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A blog about all things allergen-free and delicious


On Cookies, Cravings & Mis(taken) Labelings.

The Cravings Made Me Do It

When I started this post, I was about to extol the taste and virtues of these Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookies.  I was about to say how delicious and satisfying they are (and they are); and how much I admire the company who made them for going the extra mile to include multiple allergies. But when I double-checked the ingredients to be sure I was writing about them accurately, I realized why I had such a rough couple of nights after eating them.  Until then, I simply could not pinpoint the reason for my body's allergic reaction.

Before I go on, let me add that If gluten is your only allergy and you love chocolate, these cookies from Pamela's Products are some of the yummier G-free cookies out there.  Go get 'em. 

But they are not yet "dairy-free", even though the label says, "Non-Dairy".  Since I have an allergy to all dairy products, even traces of dairy can cause a reaction.  I'm embarrassed to say that my craving for chocolate coupled with the sound of the word "cookie" just drove me to the shelf without doing my usual ingredient-reading homework.  This mistake plus an FDA approved, but outdated labeling technique, led me down a path that was painful, but interesting.  So, I'm going to use this experience to discuss a few very important things:

  • Non-Dairy & Vegan vs. Dairy-free labeling
  • Why it is important to call the manufacturer if you have a clear allergic reaction to their product
  • How a responsible company/manufacturer should and did respond
  • The possibility for allergen-free product companies and factories to expand their mutual markets if they cooperate on a larger scale. 


My Conversation with Pamela's Products

Usually, I am a fastidious ingredient checker -- even if I've used a particular product before.  You never know when the manufacturer of a product might change their recipe.  Sometimes, one producer of just one ingredient could add nuts, dairy or some other allergen to their facility.  But when I picked up this box,  I let the little snack devil in my head make my decisions for me because of this label:


I was sure it wasn't the cookies that made me miserable.  But an empty box (it had been a long time since I ate a cookie) and a couple of long days later, I turned said box over just to be sure.

On the back of the box it states in smaller letters:  "ALLERGEN INFORMATION:  CONTAINS EGGS, SOY, AND MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF MILK."

I picked up the phone immediately and called Pamela's customer service department.  I was upset.  The customer service rep had their marketing director, Stephanie call me back within minutes.  We had an intelligent discussion about several things.


The Real Meaning of "Non-Dairy" & "Vegan"

"Non-dairy" means that there are no dairy ingredients listed in the product.  But the FDA does not define the term "non-dairy", each state does.  This adds complicaton for the consumer.  Also, "Non-Dairy" doesn't take into account that the product, or any ingredient in the product, could be manufactured on the same equipment that also handles an allergen like dairy.  Incidentally, neither does the label, "Vegan".  Traces of milk or any of its derivatives (casein, whey or lactose) left on equipment from another product can be quite significant.  Significant enough to cause a serious reaction.

In researching this article, I found that I am not alone in my mis-interpretation of "non-dairy".  I am allergic to gluten and all forms of dairy - with a slow onset, or IgG reaction (i.e. not an IgE or anaphylaxis) that causes one or more of the following (for me): dull to sharp stabbing pain in my head, dizziness, stuffed nose, swelling (that's attractive), abdominal pain, a digestive standstill, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, numbness and sometimes a racing heart.  These symptoms take several days or more to clear.  I probably won't end up in the hospital because of a mistake, but some people will.    

In a open letter to the FDA encouraging them to change this labeling tactic, The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) describes another twist to the non-dairy labeling:

Many of our members have told us they have purchased “non-dairy” products for their milk-allergic children because they believed these items to be safe.  Individuals often interpret “non-dairy” to mean “no dairy” and therefore do not feel it necessary to read the ingredient statement on the back of the package. In fact, doctors often advise parents of milk-allergic children to avoid “milk”, without informing the patient/parent of technical ingredient names such as casein.  However, FAAN has learned of situations in which “non-dairy” items (such as whipped toppings, imitation cheeses, and soft-serve frozen desserts) have caused milk-allergic reactions in children because it was later discovered that the item contained a milk-derived protein.


Pamela's Products Takes Quick Action

In short, according to labeling laws, Pamela's Products was not wrong for labeling this product, "Non-Dairy".  Plus, they specialize in gluten-free products, not products for multiple allergens.   My phone call was apparently a first for Pamela's, which surprised me and yet didn't surprise me.  I've learned that people are embarrassed.  They are used to just sucking it up and moving on because they feel they "have no choice".  Or perhaps others were just smarter than I was. 

