I think we have reached peak gluten free.
When Greggs and Patisserie Valerie get in on the act, you know it’s properly commoditised, and the fad has become mainstream. Make no mistake, Greggs are not going to make a business from coeliacs missing their budget sausage roll fix, they are squarely trading on a massive public delusion about gluten free being ‘healthier’. (“POPULAR bakery chain Greggs has announced new plans as part of a healthier rebrand” says The Express). Will it last? Probably not.
But it leaves me with a lot of questions about where the market goes from here, and what this means for coeliacs, public health in general, and personally, my blog.
I feel properly tired with fighting the misconceptions about gluten free amongst colleagues and acquaintances. The misconception about gluten free as ‘healthy’ is now so embedded it seems pointless trying. I’ve actually lost count of the number of friends advised by unscrupulous ‘nutrition advisors’ or ‘holistic health coaches’ to lay off gluten, dairy and sugar. Unexplaining what people think they know about gluten is a harder (and ruder) task than explaining coeliac ever was. Mainstream gluten free brands implying health benefits no longer makes me rage, but sigh knowingly.
Gluten free bread is now so ubiquitous in restaurants I no longer feel like I want to order it in support. I never ate that much bread anyway! I’ve gone from being a proper coeliactivist over the chip fryer to quietly ordering the salad (no croutons), because to be honest that’s what I’d rather have (for my health), and I don’t want to give a medical low down every time I eat out with someone new. We’ve never had it so good with food availability: maybe I miss my outsider status? Or maybe I’m just bored of my diet being the most prominent thing about me.
So what does this mean for my blog? Like fellow blogger and friend, Mrs D, I’ve been facing a bit of a direction dilemma with my blog as the market and my life has changed. Over time it’s evolved from a place to share much needed information about eating out, to something more issue-based and somewhere to share something about my way of life (and eating!) as the market has expanded and there’s less need to shout about new products and restaurants that get it right.
Along the way the free from blogosphere has exploded, and not just with hobbyists like me, but with people who treat blogging like a business venture- some with passion and writing and recipes I love (all success to them); and, to be very frank, some with cynical approaches and drivel for content who seem to do unfathomably well. Do I envy them? Perhaps a little. Mostly I feel sad that the subject matter is so commoditised that the more successful blogs simply rave about freebies for retweets, reprint press releases in full, or list the contents of free from supermarket shelves for search rankings.
Gluten free blogging for me is about the lesser-asked questions, niche issues and expertise, and above all the community and friends I’ve found.
So what now for gluten free B? I have a job and young family, and am rediscovering life and passions outside of my diet; my recipes will never compete with those by full time chefs or people with the patience to try out ten types of flour; I’m not bold enough to market myself to win self-nominated blogging awards and thousands of followers, I have no ambition to make blogging a career. I do have ambition to enjoy life, do something a bit different, and start something new this year.
And you have no need for more reviews of the latest product, you don’t need another recipe for courgetti or gluten free carrot cake, or another opinion on the best high street gluten free pizza. I’m flattered if you’re interested in my opinion on these things, but I think I can do that in a tweet.
From here I’m going to keep this blog much more focussed. If an issue gets my goat, you can be sure I’ll write an opinion piece. If I feel like I have something different to write I will, and If something tickles me, I’ll share it; but my posts here might be a bit less frequent than in the past. I’ve got some other plans in 2016. I’m going to be sharing more about my life in a new personal diary blog that will reflect that there’s more to life than what you eat – it’s going to be a lot more ‘free form’ than ‘free from’. I’m also taking a nutrition course (I love a contradiction), and continuing to improve my photography over on Instagram. I’d love it if you joined me.
And as a treat to myself, I’m going to unfollow all of the accounts that are boring, unoriginal, run by nutritionistas, or who make me feel inadequate in some way with their ‘fitspo’ or thousands of followers and also the brands who I think are unethical or just have poor products; because that’s not my gluten free, and what matters is the personal connections I have made and the genuine appreciation from people who care x
“Mostly I feel sad that the subject matter is so commoditised that the more successful blogs simply rave about freebies for retweets, reprint press releases in full, or list the contents of free from supermarket shelves for search rankings.”
So much this. I’ve been feeling rather burned out on my own blog, and looking at some of the other blogs out there now, it seems that people just want Greggs/Mcdonalds/whatever to go gluten free so they don’t have to think about food. Then on the other end of the spectrum you have the “clean eating” health bloggers who are even worse.
I actually have more sympathy with the former- whatever the problems nutrition-wise without that approach, for the most part they’re with me- didn’t ask for this. It’s the latter group, who as Alex says, are pretty much just being dishonest I take greater umbrage with.
