Become a GF, LI, WW Food Activist!
Being away from home and travelling to new places is always an eye-opener. At home, I know where all my resources are; in another city, I have to search and ask. One result of our travel was that I became a gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, weight-watching activist. I wanted to find healthy food in general and food I can eat in particular—in, for example, restaurants, hotels, and airports. The question was: how could I best do this?
The answer came to me in a museum where my husband and I, tired and hungry, stopped at its cafeteria for a snack. The choices were cookies and cupcakes, pretzels and potato chips, and assorted drinks.
Much against my will, I bought the only snack I could tolerate although it meant throwing my diet out the window: potato chips. And much against my dislike of being labeled a complainer, I decided to speak up. “Would you consider carrying gluten-free products?” I asked. “I can’t eat most of what you have.”
After agreeing with me that their selection was poor, the sales clerk said, “We should have something. So many people are having gluten problems, aren’t they?”
I had noticed that the cafeteria didn’t make its own food, that everything was packaged, and nothing required refrigeration. “You could carry Larabars,” I suggested. “Some of them are gluten-free and dairy-free.”
She got out a pencil and paper. “Could you spell that?” she asked.
I don’t know if the museum cafeteria has stocked the bars but, at that moment, I’d taken my first step into GF activism. In speaking out, I’d compelled an establishment to acknowledge a lack of GF products and think about an alternative.
Since then, I’ve made a point of talking to people in hotels, restaurants, and food markets about food selection at their place of business. Here are some of my strategies for raising awareness and encouraging managers to rethink their food purchases:
Offer solutions. Don’t be shy: if we accept the status quo, it will never change. However, if you’re going to make a complaint, consider having a suggestion that will remedy the problem. It’s all too easy for a food manager to agree and then shrug helplessly. After all, it’s “store policy” or “the home office decides” or…whatever. But you also need to understand a business’s limitations and offer suitable solutions. Larabars were the first thing that came to my mind at the museum cafeteria when I realized that nothing was cooked on-site, but later I realized I could have suggested packaged dried fruit and nuts. A box of raisins would have been a definite step up.
Be knowledgeable and specific about product lines. You can’t make suggestions if you don’t have information. Know what’s out there and the names of manufacturers. It’s better to say “Laramar bar” then “fruit and nut bar.” Your expertise saves time for a busy food manager. Instead of having to research fruit and nut bars, plenty of which have wheat and dairy, he/she can go straight to the proper source. In addition, if you know the name of a product and are recommending it, that means you like it and chances are other customers will as well. No food manager wants to stock products that won’t sell.
Praise the good guys. When on the road, I carried my breakfast foods with me: a GF cereal, soy milk, and fruit. (You can only eat so many eggs.) At one Marriott Hotel, which offered a continental breakfast, I discovered a small box of soy milk beside the chocolate milk and yogurt. I went on a praise binge. I thanked the waitress; I complimented the hotel clerk; I noted the wonderful event on the hotel evaluation form. Praising not only makes people happy, it does great things for the cause. It connects food intolerances, not with complainers, but with “smilers.” It makes providing the right food products a pleasant experience. And it helps nudge “oddball” products closer to the mainstream.
Build local relationships. Health food stores are a godsend for people like us, but the best way to bring down prices and increase product accessibility is to get them into the large, national/regional food chains. Get to know the appropriate managers in your favorite store: the ones in charge of breads, cereals, and dairy products. Complain about products that aren’t there, offer solutions, and praise when praise is due. For example, I discovered last year that our closest grocery store does have some flexibility to carry specialty items to meet neighborhood demands. After many discussions with Tom, the dairy manager, it now carries goat yogurt. And I make sure that it sells. Although I also make my own yogurt, I always go in on yogurt delivery day and buy some containers. (In my experience, you can never have too much yogurt.) In fact, now if I miss delivery day, I sometimes find that they’re sold out! Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who wanted goat yogurt. Here’s a fact: a store won’t know if there will be product sales unless the product is on the shelves.
The GF trend has meant that suitable bread and pasta products are more accessible than ever but, folks, we still have a long way to go. Each of us needs to be a GF activist—in the nicest way possible, of course—so that we can ensure that we’re not just part of a growing problem, but also contributors to helpful, useful, and profitable solutions.