I was looking for a gluten free pizza in Iceland. (The frozen food chain, not the country.) I was impressed when someone (I thought he was an assistant but he turned out to be security) offered me help. I said “Are the “Free From” items in a separate freezer, or are they each in their own department freezer?” but he had no idea what a “free from” section might be, so I said I was looking for Gluten Free pizza, and he disappeared into the back of the shop. After a long wait, during which I virtually basketed several boxes of biscuits and mince pies (not gluten free) and a four pack of Babycham, he came out and said “there’s none in the back”. So I said “Well where can I find your gluten free items”. He said “We had some bread in last week but I don’t know if there’s any now.” “Well I meant frozen foods, but never mind” I said. So I put the virtual items back and browsed round the pizza freezers. An asistant bustled up and said “Yes we do have gluten free, look, we have biscuits.” I followed her, just to be polite. She picked up a pack of biscuits: “Oh no, they’re not gluten free, they’re sugar free. No then.” I explained I was looking for frozen pizza, that I had been on the website and Dr Oetker Ristorante do a mozzarella one. “OH we have those” she said, excitedly. “Ah,” I said, “but they are not the gluten free ones.” She said she thought it must be “something to do with the flour they use” and said that it must only be for sale on their website. I left, leaving the empty basket at the door. To myself I muttered “Should have gone to Iceland the country – they might have understood me better”
With the wide range of Gluten free items now available in major supermarkets, and the awareness of food intolerances and allergies generally, that trip to Iceland was like a step back in time, to the days when, if you wanted something made with gluten free flour, it was only available on your prescription. It was such a “rare special diet.”
Pizza is not something on a regular shopping list. I only want it for a family party, so I can look like I am having the same as everyone else, at least in the pizza area. I will forgo the samosas, spring rolls, coated chicken and spiced potato wedges. I’ll refuse the hot bread rolls and the pasta salad. I’ll not cry when the birthday cake is being handed round to everyone else but me.
I feel lucky to have been diagnosed with my coeliac condition. The gluten free diet enables me to have a decent quality of life, and it’s a lifelong diet. It’s far easier to maintain and enjoy now than it was 30 years ago.
The high price of gluten free items on the supermarket shelves is unfair. Even worse is the price pharmaceutical companies charge the NHS for (often) poorer quality products, which has resulted in the current move to discontinue prescribing to coeliacs. I am allowed 12 units a month (a small loaf is a unit. A box of flour or pasta is 2 units, and a pack of breakfast cereal 1.5 units)
As more health authorities cease to provide a gluten free prescription service, we will rely on awareness and availability in general stores more than ever. We haven’t had sweet biscuits on prescription for several years. And the pizza (bases only, and only one per month) that are prescribed are dry and not very tasty, whatever you put on them. It was after one of those cardboard experiences that the desire for a good juicy, tasty pizza (even at double the price of a normal one) led me to this store and this story in the first place.
Addendum. As a registered coeliac, I receive an annual book Eat Well, Live Well from Coeliac UK. It’s a directory of gluten free foods. It is sponsored by, amongst others, Dr Oetker Ristorante. It lists many branded products, and separate sections for supermarket own brands. Iceland is not in it. I’m not surprised!