I think you, like me, have changed in outlook for many reasons over the past few years. I was stressing about changing the brand I have built up, but then I remembered, this isn’t my livelihood!
I dunno, there comes a point where you have to just accept that not being able to eat at certain restaurants is not the end of the world. There are so many gluten-free menus nowadays the average town usually has plenty of options.
I don’t mean to sound all “back in my day”, but even 5 years ago the gluten-free scene was vastly different. Every time I’m back in London it seems like I’m falling over new options.
I definitely have sympathy for people who just want to get on with their life as usual, but if diagnosis with an autoimmune disease isn’t an excuse to reevaluate your diet, I don’t know what is.
And yes, I appreciate that not everyone lives in London, and therefore when a major national chain like Greggs announces a gluten-free range, coeliacs in smaller towns have every right to be happy. Guess I’m just extra grumpy today :P
You seem to have found a sense of clarity which will only benefit the blog in the long-term. I’ll keep reading!
I have no problem with trying to make a living from ‘free from’ – it’s what I do, after all – but I do with the distortion of truth to achieve that goal. Claiming health benefits for GF which aren’t proven, promoting discredited food intolerance tests, complimenting average GF food for freebies or (it wouldn’t surprise me in some cases) for a fee, buying Twitter followers to artificially inflate your significance … there is underlying dishonesty here which I’m depressed to see among some manufacturers and bloggers.
The problem is this: it’s very easy to spread and popularise nonsense, but difficult to clean up the resulting mess. You can monetise the former; not so easy the latter.
In the most part I don’t either! The passionate free-fromers who share their qualified expertise through their writing, business ventures etc are the foundation of the exploding gluten free market, and are the shoulders my kitchen experiments stand on!
Brilliant post! I love your recipes and your writing but you’ve got to do what feels right and makes you happy. I’m not sure where I fit in the whole ‘free from blogger’ sphere but I have the same frustrations. I think you just have to be true to yourself and your readers and try to block out some ways others are operating. Good luck with everything x
Dear gf free B,
Have enjoyed your blogging, I like that you looked at being gf from different angles, but I totally understand your point about doing something new. Nothing should ever stay the same – wasn’t that your point from the beginning about doing something innovative?
On the ‘no gluten’ is ‘healthy’ I give the the same sigh of resignation…the battle is lost, marketing wins. And if people are so gullible to be taken in by marketing without questioning more, then they deserve to be parted from their cash easily.
Having been in the US recently and noted the (80% at least) tv advertising given over to health products & services, and the prolific availability of gf products in supermarkets I don’t think uk is at peak yet. The attention is already moved away from marketing new products to the existing gf/coeliac community, to a health-based incentive to get more and more people going gf. It’s a consumer cycle we coeliacs have been unwittingly caught up in. It’s still building imho, but like you I have concerns for when the bubble bursts. Will our children hark back to times past when you could buy fresh gf bread at most stores instead of getting it out of a tin 😱
Good luck with your diary (initially I read ‘dairy’…)
Hey Carly! Sure is a mainstream thing going on isn’t it! It’s important to stick to what you love, keep focus and ignore all the junk. After listening to talks at Food Matters last year, they all said this would pass. Esp when all these healthy eaters learn it ain’t so healthy. I think reminding consistent and passionate will ride out the storm. For my part.. I try and always will be focused on the good GF stuff, don’t take freebies, and highlight the small folk who are doing great things. But like you say… It’s important to have a life too! Best wishes m’dear
I love your clarity of focus, Kim, and rely on you to hunt out the next delicious things 😉
Well said Carly. I am also feeling gf fatigue and have the same concerns about the honesty and integrity of both manufacturers and sadly bloggers. There seems to be a profusion of experts whose qualifications are at best dubious and at worst verging on quackery. I also despair of the PR hounds who buy good reviews with giving away seriously awful products. I particularly love your honesty in declaring the tiniest bit of envy for those who appear to make a living from this. I struggle with this too, but then I realise I would be unable to do this. My moral compass is set too high and I can’t bring myself to heap praise on products or companies who don’t deserve it. Instead I opt for my mother’s motto- ‘if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”- well most of the time until I just can’t help it and explode! Yes anyone can be a blogger. But rest assured not everyone can express themselves and their point of view as well as you can. Keep up your writing and your lovely photos! There is always room for the true, the brave and the talented. I want to hear more from Carlyb, regardless of what new direction you decide to take. But sadly, I also don’t want to let you go! Let’s gather our thoughts and ideas to create a more thoughtful arena on living gf.
Hi – I am no fan of much supermarket GF products. Too much sugar, corn starch and mono & diglycerides of fatty acids.
