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Gluten-Free Tax Deduction Guide

7 Mar

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Taxes got you down? Do all of the rules, regulations, codes, exemptions and forms have your head spinning? This is my guide to dissecting gluten-free tax guidelines.

Here is a compilation of all of the resources I found online for gluten-free deductions in comprehensive and comprehendible post.

People diagnosed with celiac disease are entitled to making deductions for the extra costs associated with living gluten-free! If you want to take advantage of the tax benefits associated with celiacs then read below for some tips.

 In the interest of saving time, don’t break out the calculator until you are sure that you qualify for the deductions!

1.First things first: are you entitled to deducting medical expenses?

In order to qualify for medical expense deductions your medical expenses must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

Your adjusted gross income is your taxable income minus any adjustments to income such as deductions, contributions to a traditional IRA and student loan interest.

“For example, if you have a modified adjusted gross income of $45,000 and $5,475 of medical expenses, you would multiply $45,000 by 0.10 (10 percent) to find that only expenses exceeding $4,500 can be deducted. This leaves you with a medical expense deduction of $975 (5,475 – 4,500)” (IRS).

NOTE: it is your TOTAL medical expenses that must exceed 10% of your income, not just your celiac-related expenses.

If your situation meets this criteria the next step is to get an official written diagnosis of celiac disease from your physician. Once you have this you can send it in with the rest of your paperwork.

2. Find out what can be deducted 

You cannot deduct the full price of gluten-free products but you can deduct the cost of gluten-free products that is in EXCESS of the cost of their gluten-containing counterparts.

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For example, if a loaf of gluten-free bread costs $6.00 and a comparable loaf of glutinous bread costs $3.00, you may include in your medical expenses the excess cost of $3.00.

You can deduct the full cost of special gluten-free items like Xanthum Gum which is used in baking GF products.

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Have you been to Pam MacD’s or Whole Foods lately? The transportation costs (gas, parking, tolls) you incur from making  special trips to grocery stores for gluten-free products are deductible.

Have you ordered some gluten-free soy sauce packets from Amazon like I did last week? If so, the full cost of postage or other delivery expenses for GF foods made by mail order are deductible.

3. Fill out the right form!

You report medical expense deductions on Schedule A, Form 1040 which is different from the Form 1040 (US Individual Income Tax Return). Use the Schedule A 1040 form to figure out itemized deductions.

4. FILE!

Send in your Schedule A 1040 form and official written diagnosis from a physician with your other tax documents.

If you are audited: 

Although you do not need to send these documents in when you file your taxes, you will want them on hand in case of an audit.

1. If needed, get a letter from your physician indicating that you have celiac disease and must adhere to a gluten-free diet for life.

2. Substantiation of the expenses in the form of receipts, cash register tapes or cancelled checks for your GF purchases.

3. A schedule showing how you computed your deductions for the GF foods.

(From the Celiac Disease Foundation’s Website)

Here are some fantastic resources:

NFCA’s Gluten-Free Tax Guide

CDF’s Gluten-Free Tax Guide

The best advice I can offer is to do your homework and check out multiple sources for tax information. Filing your taxes may be a pain but in the event of an audit it is better to be prepared and organized than caught off guard. Put in the work to get your taxes done correctly, benefit from the deductions and enjoy another gluten-free fiscal year.

-CC

CC Gluten Freed in 2013

3 Jan

Happy New Year! I am looking forward to a new year full of gluten-free living but before we charge ahead let’s take a look at CC Gluten Freed in 2013!

2013 was a year full of excitement and big events. I was picked up as a writer for the Gluten Intolerance Group’s printed publication, Celebrate Gluten-Free, I attended a national coalition on the hill to promote the interests of the gluten-free community and I attended some very fun awareness events throughout the year!

My biggest accomplishment this year was being picked up by GIG to be a regular contributor to their printed publication, Celebrate Gluten-Free. The wonderful staff of GIG send me writing assignments on a variety of topics that test my creativity, critical thinking skills and gluten-free knowledge. You can subscribe here. Sometimes I write pieces offering advice, sometimes I write about a personal experience or struggle with living gluten-free, whatever the topic I have given each article my all.

To subscribe to GIG’s magazine just sign up for membership here: http://www.gluten.net/product-category/memberships/

The magazine is incredibly well done and has diverse articles that will benefit even the most veteran celiacs. The winter edition (coming out soon!) features two pieces that I wrote: a piece about gluten-free weddings and a piece on dating gluten-free, the two extreme ends of the relationship spectrum! The best part about the wedding article? I got to go wedding cake testing!

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In March I attended the Digestive Disease National Coalition, heading the Maryland advocates group  and talking to Maryland’s Senators and some Representatives about policies that, if passed, would benefit our community. For example, we advocated that the Senate should continue to declare May Celiac Awareness month! You can read about my trip to the Hill here.

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I spent a few weeks working with the Celiac Disease Foundation in Los Angeles, California during the summer. My task was to re-write the information about celiac disease on their website. CDF spent a few months putting together a dynamic, user-friendly design for their  website. You can check it out here! I was honored to write information that will benefit the celiac community! It was pretty fun taking a break from my normal, colloquial writing style and writing down just the facts about what celiac disease is. As I am entering medical school in the Fall, it was great practice speaking very technically about symptoms, treatment and the like.

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While working with the Celiac Disease Foundation, I was also trying out a new diet: the raw food diet. My family and I decided to go on, what we deemed, a “raw food detox.” We spent three weeks eating only raw foods! Although it was challenging, I actually felt great! The diet forced me to rely on mostly vegetables and nuts for food which left me feeling energized and light. It was an empowering experience choosing to limit my diet instead of having my diet limited by celiac disease. Though a fun experiment, warm food definitely hits the spot during this cold winter in Washington DC but maybe I will revisit the raw food diet again during the summer.

