establishment. Don’t compromise your health. I’m asking those questions to educate and create awareness; and I share my experiences through my blog at Gluten Freedom Inc.”
“I’ve written some round-ups of the best gluten free Italian food, and the best gluten free Asian food. What I found is that Asian food can be synonymous with different ingredients that are not gluten free: soy sauce, fish sauce, tempura—they have all these components that make Asian cuisines taste delicious, but make it hard for someone who is gluten free to enjoy. However, I’ve been seeing a shift in the number of restaurants that are offering gluten free options.”
Can you name some?
“Kupfert & Kim; Almond Butterfly; Kwan Dim Sum has a gluten free menu; Pai Northern Thai Kitchen is very cautious and mindful of allergies; Gusto 101 is really mindful as well; Playa Cabana; the La Carnita restaurants—to name a few. Many restaurant are becoming more accepting of having gluten free options and menus, and for many people, that is bringing back the joy and ease of dining out.”
*Also, check out Rachael’s tasty new Gluten Freedom video series at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdrrUPaKtcH2t6xvlN5PQ0Q
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.