Dieting is, generally speaking, a choice. Which diet a person chooses is, generally speaking, also a choice: People swear by every diet in the book, and, as every body is different, that only makes sense. The only exception is the gluten-free diet, which, for those suffering from celiac or gluten intolerance, is a necessity. That’s hard enough for adults—difficulty going out, difficulty eating with friends and family—but when kids discover that they have to go gluten-free, it’s even worse: school cafeterias are generally not set up for those who can’t eat gluten, and kids can’t necessarily do their own research, shopping, pantry organizing, or cooking. It’s a tough way to grow up, but there are programs out there to help kids handle it. WholeFoods got to talk to Chris Rich, vice president of marketing and development at Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), at Expo West about Generation GF and gluten-free summer camps—programs that, according to Rich, “Provide a place for kids to be kids.”
Rich—and, more recently, his son Cameron—have written blogs at WholeFoodsMagazine.com regarding the experiences of having a kid with celiac and being a kid growing up with celiac disease. In Cameron’s blog, he wrote that Generation GF allowed him to meet kids and teens with celiac or gluten intolerance, and that the Generation GF Teen & Family Summit last year got him started thinking about college and living in a location where he would have to watch every bite. He noted, though, that he was lucky enough as a kid to have parents who went gluten-free with him so he could eat with them and avoid cross-contamination.
That’s the reality, Rich noted, for most gluten-free kids. “At home, at school, they’re not always allowed to be kids and stop thinking about their food.” And it’s the reality that GIG is trying to change: “At the Summit, at these camps, you have kids saying—‘This is the first time I’ve been able to share a plate of fries with my friends.’ It’s the first time kids are allowed to be kids without being different, without have a separate meal, without being othered. They came to the Summit and didn’t want to leave.”
Often, people will accept bad situations, because they don’t think they can change it. Gluten-free food is a little more expensive, a little harder to make, and it’s different, so it’s easy to accept that, well, maybe those who are unable to eat gluten will just have a tough time with life. Generation GF, however, doesn’t see why kids should have to accept that.
“We’re trying to teach kids to be their own advocates,” Rich said. “To speak up, get together, and share their experiences. And it works! We’ve had kids go home and start their own Generation GF group. We’re starting a mentorship program to provide role models for the kids and the parents; it’ll give kids people to look up to and give teens and adults a place in the community.”
He noted that GIG provides scholarships for kids who can’t afford to go to a gluten-free camp, and that they’re always looking for sponsors who can help get kids to these summer camps. As to why businesses should help send kids to summer camps? Well, aside from “These kids are future consumers,” Rich said. “One day, they’re going to be buying their own food and cooking their own meals.”