About 2.5 million Americans are affected by celiac disease. It’s an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the small intestines when sufferers eat foods with gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt.
Once diagnosed, people with celiac disease must not eat any foods with gluten, which can be a challenge considering how many foods contain the protein.
“It’s in everything,” said Julia Rabinovitz, owner of Tasty Bakery, a gluten-free bakery in Ann Arbor. “It can even be in French fries and packaged shredded cheese as a coating to prevent clumping. It’s best to keep away from processed foods. Then you know what you are eating.”
Rabinovitz was diagnosed with the disease in 2007. Shortly after that, she started working on her idea to start a bakery that featured gluten-free baked goods.
“I have been baking ever since I was a kid,” said Rabinovitz.
Her bakery, which she runs out of her home, started in May 2009. She sells her baked goods at the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market with offerings that include brownies, cookies, muffins, scones, crackers and granola bars. She also makes cakes and pies for special orders.
At the market, appreciative customers who eat gluten free inquire about her baked goods. Their eyes light up when Rabinovitz tells them that they are all free of gluten.
Businesses like Rabinovitz’s Tasty Bakery can be an oasis for those on a gluten-free diet. Regulars became fans of specific items and they get upset when they are sold out. On the day she was interviewed, she sold out of brownies. But not all of her customers are gluten free.
“I really have a nice following of non gluten-free customers,” said Rabinovitz. “I have many say, ‘These are the best brownies I ever had.’”
Not all of her gluten-free baking attempts work out, however. “I tried to make gluten-free donuts last year for Hanukkah, but they did not rise,” said Rabinovitz.
Rabinovitz is a veteran of eating gluten free, but to the recently diagnosed, a gluten-free life takes some getting used to.
Mike Zinger, a Washtenaw Community College student, was in his third week trying to eat gluten free after being diagnosed. His situation is even more challenging because of where he works, Panera Bread. He also lives in an Italian home with a mom who makes his favorite meal, pasta.
“I miss pasta and pizza with friends,” said Zinger. But he is resolved to keep off gluten. “I don’t want all that work going to nothing.”
“It is like being an alcoholic and working as a bartender,” said Zinger referring to his job.
One of the biggest challenges to eating gluten free is eating out. Zinger is in a band that tours, and he is concerned about eating gluten free on the road.
“Chefs know about gluten free and they will accommodate you,” said Rabinovitz. “Ask the wait staff and they will try to work with you.”
It is common for people who are gluten-free to desire certain foods that they used to have before being diagnosed.
“Pizza and beer were the first things I wanted,” said Rabinovitz. “For most, it’s pizza. I just wanted some fish and chips.”
Luckily, several Ann Arbor restaurants offer gluten-free items and grocery stores have started to cater to gluten-free customers by providing a growing special section. Whole Foods even offers gluten-free tours of their stores to showcase the foods they offer.
“Zingerman’s Roadhouse has a fryer that is reserved for gluten-free cooking,” said Rabinovitz. “Silvio’s Pizza offers a gluten-free pizza and the Jolly Pumpkin features a gluten-free beer and a gluten-free bun options with their burgers.”
Zinger and Rabinovitz are not alone with eating gluten free. Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also eats a gluten-free diet. She was recently married and had a gluten-free, $11,000 wedding cake.
“It is kind of a blessing being gluten-free,” said Zinger. “I now have to eat healthier.”
There are challenges to eating gluten free, but artisan gluten-free bakeries like Rabinovitzs’ can make it a little easier. “You can have your (gluten-free) cake and eat it too,” said Rabinovitiz.
TASTY BAKERY’S FLOURLESS PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar, organic preferred
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon sea salt
Mix all of the ingredients together and scoop one round tablespoon per cookie on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.