If you remember, I wrote about the Gluten Free Expo last month to let you know that it was coming to Toronto. A few of you have been asking me what I thought of it, so instead of answering you one at a time, I decided to write my thoughts out here. Unfortunately, I did not take any photographs, but I will do my best to not make this a boring blog – but rather one that I hope is informative and interesting.
I was extremely excited about the Expo for a few reasons – one of the main ones being that many of the online gluten free contacts that I interact with on a frequent basis would be present – this included Martin’s Marvellous Naturals (although the lady I speak to was not at this particular expo, but her colleagues were), Natura, Aidan’s and of course, the marvellous Jax from Gluten Free Ontario. It was spectacular meeting my online contacts in real life, as always, and it was spectacular seeing so many gluten free people all in one space. I felt comfortable, and among my peeps if you know what I mean!
I did disagree a bit with the location, however. It was held at the Double Tree on Dixon Road, Etobicoke, out by Pearson Airport. The location, although big enough and a well known hotel, is sort of out of the way for Torontonians. Sure, many, many, many people attended – but so many more would have if they had been somewhere within the subway’s reach. Okay Torontonians, stop the outcry, I know you can reach the hotel by bus, but it is a bus with an extra fare and takes about 1 – 2 hours to get there depending on where you are coming from in the city. In the meanwhile, it took us 20 minutes to drive on the 401. So, dear Gluten Free Expo, I know it’s more expensive, but please please please do try to be more central to the city next time!
The main thing I was looking for at the expo was for gluten free cosmetics. As you may know if you’ve been following the blog, I’ve been switching over to gluten free cosmetics recently. So far, I’ve only gotten my face cleansers, toners etc. to be gluten free. I’ll be working on my shampoos & conditioners, as well as my actual makeup soon…but more info on that when I’m a bit more into that process. Let me just say that Gluten Free Makeup Gal is extremely helpful to me at this time! There were only two cosmetic companies represented at the expo – Arbonne, and another one I didn’t even bother to take the name of. Why? Well, you see, gluten free cosmetics are an interesting thing. Many companies like to say they are gluten free without ever really looking past face-value (ha ha did you get my pun?).
What I mean is that not many of them investigate their ingredients and production lines to make sure that the cosmetics they produce are gluten free – they just don’t see “gluten-containing ingredients” in their ingredient list and assume it is. Not many account for testing or cross contamination even. I would explain further, but the Gluten Free Makeup Gal has done that quite well for me in her guest post a few weeks ago about gluten free cosmetics. Let me just put it this way. If I go to a cosmetic rep and ask “how do you test for gluten” and I get replies like “Well we only test on third parties and never test on animals…” and when pressed “well if you go on the website…” and then finally “well I don’t actually know…” or “well shea butter is naturally gluten free so you don’t have to worry about it”, then I walk away – because I may as well just jump into a grocery store and ask the teenager stocking the shelves. Go read the post about gluten free cosmetics. You’ll understand why this annoys me so much – and if you’re looking for gluten free cosmetics – asking about testing and cross contamination and pressing the questions past the comfortable stage is key. After all, if you went to a restaurant and they said “well it was grown next to a field of wheat but the product itself is naturally gluten free” would you eat it? hmmmmmmmm??!!
Anyways, that was my rant about the cosmetics, my other rant about the show was that some of the vendors WERE NOT GLUTEN FREE. No doubt they thought they were, but in reality, they either had trace amounts of gluten in their products, or did not realize that they have gluten in their product (I’m trying to throw them a bone – if they knew they had gluten in their product they would not be in a gluten free expo…would they? you never know with corporations I guess…). I know one lady whose daughter got glutenated before she even finished half the show – and then I was sick all night and (weirdly enough) my non-gluten-intolerant (or maybe I should clarify – my gluten tolerant) husband also go sick. Something in one (some?) of the samples was not gluten free and possibly not fresh/good in the first place. I don’t know which product, I just know SOMETHING made us sick – and yes my hubby had more samples than I did.
No, the expo was not a complete waste – I know I complain but there were good things. For me, the expo did not hold much from a gluten-free education point of view. There were a few things that made me go “reallly?!” and prompt me into further research, but for the most part, I knew the products and the companies, and I knew what they were trying to tell me about being gluten-free and healthy eating for the gluten-intolerant. I believe that the expo is an excellent introduction to products for the newly gluten-free who are still in the “OMG I can’t eat anything!!!” stage. Most of the products were there and most were giving samples, allowing you to try the product instead of hitting and missing at the grocery store. If you’re in this stage of gluten-free-ness, it is an excellent way to learn about new products.
I just wish there were more savoury options – as always, I notice most “gluten-free” options are sweet – brownies, fruit and nut bars, cakes…there was one place that was giving away yummy gluten free chicken noodle soup, but it was a restaurant (weirdly enough a crepe restaurant giving away soup?), a stall giving away gluten free paella and one with microwaveable gluten free mac and cheese. Otherwise the only other savoury options were breads, pizza crusts and cereals. Maybe that’s just a gluten free thing – any of the “substitute” foods tend to be starchy and/or sweet? It would be great if more companies would concentrate on substitutes for the things we truly miss – like chicken noodle soup or “on-the-road” snacks that are not laden with sweet stuff (be it natural or not).
In the end I believe the fair was quite well done, but I also believe that in order to avoid many of the mistakes that occurred this year, the organisers of the Gluten Free Expo need to find a way to screen their vendors a little better – perhaps get in touch with gluten free bloggers such as Simply Gluten Free, the Gluten Free Makeup Gal, Jax from Gluten Free Ontario, among so many others – and get them to form some sort of committee that would examine each product/vendor and make sure it is safe – after all, the people who have gotten sick this year will be very wary next year. We all thought it was “safe”, even though our instincts were screaming otherwise, and it ended up not being safe. The whole purpose of the expo is just that isn’t it? A safe and educational place for the gluten free to fearlessly learn about the new lifestyle they are undergoing (whether by choice or not) and to be comfortable within the community of others like them.
So would I go again? Probably, but I would be a lot more wary about what I eat, when I eat and how I choose what to eat while there – in other words, I’ll be as careful as if I’m in a non-gluten-free area.
If you are new to the gluten free lifestyle, it is a good place to learn. If you are seasoned and want to get a bit more information out of the reps about a certain product, it is a good place to do that and if nothing else, it’s a good day out with the family. Who knows? I may join the blogger booth next time, so come on over and say hi if I do!
Hope this was helpful!