Thursday, January 27, 2011

Packaging Waste: a Food Allergy & Intolerance Conundrum

From Amazin' Alison.

Fluffy, Crisp & Allergen Free!
A year ago February my eco-conscious lifestyle got kicked to the curb by gluten. Suddenly, the bulk aisle was a danger zone and cooking from scratch was like working in the lab of a mad scientist. My husband will confirm that I had several melt-downs and complete kitchen failures. The final straw was a batch of muffins that tasted so horrible (texture, flavor, you name it) that neither the neighbor's dog nor my father (who will eat ANYTHING) could manage to choke down more than a single bite.

Needless to say I was devastated. Baking from scratch is a multi-generational tradition and a matter of pride in my family. And I'd spent the last few years searching out local and bulk goods. I had more than 50lbs of local whole wheat and all-purpose flour stored in our chest freezer. Wheat berries, barley and huge bag of oats in glass bulk containers. Let alone a collection of bake ware and mini-cookie cutters that I'd collected to make our own bread, bagels, pasta, tortillas, muffins, animal crackers and cookies. Not only had I lost my way, I was buried in gluten. And, something, somewhere tasted like fish. And smelled like fish.

I did not like it. Not. one. bit.

And so I caved. I stopped baking and I bought bagged gluten free pretzels. I bought animal cookies. Gluten free frozen mac and cheese. Gluten free boxed frozen pizzas. Tortillas. Bread. Bagels. And even donuts. Soon our cupboards were bursting with every gluten free snack and lots and lots of tiny plastic packages. I cringed every time I opened a package or tossed a plastic bag in the trash, but I did not know what else to do.

In the meantime our food budget had made it to an entirely new level of outrageous spending. In the past we had made the choice to spend more on fresh produce, organic produce and locally made or raised foods as they were available. However, buying gluten free had increased our consumption of packaged products, decreased our consumption of local products and added at least $400 per month to our food budget. And then, we learned that my son is also allergic to corn. Gluten may be hard to avoid, but as anyone who has read the Omnivore's Dilemma knows, corn is in EVERYTHING, including many gluten free foods in the form of corn flour, corn starch and xantham gum. The good news is that corn brought me back to reality. We could not continue eating out of a box (literally).

Suddenly, many of my son's favorite packaged foods were off limits and I was fully aware that our budget was out of hand. So I donned my apron, gave away my mad scientist lab coat, and once again started to create in the kitchen. And, I discovered an amazing thing -- in the last six months through the use of gluten free mixes -- I'd learned a new way to cook. I know knew the proper texture for gluten free pizza dough, I knew that certain doughs (like cookies and pie crusts) HAD to spend a good 30 minutes in the fridge before being rolled out or baked and I knew how much moisture different cookies or muffins needed to bake properly. And, I'd discovered that tapioca starch tastes like fish and smelled like fish. Once again, I could create my own or customize recipes to match our tastes.

One of the bigger challenges I've yet to solve is that of bulk goods. The bulk aisle and many prepackaged bulk goods are a cross-contamination danger zone and I've yet to find a bulk supplier of beans or oats to cut out on that packaging. Thanks to Lundberg I can buy 25lb bags of brown and white rice. We also occasionally have access to locally produced quinoa and beans, so I am playing more with vegetarian recipes and quinoa flour & flakes. Needless to say, there is light at the end of the tunnel!

And so, my resolution for 2011 is this: kick as many of those gluten free boxes and packages to the curb. Find someone to sell gluten free flour packages in bulk locally (some can be ordered from Bob's Red Mill, but my grocer says they can't get them). In the meantime, I've perfected a recipe for waffles (tastes just like the Bisquick boxed mix if you ask me!). And, just last week I made bagels, a recipe I'll be glad to share once it has been perfected.

Dry ingredients only -- all the different packages still drive me nuts!

Mommy Jommy's Gluten Free, Corn Free and Vegan Waffles
Sift together your dry ingredients:
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup potato starch
1/4 cup quinoa flour (you could sub another 1/4 cup rice flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder (gluten free, corn starch free)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix together wet ingredients:
2 E-nerg egg replacers prepared + 1 tsp ground flax (could sub 2 real eggs)
1/3 cup canola oil (these are waffles -- do not skimp/sub!!!)
2 cups milk (may need more if batter is too thick)

In a large bowl combine the dry and wet ingredients. Batter should be thick, but pourable. Make a test waffle. If you think batter is too thick, you can add 1/4 cup of milk or water to the batter to thin it out. These waffles freeze wonderfully and can be popped in the toaster at any time of day! Our waffle maker is not a standard size, but I'd say this makes enough for a family of four (we are three and always have a few sticks left over).

For those of you with special diets:
Do you feel like you rely too heavily on pre-made or at the least pre-mixed? Do you wish you could buy in bulk? Are you frustrated by the lack of locally grown gluten free flours? For example, lots and lots of oats are grown in Colorado, but only for animal feed.


Anonymous said...

I feel your frustrations! I have a dairy allergy so no (local) cheese, milk, yogurt etc. I buy soy creamer, Earth Balance and coconut milk yogurt, none of which is manufactured locally and comes with lots of #5 plastic. Olive oil or lard just doesn't taste good in brownies ;) And we cook most things from scratch because dairy and it's derivatives are in all kinds of food. Cooking from scratch is not a bad thing anyway and we've cut our garbage to 10 gallons a week or less. -LisaH

Olivia said...

When I was first diagnosed as celiac many years ago I, too, found baking very daunting. I started with the prepackaged mixes in order to learn textures, etc. and then started making my own baked goods from scratch. Now I don't even give it a second thought (although adding corn into the problem makes it more difficult, I am sure. My husband is lactose intolerant but milk in baked goods doesn't seem to bother him, perhaps because I tend to use yogurt rather than milk.)

Many of my friends actually prefer my gluten free baked goods to their wheat based ones.

BTW - I have a great and simple pie crust that does not need to be refrigerated beforehand. The only thing I refrigerate prior to baking are cookies with a high butter or sugar content, such as shortbread, that I only make at Christmas anyway.

We don't eat a lot of baked goods in our family simply because the baker (me!) prefers meat, fish, veggies and fruit to all other food anyway, (not even that fond of grains or gf pasta although I eat them occasionally) although I do make waffles and pancakes for my youngest son.Keeps you slim, too, when you stay away from that stuff!

Green Bean said...

Funny, we used to be GF, corn free, soy free, dairy free and, hmm, I think rice free. Something crazy like that because one of my kids had a zillion intolerances. For 18 months, I made EVERYTHING from scratch. Literally everything. But the flour did come in those small little plastic bags and because it wasn't as tasty as regular flour, you'd mix some of the bean flour with some of this and that and you had a billion plastic bags in your house.

Once we were able to add back a few of the things, I went wild on the pre-made front before sliding back to a happy medium. We are now free of any allergies but I'll confess that there are really busy weeks and weak moments at the grocery store where I do buy some pre-packaged stuff. You really notice the difference in the garbage can!


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