As anyone who has ever been in a Whole Foods looking for gluten free foods knows, they label their gluten free items with convenient little black tags under the item, noting that it is gluten free. My local Whole Foods store used to have a gluten free wall, and now they have sprinkled all of those precious items throughout the store. Sometimes when I go there I’m grateful for the proverbial treasure hunt, and other times I wish they would just have it all together, since I can’t eat anything else in the store anyway. But, I digress.
The Walmart here in my little town has been fantastic about getting more gluten free items. They even have one little section of an aisle in the store that is all gluten free products; gluten free pretzels, chips, noodles, cereal, macaroni and cheese, cakes and granola bars. One time I emailed the store director thanking him for having such a wonderful selection of gluten free items, all much more competitively priced than the Whole Foods across the street, and strategically located near juice and fruit. Always a quick shopping trip now. Much to my surprise, and I do credit myself for this development, after writing this email, the section became much larger, clearly marked with it’s own new section sign, and with a plethora of new products!
I am incredibly lucky that I live in an area of the country that is sensitive to this medical condition. I was at a Walmart in the large city near my home, and they did not have a gluten free section at all! I even asked a few employees. I had to drive back up the canyon to my local Walmart to purchase my gluten free noodles for the recipe I was making that night.
Getting On Board
Becoming sensitive and knowledgeable to food allergies has been a slow transition for the grocery store world. The Smiths in my hometown doesn't have a gluten free section either. They have a few items scattered throughout the store, that are by default gluten free, but they have made no effort to develop an allergen program or to order, stock or arrange a gluten free section. I know that Walmart is not the most glamorous place to buy groceries, but when you're desperate, Walmart starts to look pretty fantastic!
When I leave the state and go home to my parents house in a neighboring state… oh geez, a totally different story. I went into the local grocery store that I grew up going to on a recent trip home. We were there buying groceries for a picnic dinner that we were taking to an outdoor Shakespeare Festival play that night. My favorite dinner (pre-diagnosis) was a loaf of French bread, some exotic cheeses, fruit and a bottle of wine. So, now being a Celiac, and not wanting to wander too far off of my picture perfect dinner, I resign myself to having a little bit of cheese, and some gluten free sliced loaf bread. Since I own a soup company, I am now well versed as to the chain of command in a grocery store. After walking around this store for at least 15 minutes and finding nothing resembling anything that would be even close to being gluten free, I asked a nice stock boy for the store director. The store director comes out, tie swinging, with a nice smile and a pep in his step. Right away we start chatting and I ask him if he has a gluten free section. He looks at me quizzically, quickly grabbing the pen that was behind his ear, and starts fidgeting with it. He then says.. “No we don’t, what else can I help you find?” Me, not thinking too much of this, since dedicated gluten free sections are fairly new to the grocery store shelving schematic, then says, “Ok, do you have any gluten free bread?” He tilts his head to the side, chews on the end of his pen and says, “I’m not quite sure what you mean by gluten free…”
Help Them, Help You
So, the moral of the story is this. If you live in a place where your local grocery stores and restaurants cater to gluten intolerant and gluten sensitive people, you should consider yourself very lucky. Reach out and tell your local grocery store director that you appreciate the effort that they are making to provide you with those products. They love to hear good feedback, and if they know people are buying it, they will keep ordering it and they will make special efforts to explore gluten free food shows and conventions to find even more great allergen free products!
Now, if you live in a place where the local grocery stores and restaurants do not know about, or make the effort to learn about gluten intolerance, then it is up to you to help them learn. Email, call or visit your local stores and ask them to stock certain products that you would like. I’ve asked my local grocery store to stock my favorite dairy free cheese. I gave them the specific name and kind that I wanted after taste testing their dairy free cheeses at a gluten free convention. Some websites including mine have sheets you can print off to take to your local grocer so that they can order that product directly from the company, or through a distributor.
Either way, forge on friend! While living gluten free out in the real world, away from your safe, gluten free home will always be a challenge, more and more people are learning about the condition and are usually excited to help you enjoy your meal or help you find your groceries.