2016: The 10 Best and Worst in Allergy & FreeFrom

A review of the year has become a tradition, and in 2015 I introduced a top 10 format to distinguish highs and lows. No surprise, given the dismal 2016, that the Worst shortlisted candidates far outnumbered the Best, but let’s hope for a reversal in 2017 … Here’s my final cut.

The Best

10. Morrisons
A new commitment to improve their free from offering was widely appreciated, and their TV ad struck an emotional chord with many parents of food sensitive kids. Tears were apparently shed (albeit not by this heartless bastard).

9. FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland launch
I chaired some sessions and it was a personal highlight of 2016 – possibly second only to spending a day cooking and chatting polenta with the legendary Anna del Conte. A great crowd of people, excellent entries, and terrific organisation by John, Emma and the team. Irish brands B Free and Rule of Crumb took top gongs.

8. Anna goes FreeFrom
Speaking of the Godmother of Italian cuisine, she and Michelle just weeks ago launched the first of a series of planned ‘all’Italiana‘ books, proving that, even in your nineties, it’s never too late to embrace free from.

7. Sainsbury’s ‘Gary’
Bores will bleat it was just clever PR, but a customer’s social media rant at Sainsbury’s coconut-based cheese drew the perfect response from the supermarket giant. Full story here.

6. Low FODMAP brands
It’s taken longer than I expected, but there’s momentum now in the launches of more low-FODMAP brands, with several exhibiting at the Allergy & FreeFrom Show. Here’s a page of them.

5. 14-Allergens free brands
Along similar lines, the increase in brands (and products) free from all key allergens has been a pleasant surprise. Non gluten-free folk with less newsworthy dietary restrictions have long been calling for more options. They’re beginning to get them – enough, in fact, to justify a newly introduced ‘No Top 14’ category in the FreeFrom Food Awards 2017. Well done for listening, manufacturers. Here’s a page of these too.

4. Fruit is not a Pudding (#fruitisnotapudding)
Now sponsored by Pudology, Carly’s initiative just gets better – and funnier – with a browning apple chunk pile-up rightfully crowned 2016 champion. The comedy value should not mask the serious point, though: there remains a widespread lack of consideration in catering for those on restricted diets, who don’t deserve to watch fellow diners tuck in to deliciousness while they push slimy tinned peach slices around their bowl.

3. North Yorkshire Police, Trading Standards, the Wilson family, Park Squire Barristers, the Anaphylaxis Campaign …
… and all involved in the successful prosecution of a restaurateur whose negligence caused the death of Paul Wilson, due to anaphylaxis, in 2014, and in communicating the lessons to be learned. While I hesitated to add this to the ‘best’ list, given the circumstances, this case was too important a 2016 event to ignore – not least because the prosecution may be a jolt to the food service industry, and therefore prevent future tragedies. A presentation by Richard Wright of Park Squire on the case is compelling listening.

2. #carrytwo
The perfect example of how Twitter can galvanise an allergy campaign – in this case, a call from parents to maintain the advisory status quo of always carrying two adrenaline injectors, in response to BSACI’s October guidance statement that one may sometimes be sufficient, which differs from MHRA guidance. See a joint AC, Allergy UK and BSACI statement here, and Twitter posts here. See also the petition, and Lynne Regent, AC’s CEO, letter to Clinical & Experimental Allergy.

1. LEAP-On and EAT Studies
Research is increasingly supporting the theory that early introduction of allergens into at-risk infants’ diets offers protection against the development of allergies. Hear Professor Gideon Lack, Lead Investigator, here. More information from the FSA here. I still feel this work has been under-appreciated and its importance under-valued. Allergists and science rule, OK?

The Worst

10. Free From Surveys
Can internet-based surveys be relied upon? No, as I explained here, the results can be contradictory or nonsensical. News stories based on meaningless data – spun by PR bunnies, and regurgitated unquestioningly by media – have no place in illuminating our understanding of free from or allergy issues. I expect more of this bullshit to stink out 2017. Keep nostrils flared for it.