However, Pamela's recognizes that with the increase in the numbers of people with food allergies, as well as the increase in people with multple allergies - they need to evolve more ahead of their customer base.  So they immediately went to work.  Stephanie asked for my email address so she could keep me apprised of her conversations with Pamela herself and their managment team. 

Here is what they have done so far:

  • They Stopped the Presses on cookie boxes for their new "Wherever Bars" as they were being printed.  This was at no small expense.  When you see this new product (launched this spring) in stores, you will notice an asterisk (*) next to "Non-Dairy".  This is a temporary change while they consider making more changes to the box design to accommodate better labeling. Rest assured, I'll be looking to see how the change turned out.

  • They are Considering Changing Chocolate Factories.  I put them in touch with Barry-Callebaut Chocolate, a fair trade, high quality company and the only dairy-free bittersweet chocolate factory line in North America.   Callebaut also does not produce nuts or gluten products in their factory, but right now, they only test for dairy.

I appreciate the concern and action from Pamela's Products and have great respect for their immediate response.  In fact, I called them on April 8, 2011 and received these results on April 12, 2011.  They very kindly made it clear that they want to hear from their customers (so give them feedback!), so they can "strive to be the best".


An Expanding Food Allergy Market

Perhaps it is the marketer in me, but I see a huge mult-beneficial opportunity here.  If Callebaut agrees to test also for gluten and nuts, both Pamela's and Callebaut could theoretically expand their markets - possibly significantly.  

Here's some quick data for the United States alone:

  • Over 12 million Americans have some kind of diagnosed food allergy - that's 1 in 25 people (FAAN)
  • Over 3 million (1 in 133) have celiac disease (
  • Millions more have diseases that require a restricted diet (some resources say 3 million, others closer to 11 million)
  • Peanut allergies have tripled from 1997-2008 (FAAN)
  • There are 4 times more people with celiac than there were 50 years ago (March 2011, University of Maryland study)
  • 18 million people suffer from gluten-sensitivity (March 2011, University of Maryland study)
  • Many people are developing multiple allergies (data not conclusive)

More data on this expanding market is coming out every day.  My hope is that more Tender Foodies with nut, dairy and gluten allergies (and more?) can experience the products of great companies like Pamela's and Barry-Callebaut.  If my greatest wish could become true, all ingredients would be organic and non-GMO.  Eutopia would be if we could find the cause of food allergies and make them disappear.

While there are some real limiations that need to be acknowledged, something close to Eutopia could be only a few decisions away. 

Enough of us just have to ask for it.  Tell me what you think.



Recommended Reading:  The Wall Street Journal Article on the Gluten Study

How do I get tested for Celiac? 



RECIPE: Fish Tacos from The Green Well (gluten- and dairy-free)

A Brief History of Fish Tacos

Fish tacos are known as a Baja specialty.  So much so in fact, that after many years of living in New York City, one of the foodie capitals of the world, it actually took a trip to San Diego to experience a fish taco for the very first time. 

Wrapping fish in tortillas has been on the indigenous North American menu for probably thousands of years.  Even so, Ensenada, Baja CA, Mexico, claims to be the original home of the fish taco (with the opening on the Ensenada fish market in 1958).  But from what I understand, Ralph Rubio brought it to the U.S. from the coastal stands of San Felipe, Baja, CA, Mexico in the 1980's.  On spring break, he learned how to make them from his favorite taco vendor, Carlos, and tried to convince him to come to California and help him set up a chain of fish taco stands.  Carlos declined. Once successful, Ralph tried, but couldn't find Carlos again.  Though he couldn't share his success with Carlos, the rest, as they say, is taco history.


The Green Well's Recipe - (gluten- and dairy-free)

   Rob Tamburello, the General Manager for the Green Well Gastro Pub graciously provided this gluten- and dairy-free recipe for their "new" fish tacos, just in time for grilling season.  

 Give it a try and bring a little Baja to your neck of the woods.

The Green Well is located on 924 Cherry Street SE in Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506 • 616-808-3566.

Wanna know more about the Green Well how they serve Tender Foodies?  Read my review.


