When you walk in, the lights blaze, and the buzz hits your ears: echoing feet, echoing voices, gluten-free chatter and the in-flux of attendees. It's a battle for attention. It's an all-out mix of national brands and local start-ups. It's a blend of the whole food, local-and-sustainable mindset and the faux-gluten mimicry of large-scale gluten-free conglomerates like Udi's.
But it's all gluten-free; and it's all celiac safe -- and the floor is packed both days.
This is the Gluten Free Allergen Free Expo in Chicago that I attended this year as a featured blogger.
Why Expo-it? Simple: For exposure. Living with Celiac Disease is not a do-it-alone equation. The best part of expos isn't the food -- it's the community.
Without more ado, here are the highlights from Chicago, which showcased those local and organic, small-business powerhouses right alongside the large-scale brands.
And this Expo had some seriously keen local (and semi-local) standouts.
Here are the stand-outs and shout-outs from
C.J., Tumbling Gluten Free!
Being "nice" to your guts sounds like a good idea to me. It did to Kate and Jesse too. Thus, they founded Nicer Foods, and the Nice Bar. These toothsome bars are low FODMAP (often a good way to start healing a damaged gut), have a nice sweet stick to them, and are great take-em-alongs. I especially like their business: being of service, creating a bar not just to sell, but to heal.
|NOW's Banana Bread -- ooee:|
texture-and-taste-lovely. But what I'm most excited to try are their gluten-free grains, including quinoa, amaranth, etc. It's the simple things that make for the spice of life in the end; and simple quality
|The QUINOA: seed, not grain,|
all the colors!
CANYON GLUTEN FREE
Got bagels? Canyon Bakehouse does got the bagels now. They lost their samples too fast to believe at the expo. But I just got a package of the EVERYTHING Bagels and PLAIN Bagels, and though Wheat's End Cafe has made the best in-cafe bagel I've had yet, CB may have just made a seriously stable, chewy, packaged bagel -- gluten-free. Is that worth a shout-out? Yes. Yes it is.
Then there is the real local scene.
Then there's the opportunity to eat fresh, local, and revel in the abundance of a community that has learned to embrace Celiac Disease -- no, to embrace treating the treatment of Celiac Disease like it is possible and normal.
WHEAT'S END CAFE and SWEET ALI'S made my stay in Chicago -- they made the weekend.
When you've got Celiac Disease, you often feel like you have to make excuses. I eat gluten-free food. But gluten-free shouldn't have to be a qualifier or discount on my life, or food. It certainly wasn't and isn't in Chicago because of these two stellar operations.
Wheat's End Cafe and Ali's both are local purveyors of gluten-free provender that knock the discount out of the pitch and off the deep end.
Highlighting the strengths of ancient (gluten-free) grains, and simple quick-breads, Wheat's End makes artisan baked goods that shine. They also have a store-front cafe that serves a full brunch. If you ever feel like a second-class citizen, or like you need to define your food by the tag gluten-free, stop right now and try Wheat's End. They make the best bagels this side of New York, waffles, english muffins, and not only can you walk in like any other bloke off the street and order a full meal, without ever grilling the kitchen staff on "safe-practices," you can enjoy it without tasting sawdust. Wheat's End is also organic and local-sourced, and everything is prepped on a made-to-order basis in the cafe.
(Follow along on Instagram if you want to see the whole Wheat's End Menu in order!)
They even gave me a real English Muffin on-the-house at the Expo -- after I told them I'd missed out on that particular treat when getting brunch before the event that morning.
Ali's, similarly, makes cookies and cakes of exceptional variety and quality. No restriction or it's-good-but to these bakers. I loved meeting ______, and his kitchen staff -- and eating the cookie. It's enormous. And chocolate chip.
BARE BELLY ORGANICS
How about seriously small, seriously clean, entirely un-food-related excellent personal care? Bizarre as it is, not only do sunscreens and lip balms often contain cancer-causing chemicals, they get full of gluten too.
Not Bare Belly Organics. I love Autumn. She's one of a two-woman team that started this wonderful business. I'm reviewing their essential oil-based bug-spray, sunscreen, and lip balm, a line that I was extremely excited to find. Most recently, I've simply ditched using balms, sprays, or screens because I'm sick of using chemicals. But Bare Belly is entirely organic, chemical-free, and their bug spray smells like body-spray.
Look out for the full review of the sunscreen, bug spray, and lip balm -- so far, this stuff feels wonderful.
On another note -- more more edible: Check out B-Corp Certified YUM Butter. They produce, small-scale but growing, a blend of nuts and seeds that gives great taste, great nutrition -- and gives back by feeding the hungry every time you feed yourself by purchasing it.
Also, you can't get a better rep than a woman named Starlight.
Simple Mills showcased a small-biz, beautifully grain-free line of baking mixes, based on almond flour. Low sugar-to-no-sugar, 2-5 ingredients per mix tops, Simple Mills is simple -- simply gluten-free, simply grain-free, and simply well-made. I loved their Pumpkin Spice Mix.
Also, safe home-testing? NIMA might have it. Look these peeps up. They're solid, they're testing down to to 98% accuracy, and they're making it affordable and possible at the restaurant or home table for Celiacs to check for gluten-on-the-plate-or-foodstuffs.
They also have an excellent sense of humor and proportion.
Along the way, I also hit some other stand-outs:
Pascha, fair-trade, organic cacao chocolate: Simon, CEO, and the entire company support Celiac Disease Awareness, and providing good chocolate through fair business practices.
Raw Rev, woman-owned, small-biz, naturally gluten-free high protein and vegan snack and recovery bars: you can find my product review of their GLO Bar selection here!
Mamma Chia, another organic, certified B Corp company that bases its new gluten-free granola on chia. Keen Celiac-safe product, excellent crunch in the granola.
But finally, the best part of expos is the community and support. We get together to eat together because eating is an integral part of our sense of identity, and our community. We get together in expos to learn about the disease of Celiac, as well as treatment of other food-related disorders. the GFAF Expo gave a great lineup of bloggers and speakers during the show. Tiffany of Gluten Free Mom Certified, Keeley McGuire, and more! Chicago in particular though, highlighted the growth of local, sustainable, real food and small business-based resource for all of us with Celiac Disease.
It's not about the food, mates. It's about the people.
But it's wonderful to see the growth of platforms, businesses, education, and purveyors that make eating freely something you can do with an autoimmune disease like Celiac.