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What better way to wrap up the summer than a baseball game? In August, I made a trip up to Philadelphia to work with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness at their annual Phillies Gluten Free Awareness night!

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I had a blast. Not only did I get to chow down on a real Philly cheesesteak sandwich but I also got to pull the raffle ticket winners! They had a great turn out! Members of the celiac and gluten-free community came out with signs demonstrating their gluten-free pride (and love for the home-team, the Phillies).

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Although the Phillies were playing my hometown team, the Dodgers, I wore my Phillies cap to support the team that supports the gluten-free community! It was great fun and great company! The highlight? Drinking a beer (gluten-free, of course!) at the game. What an iconic experience that many gluten-free people think may be out of reach but with the efforts of organizations like NFCA, more and more baseball stadiums have gluten-free beer and hotdogs! Sometimes, you just want to enjoy the little things in life!

The highlight of 2013 for CC Gluten Freed? Attending the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Health and Wellness event in Seattle, Washington. The event is a great opportunity for me to meet many of my readers and connect with new members of the gluten-free community. I also get  to spend time with some of my favorite gluten-free vendors like Brazi Bites (cheese bread from Brazil), the Flying Apron (bakery in Seattle), Udi’s and various gluten-free breweries that are popping up along the west coast.

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Just like last year, my dad came with me to help run my booth. I gave out CC Gluten Freed bracelets, brochures, pens and print-outs of some of my more popular posts like my Gluten-Free Tiramisu Cupcake Recipe, 5 Things To Do With Kind Bars and The Best of CC Gluten Freed 2012. 


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Happy New Year, everyone!

-CC

 

Food Stars Go Gluten Free

18 Aug

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With Restaurant Week upon us in Washington DC I can’t help but think about how far the restaurant industry has come in the past few years when it comes to serving gluten-free customers!  Between the increase in demand for gluten-free products from the celiacs, the gluten intolerant and the fad dieters to the efforts of nonprofits like National Foundation For Celiac Awareness, Celiac Disease Foundation and the Gluten Intolerance Group, people living gluten-free can enjoy the delicious foodie culture that has spread across the country!

Which star chefs and popular restaurants have joined the gluten-free bandwagon? A lot!

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Two old school Food Stars, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, offer a full gluten-free menu at all of the locations of Border Grill.  Milliken and Feniger starred in 396 episodes of Too Hot Tameles on the Food Network. Mary Sue also competed and was the first runner up in Top Chef Masters Season 3. Check out my pictures from my most recent visit to Border Grill in Downtown Los Angeles.


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Fish tacos with jicama, grapefruit, jalapeño aioli and avocado 

If you are a fan of the Food Network then you are probably familiar with Stacey Poon-Kinney, one of the final five contestants on The Next Food Network Star. Her restaurant, The Trails Neighborhood Eatery was also featured on an episode of Restaurant Impossible back in 2011. Poon-Kinney offers an extensive gluten-free menu at her restaurant including gluten-free pancakes, which, in my experience, are rarely offered at restaurants!

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Another star making delictable gluten-free offerings: Iron Chef  and restaurant owner Jose Garces. My favorite of the Garces Group restaurants is Distrito, a modern Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia. In addition to offering glutne-free options, this incredibly popular eatery can satisfy any top-notch foodie’s palate! Distrito has been trained by NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens.

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Jose Garces also had his restaurants Amada, Chifa and Tinto trained by GREAT Kitchens.  His illustrious Garces Trading Co restaurant offers a formal gluten-free menu. Here are some of the pictures from my most recent visit to Distrito!

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Stephen Starr, another wildly successful restauranteur and winner of Restauranteur of the Year by Zagat and Bon Appetit, has several restaurants that have been trained by GREAT Kitchens and offer gluten-free menus! During my last visit to Philadelphia I stopped by El Rey and enjoyed  a beautiful modern twist on a chille relleno smothered in a walnut sauce and stuffed with dried fruit, walnuts and ground beef.

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About a year ago a friend asked me how I could possibly consider myself a foodie given that I can’t eat most of the food offered by the most acclaimed chefs. Fact of the matter is, the gluten-free lifestyle is becoming more and more common. Restaurants have a financial incentive to cater to the gluten-free community because this particular foodie-niche happens to be an incredibly loyal customer base. When a restaurant makes a commitment to offering safe gluten-free options to its customers the gluten-free community talks about it. Apps like Find Me Gluten Free guide people living gluten-free directly to the doors of restaurants with gluten-free menus. When it comes to gluten-free customers, a gluten-free menu or a GREAT Kitchens logo on your restaurant door attract customers that will keep coming back.

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The gluten-free customer base is loyal and hungry so when chefs like Mary Sue Milliken and Jose Garces offer something gluten-free they are pretty much guaranteed a huge influx of new customers.

Next on my list of places to try? One of the newer Stephen Starr restaurants, Le Diplomate in Washington DC! To my fellow Washingtonians, enjoy Restaurant Week! Remember to ask the necessary questions to avoid cross-contamination while dining out! Check out this link to The Gluten Free Professional to help you become a savvy celiac diner! Check out the section called “networking” for specific tips on dining out!

-CC

Celiac Catalyst — Disney Bullies Gluten Free Child

18 May

What a day for Celiac Awareness!  The web is all a buzz with Gluten Dude’s latest post about a Disney television show plot line where a gluten free character is bullied, mocked and, in my opinion, assaulted.   The Disney Channel show “Jessie,” aired an episode guest starring JJ Totah who plays Stuart. Described as a”9-year-old smart wiz boy” by Wikipedia, Stuart encounters some rough moments in the episode because he is gluten free.

In the episode with the controversial scenes about gluten, Stuart is attending a sleepover at his friend’s house only to find that his dietary needs are mocked and undermined.  Here is the clip posted by Gluten Dude:

 

 

I think it should go without saying that these scenes are abhorrent; however, if things simply go without saying, then I am out of a job!  I cannot believe that Disney would target such an incredible community: the Celiac Kid community.

