If you have to live gluten-free, you’ve probably already heard of both of these books.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide and BabyCakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most Talked-About Bakery both came out in May. (Not really a surprise, since it was National Celiac Awareness Month.) Both were published by major publishers, or given a major campaign push reserved for non-celiac books.
And both have been excoriated by people who are gluten-free.
I’m going to step lightly in recommending these books, because I’m certain this will open up a firestorm of comments, some of them excoriating me. But that’s why I am recommending these books — because they start conversations.
For decades, those with celiac suffered in obscurity. No one talked about celiac or living gluten-free in the press. I have met dozens of people in the past three years who have been gluten-free for the past 25 years, and they all say the same thing: it was like living in the dark ages. Sorghum flour, teff, sweet rice flour, quinoa — they weren’t readily available. Heck, even in the four years I have been gluten-free (four years this week), the awareness of living gluten-free has expanded, exponentially.
We need to spread even more awareness. Of the estimated 1 out of 133 people (and some scientists say it’s actually more) with celiac disease, only 3 to 5% of us have been diagnosed.
Wouldn’t you think that two huge, mainstream books dedicated to living gluten-free, and joyfully, would receive big hurrahs from those of us who are lucky enough to have been diagnosed and eaten our way to health already?
There are loud voices shouting that Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s book is full of inaccuracies, because she called celiac a food allergy in her television interviews. But the book clearly delineates that celiac is an auto-immune disorder. I think there are two things going on here.
1. Hasselbeck calls celiac an allergy in the context of ordering in restaurants or explaining herself at parties. This I understand. Most of the time, when I am at restaurants, I’ll say allergy too. Why? Because it has an effect. Waiters have been, marginally, trained in food allergies. If I say I have an auto-immune disorder, they are going to look at me far more blankly than if I say I have a food allergy. They’re more willing to help an allergy. Not fair, but pragmatic.
2. It’s clear from reading The G-Free Diet that Hasselbeck had a writer help her with the book, perhaps even write the bulk of it. (She’s thanked in the acknowledgments but not credited.) I’ve been a ghost writer before, for a book that was never published. I did almost all the research, structuring, and heavy lifting. The other person comes in for the more personal stories. In interviews, Hasselbeck may have gotten her words wrong because she doesn’t have the depth of understanding that someone who lives this stuff would, right off the cuff.
But here’s what moved me. She suffered with celiac, like the rest of us. Famous or not, if you have undiagnosed celiac, you suffer for years. The book’s opening chapters, detailing her symptoms and the struggle to discover what ailed her, sounded deeply familiar. There are thousands of people suffering with stomach pains and joint aches and anemia and any of the hundreds of symptoms that celiac can trigger. Someone with a huge media following telling her story is going to reach thousands of people who have never read a gluten-free blog, heard of celiac support groups, or even understand what gluten is when they hear it. That’s going to potentially save the lives of a lot of people.
Let’s face it. This isn’t a literary book. It isn’t meant to be. I sat down to read it when the baby took a nap and finished it later in the afternoon. I think calling it “gfree” is a little too cute for my terms. And the chapter urging everyone to try this diet because it helps you lose weight is simply poppycock. That hasn’t worked for many of us.
But anyone who tries to go gluten-free as a trendy way of being is going to stop soon anyway. It requires too much commitment for a flippant decision.
What the book does well is lay out the important parts of living gluten-free: how to keep your kitchen; how to deal with restaurants; how to ask your partner for help; how to deal with families and holidays and social situations. Hasselbeck eats more processed food and packaged meals than I prefer to do, so her lists of products and places to eat may not appeal to me. But they will appeal to a large swath of America, particularly when they are first diagnosed.
This is clearly a book for folks who have just been diagnosed, or who are starting to wonder if they have celiac. I expected this to be a frivolous work (I mean, look at that ridiculous cover.). However, I found it to be a plainspoken, clear guide, mostly well-researched and entirely earnest. (Dr. Peter Green, one of the most respected celiac scientists in this country, wrote the forward for the book and read through it for the publishers.) Hasselbeck advocates that people advocate for themselves and do this right. Clearly, she intends for this book to help people. And it will.
