In a previous life we were in the café business. We remember with a great deal of specificity how gluten rose (no pun intended) as an issue towards the end of the Aughts. To be frank, in retrospect our first reaction was terrible. We’d just been buffeted by a decade’s worth of transitory health fads and, at first, this seemed more of the same. “People have been eating bread for millennia, what’s the big deal?” we said among ourselves. It wasn’t until we threw a dinner party and one of our invited guests informed us that they had celiac disease that we began to understand the issue. Even after what I thought were appropriate precautions, they politely excused themself, left the table, and proceeded to throw up in the bathroom. You can imagine how I felt. It turned out the culprit was the spice blend I’d used. At that point, we felt a visceral urgency to getting it right. While we never ran a gluten-free kitchen, we adopted the best protocols we could find to make sure we never forced anyone to absent themself from the table (or worse!)
This was a really important moment in our education as people in the food business. Before the late Aughts, sufferers of celiac disease had been largely silent, the language and the space didn’t yet exist for them to express their needs. It was really only about fifteen years ago that the issue broke through. And when it broke through, it changed everything, making the dining experience much more accessible to people with a wide range of health issues and dietary concerns. And frankly, this new understanding wasn’t just good for our customers, it was good for our business as well. Suddenly we were the go to place in town for lots of people (including visiting celebrities with highly specific and esoteric dietary requirements).
So, let’s raise a glass on National Gluten Free Day and toast the gluten free community! You guys made the world a better place—not just for yourselves, but for many others. And you dealt with some serious attitude and misunderstanding (sorry) along the way. Cheers!
Gluten and uBu
For some time now, uBu Foods has been substantially a gluten-free facility. There are a small handful of products that we produce at our facility* (Crayfish Étouffée and Enchilada Roja Sauce, for example) that use a small amount of flour as a thickener. However, we make this infrequently and only when it’s the only thing on the production schedule. Afterwards, we are diligent about cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, containers, and utensils. We have looked into having our hummus certified as a gluten-free product. Having looked at the requirements, we would easily qualify. However, as with most certifications, it is quite expensive.
* From time to time, we’ll make bakery products for in-person markets, however we make these at home under Wisconsin’s cottage food law—which was an excellent reform, thanks Lisa Kivirist!