Anyone who has met a Celiac kid will surely have left with a strong and lasting impression.  When I led the Celiac Disease Foundation’s youth events at last year’s conference I was blown away by the maturity of these kids.  Celiac kids are articulate. They are persistent. They advocate for themselves. They read labels that took me years to master how to decipher.  They explain complicated things to grown ups on a regular basis!

Imagine being the one kid at the birthday party who can’t eat the cake. The one kid who is left out of the pizza party that his class won for selling the most magazine subscriptions. The one kid who reads labels on Halloween candy before trading with friends.  The one kid who had to ask the waitress questions about an order.  Celiac kids are constantly singled out and must learn adapt to complex social situations at a very early age.  We are talking about children who may have spent years sick, weak and tired who have finally discovered what it feels like to be strong and healthy but, the cost to their new found health is a brand new life that seems counter to what all their friends at school experience.

We know the Celiac Kid community is fantastic and it isn’t fair of Disney to target such an inspiring group; however, my criticism of Disney goes much further than simply targeting a great group of kids.

Disney is incredibly litigious. They do not care how big or how small you are, if you infringe upon their copyright they will get you.  Why? Because they care about what products, what people and what words have the Disney name. They care deeply about the quality of products that say “Disney.”  Given this fact, I take extra offense to the absurd display of ignorance and bigotry in their episode of Jessie. Someone at Disney brainstormed the concept, someone wrote the script, someone read the script, edited the script, practiced the script, recited the script, filmed the scripted being read and then edited the film and not once in this process did they stop to think that maybe there was something wrong with the idea of bullying a child with a gluten-related disorder.

A friend, playing devil’s advocate, asked me “Well, CC isn’t the allergy/nerd schtick pretty common for comedy?”

A) No. No it is not.

B) Find an episode of child’s television show post-1995 that has a plot-line where a child with a food allergy is attacked by bullies using the allergen.  I promise you, you will not find a show where some low-life bully spreads peanut butter on the peanut-allergy kid’s desk without his knowing. You know why? Because it isn’t funny. There is nothing funny about children being in pain.

The thing that gets to me the most is the part of the episode where a child throws glutinous pancakes at the gluten free character.  If someone threw anything glutinous at me on purpose, I would lose it.  Honestly, I think that should be considered assault.  Kids cannot think it is ok to play with allergens or bully kids using allergens when Celiac Disease or anaphylactic allergies are involved. If it seemed funny on the show, it will not seem funny once it happens at a real school, with real students and real health issues.  It is so incredibly irresponsible of Disney to treat food allergies and the like so flippantly.

Disney is a huge huge company. It is going to take more than Gluten Dude’s blog post and CC Gluten Freed’s post to make them truly listen.  There is a lot of buzz on Facebook and Twitter and there is an electronic petition going around to get the episode removed from the air but in order to get a reaction we need to make some more noise.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION by clicking on this link! If you are willing to put in the time, please contact the company directly by clicking this link. After all, it is Celiac Awareness Month and if none of the things on my list of how to best celebrate the month appealed to you, then this may be your way of contributing to the cause!

The Celiac/gluten free community is so connected and passionate. We need to act together to get a sort of Celiac catalyst effect going. May is Celiac Awareness Month and it is time we start spreading some especially given the nature of this issue. This episode is out there and our kids are watching it and forming opinions about the gluten free community and how they should relate to people who are gluten free (or have any other food-restriction, for that matter).

 

Readers, please don’t feel discouraged or blood-boilingly angry about this! We are so lucky to be a part of such a great community that advocates for itself.  We can support each other and, probably most importantly, support and protect our Celiac kids! I know a lot of gluten free moms, dads, aunts and uncles (mine included) that want awareness efforts that specifically  help the younger Celiacs live healthy and happy lives!

 

Please contact Disney about this issue! If you don’t have time to write a full comment then  just quote via copy and paste parts of this post or Gluten Dude’s post.

 

-CC

How To Make the Most of Celiac Awareness Month!

30 Apr

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This year I am taking Celiac Awareness Month a little more personally than years past! In March, I went to the Digestive Disease National Coalition and met with Senators to discuss Resolution 550 that officially makes May  National Celiac Awareness Month.

When talking with the Senate staff I explained that making May Celiac Awareness Month gives members of the gluten free community a great jumping off point for awareness campaigns and projects. For example, the Gluten Intolerance Group implements their Chef-To-Plate program every May that gets restaurants to display information about the gluten free diet at their establishments. NFCA’s Fuel the Family program will share family stories from the gluten free blogosphere, daily gluten free product spotlights and will be promoting a Wear Green Day! The Celiac Disease Foundation has their annual Gluten Free EXPO on the 4th and 5th of May in Pasadena, California.

We don’t need to leave all the work to the nonprofits though! There are plenty of small projects and actions you can take to promote Celiac awareness during the month of May.

I want to practice what I preach by using May as a jumping off point for my awareness efforts. Any increase in awareness, no matter how small, can make a big difference in the lives of people living gluten free. How many times have you been at a restaurant when the waiter happened to know all about the gluten free diet and cross-contamination because he knew someone who knew someone? Although there is no instant gratification when it comes to promoting awareness, our collective work really does make a difference!

I know we are all busy; however, below is a list of ideas that won’t take up too much of your time but can still help you promote awareness.  Items on this list should be able to fit into the busiest of schedules. For example, I am a first year teacher at a turnaround school in the DC Region, I am taking the MCAT on May 11 and I am applying to medical school in June but I will be doing the items on the list with asterisks* next to them.