The other reason why GF has caught on beyond the necessity of celiac disease is because of books like Wheat Belly and in turn research by scientists like Alessio Fasano – who has proven that gluten causes release of a protein called zonulin in everyone, and induced intestinal permeability (irrespective if celiac) – has bought it to the attention of the wider public.
I think that GF has not peaked yet – I believe celiac is the part of the iceberg that is easily visible and that other diseases will in some part have zonulin pathway involved – MS, RA – AS, T1DM, T2DM
It’s a good problem to have. Those that need to avoid hens eggs and/or lactose as well as gluten, or keeping to a low FODMAP, now that’s a grand challenge, all of which I have had to encounter…and now winning :-)
Well yes! My daughter is allergic to milk & egg which is another kettle of fish!
Hmm! You seem to have hit on a few of the conundrums that have also bothered me/crossed my mind. I have had to consider whether to give up, or keep going. I opted for the latter, but with modifications, when I can/feel motivated I do, and when I can’t/feel unmotivated I don’t. I can’t be on Twitter/FB/Blogger as often as I used – family and other commitments have to come first and also rest and recreation!
As for the rest, the slightly well-worn Oscar Wilde quote springs to mind: ‘Be yourself everyone else is taken’. And lesser known: ‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives mimicry…’ Yours is one of the few blogs I DO read. There’s so much else out there that one COULD read, so am purposefully selective.
Hope wherever you go from here you find fulfillment in whatever you do.
Lovely things to say, thankyou!
Really good post, Carly. I found myself nodding along at quite a few points.
You hit the nail on the head about a lot of brands (and restaurants, cafes) “squarely trading on a massive public delusion about gluten free being ‘healthier’”. While its been great to have more choice (and things are SO much better than 20 years ago) I too am tired of poor quality products that brands/restaurants think we should be grateful to have (with added cross-contamination because they’re not really aimed at coeliacs) and having to battle against preconceptions about the gluten free diet.
Freefrom blogging is in a bit of a weird place. Clearly there are a few bloggers who have done really well, but unfortunately it tends to be the ones who play into the ‘gluten free as a healthy diet’ fad, or who post and promote themselves more regularly than I feel able to. I fully admit to being envious of people who earn a decent living from blogging, because I really love doing it, and who doesn’t want to be paid for doing the thing that they love? But I find it is very difficult to earn from it when you are more inclined to say no than yes to most PR offers, and when many PR’s seem to expect you to do significant work for free. Knowing the trust that readers put into us when they read recommendations from a fellow coeliac, I cannot bring myself to promote stuff that I don’t love.
That all said, I think there are many things to be excited about in the freefrom world, and I for one would still enjoy reading you recommendations as well as your opinion pieces, if they come up. :)
Wishing you all the best for your new direction.
P.S. I’m curious if you would consider doing another ebook?
Lots of good points and a good question! I never intended to do the first- it was more of a personal project. (And for what it’s worth I’ve not marketed nor made any money from it).
Ah, fair enough. It looked very professional, lovely photography. I’m sure you could charge for it if you wanted to!
I always enjoy hearing your balanced thoughts Carly, and what you (and others in the community) write always makes me stop and think to consider how I (as a healthy blogger – not a quack quack one) present myself. Hopefully I am winning at that!
I think you write so well that it would be a shame not to keep up blogging – in whatever guise (as I’m sure you will).
Best of luck!
Hi Carly, great to hear your views on this…and your views on everything gluten-free if I’m honest. You are one of the few blogs that I regularly read because I love the way you write and I love your recipes and photos. I’ll be sad if you post less but I can understand why. I hope it isn’t because you think there is no room for you in the ‘new world of gluten-free’! There certainly is room…and your balanced opinion is great to counter all the C**p about the healthy gluten-free diet that is out there!! I’m not sure where I sit in all this. I still think that there is a role for telling people what new healthy gluten-free things there are on the market…and who is catering for us. My experience is rather different from yours I guess and I come across a lot of dazed and confused parents whose kids have been diagnosed and they don’t know where to turn. I hope I can help them to realise that being gluten-free (or free from other allergens) is not a death sentance! I also hope to slowly educate people about how to cook things from scratch and not to rely on the processed junk that is out there! I’ll never be a ‘health blogger’ but I hope to make people’s lives a little easier and a little healthier! And one day…you will hopefully find my flour blend on the shelves or in some more wholesome baked products!
You were, of course, one of the people I was thinking of who writes with passion and expertise :) Thankyou for your kind words! (And endless patience with recipe development- don’t know how you do it!)
Pingback: Gluten Free Favourites in 2015 « Gluten Free Joeyanne·
Pingback: Gluten free manufacturers shouldn’t make unauthorised health claims | gluten free b·