9. ‘Non free from in free from section’ offenders
But particularly, it seems, Tesco (right). Surely the big players should be on top of this by now?

8. Greggs
The signalling began in January, promising gluten-free plans, while subsequent updates kept coeliacs on tenterhooks for something imminent and substantial, including savoury options. But come close of play, the offering totalled a brownie and a crispy bite. Patronising lip service.

7. The Irish Times
For failing to take seconds – literally – to correct misinformation. In this story, manufacturers MacCambridge told the IT that the spelt soda bread mentioned was not gluten free and yet the implication that it is remains. They have previous form – three years ago this article implied spelt was gluten free. Alerts to correct this also ignored.

6. The Guardian
One of the most dislikable pieces of editorial for me was Arwa Mahdawi’s ‘In the great gluten wars, I can’t sit on the fence‘. It felt smug, and snarky, and like so many barrel-scrapey or derivative anti-gluten-free rants resorted to ‘all in the head’ accusations levelled at elective or self-diagnosed GFers – because, of course, a possible mental health issue deserves ridicule not understanding.

5. FreeFrom Heaven / Gluten Free Heaven
1/ For an article by Kirsty Henshaw advising new parents to delay introduction of allergenic foods “for as long as possible” when weaning as “this reduces the risk of an allergy developing” – the opposite to where LEAP / EAT studies are taking us. I was later blocked – story here – and no correction issued, although the online article was removed – see tweets here – and the block reversed. 2/ For publishing a piece on ‘glutox’ by a nutritional therapist, which mistakenly implied gluten could ‘hide’ in food under various ‘codes’ – see details here. 3/ For including wheat-based freekeh in a ‘gluten free’ recipe then failing to issue a warning about it when asked on social media. Mistakes are forgivable, to a degree. Failure to make adequate efforts to mitigate against the damage they may cause, I don’t think is.

4. Clean Eating
There are many facets to this, but for me, the increase in brands promoting their products as healthier, expressly because they do not include gluten and/or dairy, and are therefore somehow deemed to be ‘clean’, has been an increasing problem in 2016. It’s one thing silently surfing the beneficial ripple of sales from the misinformation already out there – but it’s quite another to crank up your own piston wave generator of nutribabble to further boost the coffers. Read this Guardian piece on the psychological dangers, and Bee Wilson on why food is neither clean nor dirty.

3. Harper’s Bazaar
For Dairy Face. For Gluten Face. Should be wearing Beetroot Faces. Abject stupidity.

2. The White Moose Cafe
Their publicity seeking ‘show us a doctor’s note if you’re GF’ Facebook post flushed out essentially right wing views about those on restricted diets, and surely helped validate negative feelings towards the community. Passing rubber-neckers missing the joke must have thought if a food service provider is prepared to host attacks on groups of people – some of whom are merely trying to get or stay well – then it must somehow be acceptable or correct to do so. To some degree, this reflects the political face of 2016, when partially suppressed bigotry against liberalism has been encouraged to bloom proudly. A close runner-up; my rant about it is here.

1. The Daily Mail
There were several offences – such as this allergy-bollocks about hidden brain-bashing food intolerances – but an article featuring a quiz that divided all respondents into either lifestyle coeliac, coeliac lite or coeliac camps was a new low. “By taking the quiz, many of you will have found, perhaps to your surprise, that becoming a lifestyle coeliac could transform your life” they said, in an article published just two days later, because 48 hours is all it takes to emerge butterfly-like from a chrysalis of health complaints in DM world. Dare to try it and declare yourself gluten sensitive, though, and expect to be called a fantasist in a future article: as I’ve written before, they’ve been doing this for years. “For many, going gluten-free is a lifestyle choice fuelled by celebrity fad”. Yeah, but perhaps also fuelled by idiotic quizzes published in newspapers which show few signs of caring for accuracy. Or people.

Agree? Disagree? What were your highs and lows of 2016?


  1. ursula Arens

    Thank you Alex for this very useful top 10 list. And funny.

    1. Alex G (Post author)

      Great to hear from you Ursula -and thanks! Glad you liked it.


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