1. **Facebook Banner – if you are a member of  any type of group that hosts events I am sure you have been asked to change your profile picture or banner to promote events.  When I was an undergraduate, my professional sorority used to make it a “sister-requirement” to change our profile pictures during Rush.  This is a simple yet super effective way to promote awareness and it only takes a few seconds! You can design your own banner or picture to display or go to this website for some pre-made banners promoting awareness!

On that note, remember to Like CC Gluten Freed on Facebook!

For the entire month of May, I am changing my banner to:

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2. **Buy a few Gluten Free shirts and wear them every Monday for the month of May (or any day, I just liked the alliteration) Here are some of the shirts I bought for May 2013. If you want to go the extra mile, buy some GF swag for family members too! I know it seems excessive but I really did order all of these items…there aren’t many perks to being gluten free, at least we have cute clothes!

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I also have the Gluten Freek shirt from Mariposa Bakery in Oakland, California amongst many others.

3. **Pinterest Challenge - I am going to post one picture to Pinterest every day for the month of May that will promote awareness.  This is my goal for Celiac Awareness Month.  I will keep you all posted with my updates!

4. Twitter – Commit to tweeting about gluten free experiences during the month of may. You can post about restaurants you go to, foods you make, people you meet, anything just keep the posts coming!

5. Blog – Last May Gluten Dude updated his blog every single day for the month of May.  This is way too big a time commitment for me but if you can do it then more power to you! It is great for boosting your creativity. In order to get ideas to write about you might end up doing some research and learn something new yourself!

6. Donate – Worried about the time commitment? The quickest way, though not cheapest, way to celebrate Celiac Awareness Month is to donate to your favorite GF nonprofit. National Foundation For Celiac Awareness, Gluten Intolerance Group and Celiac Disease Foundation are some of my favorites. They do great work to promote awareness across the country!

7. Make a basket for a friend – Reconnect with members of the gluten free community by sending them a basket! Maybe you met someone at the last gluten free expo you attended or maybe you exchanged business cards with a random gluten free person you met last week or maybe you attended a gluten free support group meeting a year ago and  still have some contacts. Follow up with these connections and send a little GF goodie basket!

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8. Go to an event – Check out this website that lists gluten free events going on around the country. Find one near you. You can also check out websites that list Celiac and/or gluten free support groups. Attend a meeting!  You can also go to http://www.meetup.com and find a MeetUp group in your area that connects gluten free locals.

9. Bake GF cupcakes for your coworkers – What better way to explain about the gluten free diet than by giving people delicious treats? This is a great way to get your coworkers to be more supportive of your lifestyle. If you can, make the frosting Green. Here is a great recipe for Tiramisu cupcakes.  Here is a review of a great GF all-purpose flour so you can convert fun recipes you find online.

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10. **Get friends and family involved  – The best way to really understand what it is like to live with Celiac Disease is to actually try being gluten free for a day.  Have a friend or family member order gluten free while dining out for a week even if they aren’t celiac.  When I first started to show signs that I was struggling with being gluten free, my uncle decided to try being gluten free to see what the problem was.  It then became clear to him how challenging it truly is. Cross-contamination issues, awareness issues, dining out, social problems that arise because of being gluten free are all among the list of challenges that people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance face. These issues are pretty invisible to the average Joe, so get your family or friends informed by teaching them how to live gluten free, even if just for a week. The only way to truly get it is to live it.

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

-CC

This Week On The Hill: Celiac Disease and Politics

4 Mar




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When I moved to Washington DC to teach 7th grade Science I never thought that I would end up in the offices of Senators and members of the House promoting legislation that will benefit the gluten free community. Advocating for the gluten free community is one of my greatest passions, it is why I started this blog, go to events and volunteer for many of the gluten free and/or Celiac nonprofits in the United States, but I never thought I would have the ear of the US government.

The Digestive Disease National Coalition held its annual public forum, uniting people from across the digestive disease spectrum for one cause: get our needs on Congress’s radar. DDNC held multiple informational lectures on Sunday preparing the volunteer advocates for our day on the Hill. Sunday night ended in an amazing Welcome Reception. I never expected to worry about over eating at a Digestive Disease event but the food was incredible and 100% gluten free despite the fact that Celiac Disease is only a small subset of the overall coalition. Katz provided the gluten free desserts as well as toast and muffins for breakfast the next day.

The Digestive Disease National Coalition unites people advocating for the treatment and prevention of conditions ranging from colorectal cancer to pancreatisis to gastro paresis to Celiac Disease to Chrons and much much more. The showing of volunteers was truly inspiring because we had policy makers, presidents of nonprofit organizations, patients and the families of patients all working together to promote legislation that will help cure, treat and prevent digestive diseases. I met cancer survivors who showed up to support people still fighting for their lives. I worked with people who were physically exhausted by the end of the day because they are living with serious chronic illnesses. The solidarity demonstrated by the digestive disease community is something to be revered.

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Although I am from California, I was representing the state of Maryland today, my current residence. I was happy to be with Team Maryland because Marilyn Geller, Chief Operating Officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation, was here representing the political needs of Californians living with Celiac Disease. Alice Bast, president of National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, was here representing Pennsylvania along with a small cohort of other members of NFCA. I was very proud to be a part of the Celiac cohort present at DDNC.

DDNC divided our coalition by state, forming teams of around six people. The teams were responsible for planning what would be pushed for during our meetings with Senators and Representatives and had to elect a team leader to facilitate the discussions. I was elected leader for Team Maryland which was both humbling, terrifying and exhilarating.

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I met with the offices of Senator Mikulsi, Senator Cardin, Representative Ruppersberger and Representative Van Hollen. The main goal of our visit was to push for an increase in National Institute of Health funding from $31 billion to $32 billion. Honestly, it was an easy sell given the fact that the people I met with were democrats, on various health committees and the NIH is located in Maryland so its funding directly impacts the state by increasing jobs in the health field.