Marinate and Grill the Fish

Marinade for the fish

(The Green Well uses tilapia but they say that cod or halibut will also work fine)

1/2 cup garlic oil
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 tsp each of cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, granulated onion

Marinate the tilapia for at least an hour and grill it.  5 oz. of tilapia make 3-4 tacos.  Depending upon how you roll.

Julienne the Veggies for the Slaw

1 head of green cabbage
1 red pepper
1 poblano pepper
1 red onion

Don't know how to Julienne?  Here's how.

Make the Dressing

1 can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime
1 Teaspoon each of chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic powder
A splash of rice wine vinegar

Dress the slaw with as much dressing as you prefer. 

Prepare the Aioli

1/4 cup lime juice
2 cups olive oil
3 raw egg yolks **
1 TBS honey
3/4 water

Put all ingredients in blender except oil and turn on high, then slowly add the oil until you get the desired consistency.

**PLEASE NOTE: CONSUMING RAW EGGS is not advisable for everyone, so know your own health and consult with your doctor if you have any doubts.  Only use them if you know what you are doing and buy the freshest eggs if you try this aioli.  If you are not allergic to dairy products, you can use sour cream with the lime juice instead of the aioli.  We'll post any other substitutes as we find them.

Wrap it an All Corn Tortilla

The Green Well uses El Milagros white corn tortillas you can get them at most grocery stores they are made right here in Grand Rapids.

 Thanks a million Green Well and Rob for this great recipe!


Recipe: Blanched Asparagus with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette

This is one of my favorite ways to make asparagus -- crsip and dressed like a salad.  By blanching these precious stalks, you will retain more of their abundance of vitamins and minerals -- and asparagus is packed with nutrients (see below).  The saucy lemon vinaigrette is the perfect dressing for this earthy, healthy spring vegetable. 











1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 freshly squeezed lemon (zested first)

zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup good olive oil

One full bunch of asparagus

 (Choose firm asparagus with tight, dry heads.  Thickness is a matter of preference. Should be bright green in color.  Use w/in 1-2 days for best flavor, good up to 5 days.  Store in open container with a wet paper towel wrapping the base of the stalks.  Or stand them straight up in a 1/2 inch of water.)


Put it together

Wash the asparagus really well and either cut off the woody bottoms or take a few stalks at a time and break them.  The stalks will break easily at the perfect point.  Toss or compost the woody bottoms and set the tender stalks aside.  Fill a large bowl with ice water (including chunks of ice).  Set it near the stove.  Bring a large pot of water to boil and place the asparagus into the water for 1-3 minutes - depending upon the thickness of the stalks.  Remove the stalks with a slotted spoon and plunge them whole-heartedly into the ice water.  This will preserve the beautiful green color and keep them nice and crisp.  I like asparagus nice and lively so I don't keep it in too long.


Make the Vinaigrette

Put the mustard, salt, lemon and its zest into a bowl and whisk together.  Slowly add in the olive oil as you as you continue to whisk.  It will take about 1/2 cup of olive oil to make the right thickness.  But if you get the thickness you want before you use the entire 1/2 cup, then you don't have to add it all!

Pour over the asparagus and enjoy.


Add More Power to Your Asparagus

Another way to enjoy your blanched asparagus is with grapefruit and avocado.  Check out how I serve it or go right to Ina Garten's recipe for Grapefruit and Avocado Salad.  Ina's dressing is very similar and her salad tastes great with a side of blanched asparagus using her wonderful dressing.  Grapefruit is full of lycopene and Avocado is one of the 3 top vegetables (along with asparagus and water melon) for the triple amino acid, glutathion.

Healthy Goodness

 I've always wondered why asparagus inspires such a distinctive odor as you ... er... release your water in the water closet (OK, it makes your pee stink).  Here is a great article from Organic Authority that explains some of this.  In short, asparagine is an amino acid that helps you cleans your bod of waist and toxins.  It helps clean your kidneys (stones beware) and asparagus is super high in the following vitamins, nutrients and minerals:

Vitamin:  C, K, Folate, Thiamine, B6, & A

Minerals:  manganese, copper, phosphorus, potassium

Amino Acids:  high in glutathione - a small protein composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. 

Fiber:  lots of it.

Rutin:  according to the, rutin is a bioflavanoid that helps circulation, especially to the lower limbs.

