The story behind The Gluten Free Awards that very few people know.
I remember it like it was yesterday when my four-year-old son Jacob, now thirteen, was playing in the kiddie pool with other kids that I assumed were his age based on their height. After asking all the surrounding kids what ages
they were, I realized Jacob was significantly smaller than kids his own age. This prompted my wife and I to seek a professional opinion. After consulting with our family physician, she confirmed that Jacob had essentially stopped growing for an entire year without us realizing it. He was referred to Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Hospital in Charlotte North Carolina to discuss possible growth hormone therapy. The doctors there reviewed Jacob’s case and requested a few blood tests based on some suspicions they had.
Our cell phone service at our house was terrible so when the doctor finally called with the blood results, my wife and I ran to the front of the driveway to hear the doctor clearly. With a sporadic signal, we heard “Jacob has celiac disease.” We looked at each other as tears ran down my wife’s face. We huddled closer to the phone and asked, “what is celiac disease?”. After getting a brief description mixed with crappy cell service and happy neighbors waving as they drove by, my wife and I embraced and wept. We were told to maintain his normal diet until we could have an endoscopy and biopsy for further confirmation. Once confirmed our next visit was to a registered dietitian for guidance.
Jayme, my wife, made the appointment and called me with a weird request. “Will you meet me at the dietitian’s house for a consultation?”. I was confused when she said to go to her house. Jayme then explained that the dietician’s daughter had celiac disease too and the best way to show the new lifestyle to patients would be to dive right in. I’ll admit, it was a bit uncomfortable at first to be in a strangers’ house looking at their personal items but looking back now, I wouldn’t change it for the world. That encounter is ultimately the motivation behind The Gluten Free Awards and the associated Gluten Free Buyers Guide. We left her house with complete understanding of cross contamination, best practices and what products they personally liked and disliked. That visit was life changing and left us feeling confident as we made our way to the local health food store.
That first trip shopping took forever. Each label was read and cross checked with our list of known gluten containing suspects. It was also shocking to see the bill when it was time to pay. We had replaced our entire pantry and fridge with all products that had the “Gluten Free” label. We both worked full-time and had decent paying jobs and it still set us back financially.
We looked for support groups locally and came across a “100% Gluten-Free Picnic” in Raleigh, which was two hours away from where we lived. This was our first time meeting other people with celiac disease and we were fortunate to have met some informative people that were willing to help with the hundreds of questions we had. We were introduced to a family whose son had been recently diagnosed with celiac disease as well. His condition was much worse than Jacobs and he was almost hospitalized before finally being diagnosed. They confided in us as we shared similar stories. There were two differences that would change my life forever. The first was the fact that they didn’t have the same experience with a registered dietitian. Instead they were handed a two-page Xerox copy of “safe foods”. Second, they didn’t have the financial security to experiment with gluten free counterparts. Their first two months exposed to the gluten free life style left them extremely depressed and broke.
On our way home from that picnic, Jayme and I felt compelled to help make a difference in some way. We were determined to help that family and others being diagnosed with this disease. Up until that day, we hadn’t found a resource that gave unbiased opinions on gluten free products and services. Fast forward a few years and I too was diagnosed with celiac disease. That year, The Gluten Free Awards were born.
Originally our vision was to create a one-page website with a handful of categories organized by peoples’ favorites. Since 2010 we have produced The Annual Gluten Free Awards (GFA) growing into sixty gluten free categories. After several requests, in 2014, we took the GFA results and published our first Gluten Free Buyers Guide. The annual guide is sold primarily in the United States however we continue to see increased global sales. Each year we have over 3,000 people vote for their favorite gluten free products and we now communicate to nearly 20,000 people weekly through our email list and social media channels.
We want to thank those special people and organizations that brought us to where we are today:
Pat Fogarty MS, RD, LDN for allowing us to enter your home.
Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Hospital
Raleigh Celiac Support Groups
Rebecca Panuski, MD
I hope you have learned something new from the story behind The Gluten Free Awards. Today, Jacob and I continue to live a healthy gluten free lifestyle.