You may be wondering what can Congress do for someone living with Celiac Disease. That is a fair question, unlike many diseases and conditions out there, Celiacs doesn’t have a very long or involved legislative agenda, something the gluten free community hopes to change in the next few years. However, there are a few issues that are pretty significant: 1. Gluten Free Labeling Laws 2. National Celiac Awareness Month (May)

Currently, the gluten free labeling bill is being reviewed in the Office of Management and Budget which is great. It should get sent back to the FDA soon for approval. The main issue I focused on in my Congressional visits was the declaration of May as Celiac Awareness Month.

In a time when budgets are tight and sequestration has broken the hearts of many members of Congress, pushing for meaningful legislation that doesn’t cost Congress a dime is pretty heart warming business. There is no reason for Congress not to proclaim May as National Celiac Awareness Month; however, there is a risk that this issue gets overlooked given the complicated political climate. My goal was to get this House and Senate Resolution on their radar.

I explained to the members of Congress that Celiac Awareness Month is incredibly important to our community. For one thing, the biggest challenge with living gluten free is the overall lack of awareness in the general population about the condition. Celiac Awareness Month helps get the word out because not only does the government get involved but it gives nonprofits like Celiac Disease Foundation, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Gluten Intolerance Group a wonderful platform for awareness campaigns during the month of May. For example, last year GIG was able to reach over eight million people through their Chef to Plate program that has restaurants that currently offer gluten free menus promote Celiac and GF awareness for the month of May.

In addition to helping people currently diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance, declaring May as an official Celiac Awareness Month can help us increase the number of accurate diagnoses. This is where I got the attention of Congress: misdiagnosed Celiac patients are a drain on the economy. Before diagnosis, many Celiacs see close to ten physicians, racking up medical bills. Additionally, they are usually prescribed medications to treat symptoms that could be completely eradicated by following a gluten free diet. They undergo expensive procedures like endoscopies, blood tests, colonoscopies etc racking up more and more medical bills, potentially going into debt. Furthermore, undiagnosed people tend to be very sick, they may have to leave the workforce, start getting disability checks from the government or declare themselves as unemployed.

Personally, I feel like the quality of life arguments should be enough to tug at the heart strings of members of Congress but if not I am happy to make arguments that tug on the purse strings, and those arguments happen to quite plentiful.

I found overwhelming support for the Celiac Awareness Month Resolution. The staff aides asked me several follow up questions and even asked me for my contact information so they could get more information for their Senator on this issue.

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The Kennedy Caucus Room

I had such a wonderful time. Not only did I meet great people, true champions for their causes, but I got to spend time with NFCA and CDF as well as eat amazing food. I know the food is the least important part of the day but I have to admit it really was amazing to see gluten free accommodations made so efficiently and without error. The luncheon held in the Kennedy Caucus Room was a sandwich buffet that had gluten free and gluten-containing options but avoided cross contamination by separating and labeling the types of bread and providing condiments in packets instead of a common serving bowl and a knife to spread onto the bread.

The people I met today were so inspiring because many of them are patients who came out to represent the needs of people living with their conditions. These are people who took off work in order to promote a good cause, people who were willing to put themselves on the spot and speak to members of Congress about very personal matters. I have always said how much I love the gluten free community because it is such a supportive, connected and united group of people but what I didn’t know is that we have a host of brothers and sisters out there living with digestive diseases who are fighting the same battles for quality of life. I’m proud to be gluten free and proud to be a part of DDNC!

Consider signing up for the Digestive Disease National Coalition next year! It is an experience worth having!!

-CC

CC Gluten Freed’s Best of 2012

5 Jan

As the nation reviews the employment, or rather unemployment, data from December 2012, I too feel inclined to take a look at some numbers. CC Gluten Freed had a fantastic year when quantified in terms of hits and viewer traffic! Now, asking a blogger for the number of hits per year/day/whatever is similar to asking a woman her age: it is simply impolite. I will happily reveal some of my aggregate data and post CC Gluten Freed’s top hits of 2012! Just as NPR reviews the best podcasts, I will be reviewing my top posts of this year for you to share with friends or just enjoy for a second read through.

Best-of-2012

#1 Post of 2012

So you want to take a cooking class…

This post offers advice for taking mainstream cooking classes while being gluten free.  The cooking classes advertised as “gluten free” are usually special courses offered sporadically at cooking schools, local markets and local stores.  Gluten free people need to be able to cook for themselves since restaurants always pose a risk and bringing a dish to dinner parties is always a must.  How are we supposed to become master cooks when the only classes we attend teach gluten free baking and/or are hyper-specific classes eg a specific type of cuisine.

I wanted to take a cooking series that covered all the basics of cooking: knife skills, sauces, meats and poultry, baking, grains etc. Check out the top post of 2012 to find out how I managed to make my experience a gluten free on. 

#2 Post of 2012

The Domino’s Effect

Remember when Domino’s thought they were being gluten free? This post looks at the situation critically and examines both sides of the issue: was Domino’s position on gluten free pizza a valid one? Spoiler alert! I conclude that it was an absolutely abhorrent decision on Domino’s part.

In this post I applaud the NFCA for making sure that Domino’s did not falsely advertise their pizza. GREAT Kitchens was able to evaluate the kitchen practices that Domino’s intended to implement and concluded that their kitchen practices are not safe for Celiacs.

In addition, I point out the negative implications of such careless actions on Domino’s part.  Do the decisions of big companies have a domino effect?  Read to find out!

#3 Post of 2012

The Importance of Letters

The third favorite of 2012 is “The Importance of Letters.” I am glad that this post ranked so high in terms of traffic because this was one of my founding pieces for CC Gluten Freed.  The whole idea behind this blog is to spread awareness and teach my readers how to advocate for themselves and other people living with Celiac Disease.   This post discusses the what, when, where, why and how of writing letters to restaurants about gluten free customer experiences.

Check out how you can make a difference by spreading the word.