I know that thousands of people will be diagnosed with celiac this summer because this book has been published. And I’m thrilled.
I’m often asked why I don’t have more dairy-free recipes on my site. The answer? I can eat dairy. This site is a personal record of the food we have eaten and loved, the meals that spawned stories we’ll be telling for years. Sometimes they are dairy free. Sometimes we eat ice cream. Now that Babycakes has come along, I’m thrilled that I have a baking book I trust to recommend to those folks who wish I wouldn’t eat dairy.
I love Babycakes, the bakery. I went there in February of 2006, a joyous trip just before I met Danny for the first time. At the time, I wrote: “Babycakes is simply the best little bakery I have ever stood inside.” I still stand by that.
Here’s what part of what I wrote:
“The morning I was in Babycakes was magic. After a brittle cold winter week, we had a warm Saturday morning. Everyone who walked into the bakery began smiling. I have to say, though, I’m sure that the enveloping smell of warm chocolate cake and tart lemon cupcakes mingling in the air enticed the smiles to emerge. Everything smelled wholesome and decadent at the same time.
We ordered a chocolate chip cookie and two cupcakes. Somehow, we resisted the gooey chocolate cake resting on the top of the counter. I had to take a photograph and let that take the place of throwing my mouth down and gobbling it all up in one bite. I restrained myself. But it smelled that good.
My friends and I walked out of the store, and into the sunlight. We took photographs on the sidewalk and laughed at ourselves. We bit down into our treats and murmured about their goodness. The cookie was crisp and thin, filled with oozing chocolate. And the cupcakes? Well, since I had already been to another gluten-free bakery that morning with my friends, and I was headed for a plane that afternoon, I let Monica take them home instead of eating them on the spot.
She reported joy upon eating them.
I ate well and gluten-free in a number of places in New York during my whirlwind eating tour. But in the end, I like Babycakes best. I only wish that I lived in the neighborhood, so I could visit its warmth more often.”
Now, how could you not want a cookbook that could produce goodies that make you feel like that? Especially when it makes being gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free look so sexy and free?
Well, here’s the rub. The book is labeled gluten-free. However, about 1/3 of the recipes call for spelt flour. Spelt contains gluten. Erin McKenna, the bakery’s founder and author of the book, does not have celiac. She can eat spelt, without issue. The book is fairly clear, in the opening, about explaining the difference, and laying out (sadly) that those who have celiac simply cannot make these scones and pie crusts recipes.
For this, some gluten-free folks are calling for a boycott of the book.
Oh come on. Really?
Look, I wish that McKenna had done the work to create those recipes gluten-free. We make pie in this house all the time. It’s not hard, gluten-free. But it’s her book. And there are plenty of gluten-free delicacies in the cookbook that you will want to make, like the brownie gems.
It would have been better if the “mostly” in the sub-title had been placed in front of the gluten-free. But I can tell you this, having written a book: authors have almost no control over the subtitles of their books. (I would never have chosen mine.) That’s the marketing department. They’re the ones who pulled the switch here.
Look, this book is beautiful, luscious, and fun. And imagine if you had to be gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free? Wouldn’t you be thrilled if finally a baking book was published for you? One that makes that life seem so delicious?
We all live and eat in different ways, even all of us with celiac. None of us owns gluten-free. These books are best-sellers. Certainly, they have sold far more copies than my book has, or ever will. You’d think I’d try to dissuade you from buying them, and point out mine instead. (And I wouldn’t mind if you bought my book.) But that isn’t the point. The point is for everyone to be diagnosed, to live without the pain and suffering of celiac (or gluten intolerance) while eating gluten.
And if there are cupcakes along the way? All the better.
I’m giving away copies of both books. Let me know why you might like to read The G-Free Diet or the Babycakes book, and I’ll choose a winner at random. These books were sent to me by the publisher, and I’d like to share them with you.