And in case you are wondering, asparagus is thought to be an aphrodisiac - specifically, because of "psycho-physiological" properties (it's shape inspires naughty thoughts).

Read more about asparagus on Organic Authority's web site.





Gaia Vegetarian Cafe is Brunch-o-licious.

No Cow, Dairy-free and Yummeee.

The Jim White (without tortilla and without cheese) w/ Potatos & Onions

After my move to Grand Rapids, MI, I had walked across the street from a rather dark, non-descript building.  For a year or two I always paused and wondered, "what on earth is in that place?", but never ventured past my curiousity to find out what kept pulling my attention.   Then one day, after a class at From The Heart Yoga Center, my then-new yoga buddies said, "Wanna go to Gaia?"  Through these great peops I discovered that Gaia was a Vegetarian restaurant and it is located in that very building.  

As we opened the big wooden door to a well-hidden, but bustling restaurant, I had also hoped that this Earth Goddess Eatery would be food-allergy literate and Tender Foodie accepting.  They were.  And are. 

They use whole, fresh foods and don't blink an eye when I ask, "is the corn organic?"  But I do double check to be sure that both the servers and the chefs understand that none of my particular food allergens can be near a cutting board, plate or other food item (and you should, too).  The good news is, their fried potatos and onions are perfectly browned and always made with olive oil and not butter.  The great news is, those potatos also qualify as lick your plate good. 

Gaia is an understated, welcoming little joint with a kind, intelligent staff and a kitchen you can observe as you wait for a table.  The crowd is a great mix of tie-die, family, creative and loosen-your-collar business types.  The energy in the room inspires and allows great conversations.  My favorite thing on the menu (so far) is The Jim White.  I order it without cheese or romaine lettuce.  I also reject the tortilla.  They do have an all corn tortillas made by a local company.  I haven't yet spoken to the tortilla maker to confirm their allergen-free factory practices but I don't feel any pressure to do so on a personal level - I just love the Jim White without the traditional tex-mex wrapper.

The combination of avocado, black beans, brown rice, scrambled eggs (made without milk), tomatoes and salsa is consistently fresh, delicious and always satisfying.  The rest of the menu promises to be the same.  On my way out I always bow slightly in respect to the delicious Gaia Blend Organic Sumatra Coffee.  Somehow it makes ricemilk, which I usually find too watery as a milk replacer of any kind, a very compatible coffee companion.  I have dubbed this Gaia blend some of my favorite coffee in town.

Gaia is also a perfect place for vegetarians to bring their non-vegetarian friends, as no one will leave with their stomach growling. Through a search I  discovered that "Gaia" means, "the goddess of the earth, who bore Uranus and by him Oceanus, Cronus, and the Titans."  Gaia may not serve meat, but their stick-to-your-ribs fair is worthy to carry the name of this Titan-baring goddess.

Although Gaia is open for different meals, I tend to gravitate toward the noon-time hour on the weekends, since Gaia is so bruncholicious.


Find Gaia at:

209 Diamond Avenue Southeast Grand Rapids, MI 49506-1525 - (616) 454-6233
Open Tue-Fri 8am-8pm; Weekends 8am-3pm




Call Me! Wait - Recall me? Product Mistakes in Real Time.

OK, this isn't a really sexy post.  But isn't it nice when people, companies, and especially the government does something to make your life easier?  If a product has been recalled because of an undeclared allergen or nasty, unwanted micro-organisms, wouldn't it be nice have that piece of info delivered to your inbox -- rather than hear about it Ex Post Facto?  If you have a peanut, tree nut, wheat /gluten, dairy, seafood, shellfish, soy, or eggs, you can find out what products have made mistakes in real(ish) time. 

FDA Recall, Market Withdrawal & Safety Alerts

The FDA recently dropped a Press Release into the media about the improved search functionality for their recall database.  They've replaced some laborious text with a nice, easier-to-read table format.  You can sign up to receive email alerts right to your inbox, or add them to your RSS feed. 

To further step into the 21st Century, the FDA also has mobile apps - so you can bring food recalls - and even car and other product recalls right to your mobile phone.


Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)

This organization if doing some good work out there.  You can sign up for alerts from FAAN, which includes their organizational news as well.  FAAN's focus is on allergies that cause an immediate life threatening response.