#4 Post of 2012

The Unsuspecting Celiac: Five Things That May Be Getting You

I am also glad that this post had so many views because it is a great resource for people who are gluten free but are still feeling symptomatic. In some cases, people let bits of gluten slip into their diet from some unexpected sources!  This post looks at five foods that a lot of gluten free people continue to eat even though they shouldn’t.

My favorite part of this post is the very end. I tell you five things you may be surprised to realize that you CAN eat!

#5 Post of 2012

Recipe: Quinoa with Cucumber and Mint – White Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish 

Coming in at #5 we have my recipe for cucumber mint quinoa!  This recipe is absolutely delicious!  It is a great dish to serve in the summer time because it is filling yet refreshing. I include little changes you can make to this recipe to keep things interesting. You can use this versatile recipe in so many contexts.

One tip: the Quinoa dish is perfect for bringing to a dinner party as a gift for the host.  It is filling enough so that if there isn’t anything you can eat your plate will still be full (as well as your stomach) but the dish is light enough that it won’t steal the show from whatever main entree your dinner host is serving.

Check out this post for the recipe!

 

 

Here’s to another year of great posts and many readers!

 

-CC

Should being gluten free impact your politics?

24 Oct

The election is right around the corner! Make sure your vote is an informed one!

Although the issue of food policy was under highlighted in the Presidential debates, it is nonetheless of political importance. From the farm bill, which impacts the cost and availability of food, to USDA public health promotional campaigns, to FDA food regulations, there are many avenues US leadership can take to change the way we access food in this country.

So what are the issues that a savvy Celiac should consider before casting their vote? The farm bill, food safety programs and access to and promotion of nutritional foods are the key issues that I want to explore so that I can make an informed decision at the polls.

This post is not an endorsement of either candidate.

FARM BILL

The farm bill impacts a population much broader than US farmers. When (or should I say if?) the farm bill is passed it will impact the cost of food as well as our access to certain foods. The next President will not only have to deal with getting the farm bill passed but will also play a role in shaping it.

As someone who is gluten free, the availability of gluten free food is a very important issue. Since gluten free foods tend to be more expensive than products made with wheat flour it would be in our best interest to support policies that make farming more economical, especially for small farmers. Here is the catch: the farm bill attempts to support all farmers, making all food more accessible and affordable. Cheaper brown rice would be great but if wheat flour is also made more accessible and even more affordable than it already is we are likely to see some unintended consequences.

If wheat flour is made more expensive don’t you think that restaurants might think twice about dredging their meats in flour? They might consider using an alternative like cornmeal or rice flour. Cost and accessibility shape our food options both at the market and when dining out.

The President has repeatedly articulated the importance of passing a farm bill this year. He calls for adequate protection of American farmers from draught and natural disasters and promotes diverse, specialty crops like fruits, nuts and veggies (which is great for us!).

Romney has taken jabs at Obama during the campaign about his failure to get the House the pass the bill. Romney thinks that Obama does not have the leadership skills necessary to get a bill passed. He argued that “[P]eople have been waiting a long time for a farm bill. And the president has to exert the kind of presidential leadership it takes to get the House and the Senate together and actually pass a farm bill.”

Romney supports disaster relief as well but also indirectly supports subsidizing American farmers. Romney says that other nations subsidize their farmers and if the US is to compete we will need to do the same.

When you get down into the nitty-gritty of both candidates’ farm bill positions there are more similarities than differences. Both candidates will cut about $30 billion out of agricultural spending by eliminating many of the subsidies that currently go to crop insurance companies. Much of the farm bill is allocated towards food stamps. Here lies the biggest difference between an Obama supported farm bill and a Romney supported bill: Romney/Ryan support decreasing the amount of people using food stamps. They said that they don’t need to cut the program to reach their goal. Romney said, “I want to make sure we get people off food stamps, not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs.”

FOOD SAFETY

President Obama created several programs that promote food safety. He established the Food Safety Working Group, which is a group that focuses on updating and improving US food safety systems. Obama also increased the authority of the FDA so they can more effectively enforce food safety regulations.

Although Romney believes in the importance of access to safe foods his approach to securing such food is very different from Obama’s approach.

Romney supports a more hands off approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. He argues that “preventative practices” are the best way to prevent outbreaks. These practices/protocol would be developed by the private sector because Romney believes that the people in the fields are the best equipped to handle this issue. Romney’s campaign states that it is most cost efficient and effective to allow food growers, handlers and processors to create food safety protocol. As for the role of the FDA, Romney’s campaign said that the Romney Administration would prioritize collaboration between the FDA and the private farm sector on this issue.

NUTRITION

The Obama family is very committed to promoting healthful food choices in schools and encouraging people of all ages to lead active lifestyles. Michelle Obama worked to get more salad bars into schools, President Obama supported the USDA’s new food pyramid, MyPlate as well as their Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Snack Program and both of the Obamas encourage cities to get involved with the Let’s Move! program which provides local towns and cities with tools to get community members exercising. President Obama believes that partnering with the private sector and supporting federal programs to promote healthful lifestyles is the best way to improve the health of the public.

Romney does not support nanny-laws and is committed to making sure the federal government does not overstep its role in American lives. These beliefs about the role of the government shape Romney’s strategies for tackling public health.

In response to questions about promoting nutrition the Romney campaign gave a quick and short response:

“The federal government should not dictate what every American eats… An emphasis on a balanced diet will be crucial to addressing this crisis and public health programs in a Romney Administration will highlight the importance of healthy eating.”

Romney and his campaign have not articulated a plan nor a specific commitment to promoting nutrition and healthful lifestyle choices.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

Now that we know where each candidate stands on these issues the next question is “Does it matter?” As someone who studied Public Health it greatly matters to me but this post isn’t about public health (in general) it is about whether or not being gluten free should impact the way you vote.

