Lately the gluten-free community has been abuzz with the news that Betty Crocker has come out with a line of GF brownie, cookie and cake mixes. This after two members of the Betty Crocker family went gluten-free...one because of a Celiac diagnosis, the other because her family went GF. (Betty Crocker, it's also worth noting, is part of the General Mills brand, which has worked to make its Rice Chex and other cereals gluten-free.) Many GF bloggers, in particular, have gone gaga over the Betty Crocker development, praising it unabashedly.
There is, of course, something to celebrate here. For one, Betty Crocker now supports both the Celiac Disease Foundation and the Celiac Sprue Association. For another, it offers added choice (mainstream choice, at that) to gluten-free consumers looking for specialty food products.
Set within the broader context of the gluten-free food community, Betty Crocker becomes the latest big step in what amounts to a GF version of a civil rights-esque movement toward "separate but equal." In many respects, this is what we've been asking for - heightened awareness, increased product choice and availability, equality, not a second-rate foodie experience. When we go to the grocery store, we buy our separate but equal specialty GF products, and when we dine out at restaurants, we make our dinner selections from our separate but equal GF menus.
Then again, separate but equal didn't work so well for civil rights seen through the advantageous lens of hindsight. And I have to wonder how it will work out for the gluten-free community. While part of me does applaud developments like Betty Crocker offering a line of GF products, part of me also laments it.
Up until very recently, going gluten-free has actually been a two-fold switch in diet (I've said this before in an implied way on this blog, and explicitly in comments I've left on other GF blogs). There is a switch from gluten to gluten-free, but there has also historically been a necessary switch from processed food to whole, natural foods. This was in part a matter of circumstance - because of a relative scarcity of specialty GF foods, we gravitated toward naturally gluten-free foods such as whole meats and fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. Either that, or we baked our own treats from scratch at home.
But now, the landscape of gluten-free foods has changed (and continues to change) in big ways. Namely, gluten-free foodies can now trade a glutenous processed food American diet for a gluten-free processed food American diet, if they so choose. That's a shame.
We switch from a gluten to a gluten-free diet because we are sick, and we want to make our bodies healthy. Don't you switch from processed food to whole, natural foods for the same reason? It's no secret that, to grossly overgeneralize, Americans are unhealthy eaters. Gluten-free cuisine, in turn, is often a liberation from an unhealthy diet. It is opportunity knocking on your door, and before the Betty Crockers of the world offered their GF cake mixes, it was a door we had to walk through. Now we have the choice to walk through that door or not. We can eat a separate but equal processed food diet... Or we can eat a healthy, whole, natural GF diet. I encourage you to choose the latter.
I can say with certainty that you won't find GF box cake mixes in the cupboards of the Bronski household. When our sweet tooth does have a craving, we'll make a dessert from scratch. And barring that, we'll order from a specialty GF bakery like Aleia's or Mariposa. They make delicious GF desserts with ingredients I'd recognize from my own pantry, and which are free of preservatives and other unfamiliar ingredients. For my money, the world needs more from-scratch home GF cooks, and more Aleia's and Mariposas.
Perhaps one day we'll write about the box mixes on this blog (from Betty Crocker, and from the companies that are sure to follow)...if only for the sake of reviewing them for those readers who would appreciate such information. Otherwise, though, I plan to set my culinary sights on other territory...namely a gluten-free diet which is happily separate but not quite equal.