By Vickey Casey
The shop isn’t very big but the sweet showcase is well stocked and inviting. For you, this dizzying array of cookies, cupcakes and brownies would be nothing more than a temptation, a danger.
You look away, sad that you can no longer just grab your favorite treat the way you used to, cavity be damned. But as you turn back, you see it. There in black and white is a little rectangular sign that could make or break your day.
The questions swirl. “Should I do it?”
“Is it worth it?”
“It won’t taste the same.”
“But what’s the harm?”
“One won’t hurt.”
And in truth, as far as your stomach is concerned, it won’t. No one’s around to scoff as you order a wheat-free chocolate mocha cupcake. No one will roll their eyes and ask why when you decided to be gluten-free with that indulgent smirk.
Why? Because you are in a place, Sticky Fingers Bakery in Colombia Heights to be exact, that caters to your needs, your lifestyle, your allergy.
There is still a great debate among consumers and some doctors over whether celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are real. In the midst of the ongoing discussion and disbelief, restaurants, cafes and patisseries have opened up all over the DC area, and the world, to cater to those whose bodies cannot tolerate gluten.
“I think it’s pretty 50/50,” says Kya Parker, an employee of Sticky Fingers Bakery. “I’ve worked in the food industry for a long time so I’m familiar with the FDA requirements.” Kya explained that while Sticky Fingers is careful about cross contamination on surfaces and with tools, they are unable to label themselves as gluten free because their kitchen does not have an air tight environment. There is a chance that gluten particles can affect the more sensitive.
“But we get a mix of people who are extremely allergic, who are celiac, people who are as sensitive and people who are doing it because they care about what goes into their bodies,” says Parker. It is here, she believes that the celiac deniers get their foot hold. Many who still enjoy their pastries without fear of wheat, the key ingredient, do not always differentiate between those for whom consuming gluten could have immediate and devastating consequence and those who just don’t want to eat bread.
Wheat has been part of the human diet for centuries but it is still unclear what causes celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and how to stop it. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and similar grains. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it is the glue the holds foods, such as bread and cake, together.
If you are celiac or sensitive and eat this pastry holding glue the body “mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine,” says the foundation. These attacks damage the small finger like appendages on the intestine wall called villi. Nutrients are absorbed here and when damaged, the body does not receive the vitamins from whatever food is eaten.
“It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide,” says the foundation.
Gluten sensitivity is similar but instead of the larger symptoms, those suffering with this experience chronic fatigue, headaches, joint pain, mood swings, bloating and more. These tend to disappear once gluten is eliminated from the diet.
While the numbers of people searching labels for the gluten free sign rise, many believe that this alternative diet will go the way of the lemon cleanse. Jules Shepard, who operates a blog called Jules Gluten and consults with ABC and Time Magazine, disagrees. “Gluten sensitivity is a very real medical condition that affects between 15-20% of the population to some degree,” she says.
This statistic and the rising demand for gluten free products has caused the market to expand. Major fast food chains like Dominos, Wendy’s, Olive Garden and Pie Wei now provide gluten options. Large supermarkets like Safeway and Publics reserve isles with these products. Statista estimates that the U.S. gluten free food marked will be rise from $1.77 billion to $23.9 billion in four years.
“That’ll be $6.00,” says the cashier. You pay for the cupcake and iced coffee, staring in near reverence as you place your purchases on the table.
You settle into the seat, trying not to look as excited as you feel for the first bite.
You lift cupcake to lips, open mouth, take a bite and sigh.
Delicious, chocolaty, dense cake fills the sense, melts on your tongue, irritates that stubborn cavity, and soothes your soul
For those living with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity it can be difficult finding pastries or cafes that provide more than just fruit, nuts or Kind bars.
But as the debate continues and more people are diagnosed, this trend of adapting and opening gluten friendly shops will continue.
The question is when will this trend be seen by the many as more than that?