Yesterday I mentioned how both the attendees and the presenters at the GF Culinary Summit came from points near and far, and from equally diverse food backgrounds. We were all brought together, though, by one common thread: we’re all gluten-free. But as the weekend moved along, I was continually reminded that for many, being gluten-free is just one component of a broader set of dietary restrictions. This is a topic I’ve addressed before, in a post titled Degrees of Free-dom from back in October 2008.
At the GF Culinary Summit in particular, I met folks who were not only gluten-free, but who were also… lactose-free, casein-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, and citrus-free. There were omnivores and vegetarians and vegans and adherents of the paleo diet. And surely there must have been others who I did not meet. As presenters were demonstrating a given dish, audience questions would inevitably pop up… Can I use Energ-G egg replacer? Can I substitute Smart Balance for butter? Can I use almond milk in place of cow’s milk and cream?
Now that Kelli and I are gluten-free bloggers AND cookbook coauthors, I look at those degrees of free-dom through a slightly different lens than when I originally wrote about it in October. I’ve always had a level of understanding with and empathy for people with multiple degrees of free-dom because I’m one of them. Gluten is my dominant food no-no, but there are others, such as grapefruit. But now, the big question for us is: When developing new recipes, who are we developing them for, and how many dietary restrictions do we impose on ourselves in concocting recipes? The answer isn’t quite as straightforward as I might like.
On one extreme end of the spectrum, we could take into account the full set of dietary restrictions I listed above, and create recipes and dishes that would be almost universally acceptable. This approach is hampered by two challenges: 1) It is almost unimaginably restrictive in the set of ingredients that would be permitted in our “toolbox,” and 2) It would unfairly (or perhaps more accurately, unnecessarily) constrain people who don’t have such an extreme level of dietary restriction. (And indeed, I don’t know anyone who would be bound by ALL the restrictions I listed… each one of us is likely bound by a small subset of them…)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we could cater to the lowest common denominator – gluten. We could develop recipes that are gluten-free, and in this sense, they would have a different kind of universal applicability since that is the dietary restriction shared by all of us. Of course, this approach has its own pitfalls. Most notably, if you have dietary restrictions beyond simply gluten, you’re left to fend for yourself and modify the recipe in order to make it work with your particular diet.
Then there’s what I call the selfish end of the spectrum. If Kelli and I were developing recipes only for ourselves, then this is the logical route to take. In essence, we’d create recipes that adhere to my particular set of dietary restrictions. They’d work for us, and since we’re our own target audience, then it’d be a case of mission accomplished. But we don’t create recipes only for ourselves, so the selfish approach wouldn’t necessarily work because it’s…self-serving.
Lastly, there’s what I’d call the customization approach. In short, we’d customize our recipes based on the needs of the moment. We do this already when having friends over for dinner. We’ll be making a gluten-free dinner for my sake. But sometimes we’ll also have a vegetarian at the dinner table, or someone who can’t do refined, processed sugars. And so we tailor the meal to meet the needs of everyone present. We can do this on the blog to a degree, answering questions and comments and offering suggestions for modifying a recipe to suit someone’s particular needs. But a cookbook is a much more static thing, and we can’t predict who might pick up a copy off the shelf at their local bookstore.
And therein lies the rub. So what do you think? If we assume that gluten is the most frequent, common denominator, what are the most prevalent secondary dietary restrictions? Lactose? Dairy in general? Something else? And when you build a recipe, do you do it for yourself? Or for a friend or family member who has a certain set of restrictions?
These are good questions to answer, I think. As gluten-free foodies, we’re accustomed to asking others to accomodate our needs…whether a family member or friend, a restaurant, whatever. But it helps, at times, to think about the dietary needs and restrictions of others, which may be more restrictive – or simply different – than our own. And as people who do have a dietary restriction, we’re in a unique position to understand how that feels.