The answer is: probably not. The gluten free diet, though more popular and well-known than ever before, is far from the norm. A farm bill that cuts the profitability of wheat farmers is not going to change the fact that people love their gluten. It is an ingredient that has dominated palates across continents. Although I do believe it is important for voters to take the issues I described above into consideration when casting their vote, I do not think that our gluten free fate is in the hands of the future President.

Ultimately, it comes down to constant vigilance, commitment and willingness to speak up for your needs. There is no quick-fix solution to the lack of awareness about gluten intolerance, Celiacs and food allergies in this country but every time you explain it to a waiter at a local restaurant or to a new acquaintance you are making a difference. It isn’t just about being gluten free! I am talking about spreading awareness about restricted diets and cross contamination, issues that make the lives of millions so challenging in the US. Not many people can say that when they dine out they help change the world but we can.

-CC

Sources

http://www.unitedfresh.org/programs/wppc/presidential_nominees_responses

http://articles.aberdeennews.com/2012-08-24/farmforum/33373582_1_farm-bill-programs-that-benefit-farmers-farm-safety

http://cornandsoybeandigest.com/issues/obama-romney-weigh-more-agriculture-priorities

http://insidetrade.com/Inside-Trade-General/Public-Content-World-Trade-Online/romney-hits-obama-on-farm-bill-gridlock-reiterates-trade-policy-plans/menu-id-896.html?S=SM

The Domino’s Effect

10 May

A Little Bit of History

Domino’s Pizza was founded in 1960 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Today, it is the second-largest pizza chain in the United States (second to Pizza Hut) and has more than 9,000 established franchised stores in the world. An incorporation with a successful foothold in 60 countries has a lot of power over the pizza industry’s reputation and the expectations of consumers with respect to the quality of service that a reputable pizza store should meet.

Domino’s has a history of being the first of its industry to adapt certain unique marketing techniques. For example, in 1973 Domino’s started advertising their 30-minute guarantee to customers. If Domino’s couldn’t deliver the pizza within 30 minutes of ordering, your pizza was free. In the 1980s the offer went from a free pizza to $3 off due to liability issues. Consumers began to speak out about the dangers of the 30-minute guarantee, expressing that it caused the delivery people to engage in unsafe driving. Eventually the 30-minute guarantee advertising campaign was dropped due to political and legal pressures.

What does this history have to do with the new gluten-free pizza crust?  Domino’s has a history of being pizza pioneers when it comes to advertising.  Ironically, the marketing campaigns employed by Domino’s seem to have a domino effect: once Domino’s does it, all of the other chains begin to follow suit.  If history is to repeat itself, I wouldn’t be surprised if more pizza chains not only start offering gluten-free crusts but also follow Domino’s lead with regard to how they offer this new product.

Domino’s Gluten Free Pizza

As most people in the GF and celiac community know, Domino’s started offering a gluten-free pizza crust on May 7, 2012.  Ironically announced during Celiac Awareness Month, the company explicitly stated that this gluten-free pizza is not designed for people with celiac disease.  The pizza crust, in a vacuum, is gluten-free.  What is the catch? Domino’s hasn’t taken any of the necessary precautions to prevent cross-contamination.  In fact, on their website they state “While the Gluten-Free Crust is certified to be free of gluten, the pizza made with the Gluten-Free Crust use the same ingredients and utensils as all of our other pizzas.”

Here is a video that Domino’s made to help get the word out about their new product.

Their advertisement for gluten-free crust starts off by saying “Because we are honest people, here is a disclaimer.”  For the record, a more accurate beginning to their disclaimer would state “Because we are lazy people, here is a disclaimer.” It would simply take a bit more education, training and effort to provide a fairly safe gluten-free option.  At the end of the video ad you hear the narrator saying “Ok, enough already with the disclaimers we are really excited to tell you about our new gluten-free crust…”  Not only is the crust not actually gluten-free but Domino’s goes so far as to dismiss their disclaimer as if it is an irrelevant formality

Issue #1: Gluten Free Labeling Laws

The FDA is close to formally establishing the legal requirements necessary to label a product as gluten free.  Despite being on the books as an issue needing regulation for several years, the FDA has failed to respond to public pressure until now. The FDA only regulates food products but I wonder why the government recognizes that products should be regulated for the gluten-free status but not restaurants that offer similar products.

Government entities like the USDA and FDA protect the US population by regulating highly distributed, manufactured and agricultural food products.  This is important to prevent public health catastrophes related to contaminated food products.

In general, it would not make sense to allocate government resources for regulating restaurants on a federal level because, in the past, if a restaurant had contaminated products or unsafe practices it wouldn’t affect enough people for it to be considered a federal issue. Unfortunately, in the world of chains and franchises, the idea that restaurants only impact their immediate surroundings is no longer true.

In this context we are talking about a pizza company that is located in every single state in this country with over 5,000 individual restaurant locations.  The kitchen ingredients used by Domino’s can affect a large part of the US population and, more relevantly, their institutionalized kitchen protocol can affect people on a population level as well.

If Domino’s wants to offer a gluten free crust they should be subject to some form of regulation since their product is so wide-reaching.  If Domino’s had a kitchen protocol that had all their chains set the ovens to a temperature that consistently undercooked meat, resulting in food poisoning, we would have a national health crisis on our hands.  I don’t know why we are turning a blind eye when it comes to gluten free protocol in the kitchen.

Furthermore, calling their pizza “gluten free” should be considered false advertisement, if not fraud. Their appeal to the gluten free market is abhorrent.  The gluten-free market base is depression-proof and has been consistently and substantially growing for the past 10 years.  You should not be able to con your way into this market. If you take a chicken breast and dredge it lightly in flour before frying it, is this entree gluten free? NO. Is the chicken breast itself gluten free? YES. Similarly, if you have a gluten free pizza crust it is no longer gluten free if you cross-contaminate by preparing it in an environment covered in gluten-based flour (similar to a light dredging, if you will).

Issue #2 Corporate Precent

One of the main reasons that I find Domino’s actions completely unacceptable is because of, what I am calling, corporate precedent.  California Pizza Kitchen started offering a gluten free pizza crust before doing their homework.  They developed a crust but did not research cross-contamination protocol.  As a result, customers complained.  Did CPK slap a disclaimer on their menu and call it a day? No.  CPK pulled the pizza from their menu and started working with the Gluten Intolerance Group to develop a strategy to make their kitchen safe for gluten-free pizza cooking.  Domino’s justifies their lack of concern for cross-contamination by saying that the crust is for gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive consumers. Interestingly, although Domino’s argued that they are catering towards the gluten sensitive population, the Gluten Intolerance Group is the organization that stepped up to help CPK prevent cross contamination.  I really enjoyed this post by Linda who points out that, of all the gluten sensitive people she knows, none of them have “mild” senstiives” and they do not appreciate a contaminated pizza!

                                  

Domino’s has stated that they simply don’t have the kitchen capacity to make a truly gluten free pizza.  It seems reasonable that it might be hard to make a profit if they had to change their kitchen set up for this product.  Then I remember PF Changs, a nationally represented corporate restaurant chain that has successfully created a gluten free menu and has changed their kitchen set up to accommodate safe food preparation.

Before Domino’s the precedents set by various corporations trying to go gluten free have been in favor of trying to prevent cross-contamination. I fear for the gluten free future of the restaurant industry now that such a large and financially successful  company has started saying that it is ok to take the easy way out.

The Bigger Picture

Supply and demand: a fundamental concept in economics.  If consumers demand a certain product, the market will supply it. What happens when the supply and demand get muddled and confused?  Poor products. In response to perceived consumer demands restaurants and food companies are responding by creating “gluten-free” products.  The problem is that the market is not understanding the true nature of the current demand.

Supply is not the issue right now.  There are so many gluten free products on the market.  If current product supply were the issue I would pick up some frozen pizza crusts at Whole Foods, go to Domino’s and ask them to heat it up for me.  What is in need, the demand, is education and awareness.  I don’t need Domino’s to create and produce a tasty recipe for a pizza crust. Udi’s, among other companies, has awesome pizza crust already. What we need is a safe place to dine out 

Empowerment

I want to remind my readers that CPK stopped offering their gluten free pizza until they could establish a safe kitchen environment in response to a letter by a customer.  If you want Domino’s to take accountability then send them a letter (or write them an email) explaining why taking the gluten-free pizza one step further could make a huge difference in your life and in the lives of many other people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Here is their mailing address:

Domino’s Pizza LLC
30 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
(734) 930-3030

 

Check out my posts on the importance of writing letters and letter writing tips for advice.

Ultimately, if we want to change the market then we need to change the nature and clarity of our “demand.” The first step to this change? Advocate for yourself.
A note about NFCA

Check out their letter from Alice Bast discussing their involvement with Domino’s Pizza.  NFCA has taken a lot of heat for seemingly endorsing Domino’s.  Domino’s reached out to NFCA to consult about their new gluten free product.  NFCA informed Domino’s that the pizza is not safe for Celiacs and reviewed their ingredient lists and kitchen practices to draw this conclusion.  Although the Amber designation is fairly controversial, it is better than Domino’s advertising their pizza as gluten free without a disclaimer.  Check out this post by Linda from theglutenfreehomemaker.com  about why the amber designation may be a huge step back for the Celiac Community. Without NFCA Domino’s might have simply not let consumers know about the serious cross contamination risks.

-CC

CDF Education Conference!

30 Apr

What a successful conference!  I am sure all who attended will agree that the day of feasting and learning could not have been better.  The Celiac Disease Foundation pulled out all the stops for this year’s Annual Education Conference and Food Faire.

I had a table promoting CC Gluten Freed and got some great feedback from the gluten free community.  I am so pleased to report that many people have found the site very helpful and even inspiring!

I was lucky enough to be considered a speaker at an event where such prominent figures as Dr. Stefano Guandalini of University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University Celiac Disease Center and Dr. Gregory Harmon of the UCLA Celiac Disease Center were speaking.  I lead the Young Adult, Teen and Tween session, designing activities and giving a speech about the surprising social benefits of being gluten free, a silver lining, if you will. At the end of the session I raffled off three Kraft Mac N’s Cheese Powder bottles!  This is one of the only foods I have not found a perfect GF substitute for.  I quested for the powder (sold separately from the glutinous pasta) for days and days and am so glad I found it.  You should have seen the kids’ faces when they won the ingredients for the best Mac N’ Cheese in US history.

In addition to the great speakers and educational lectures at this event, attendees had access to over a hundred food vendors providing samples of delicious GF products.  I, personally, could not help but go back for a second serving of pizza at the Udi’s table!

I learned a lot not only from the speakers but from the gf people who stopped by my table.  For example, I met a ton of people who were diagnosed with Celiacs only after their children or grandchildren were diagnosed!  I wonder if this is because of the involvement of parents in children’s health, the quality of pediatric care in the US compared to adult care or if there is some other explanation!  I also received a lot for requests to purchase CC Gluten Freed wristbands for family members, support groups or gluten free clubs and organizations.  In response, I have made the bracelets available here! I, personally, always wear 3 of them so I can give them away if I meet a GF person on the road!  The bracelets are very fun and meaningful.  Check out the meaning behind OWN IT.

For those of you who are just joining ccglutenfreed.com after meeting me at the conference: WELCOME!  I hope you enjoy the blog.  I had such a great time at the conference.  It was a day I will never forget.

drawing a crowd at the CC Gluten Freed table!

CC Gluten Freed was located next to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center table!

vendor exhibits



-CC

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