Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How I Feel When I See that Cheerios Commercial

D and I don't have cable, but we stream The Flash through the CW channel on our computer, and I was subjected to the gluten-free Cheerios commercial last week.  In case you haven't seen it, it's the one that opens with a little girl about to have her first bowl of Cheerios.  The assumption is that she has Celiac or is gluten intolerant and hasn't been able to eat Cheerios before due to the oats containing wheat because of cross-contamination.

I hate that commercial.

When you are told you have Celiac, the acronym BROW becomes important.  It stands for barley, rye, oats, and wheat.  Though gluten can hide behind many names, anything in the BROW category absolutely CANNOT be eaten by someone with Celiac or gluten intolerance.

Recently, the rules changed, and I am not super comfortable with it.  Oats kind of came off the unsafe list.  There are now certified gluten-free oats that have been tested for cross-contamination and passed, and then there are just plain old oats that are thought to be possibly safe if decontaminated like Cheerios claims to do.

But I don't think they are, and I have gotten pretty good at trusting my gut.

Cheerios has a special machine to remove the wheat from oats, and then they test the product (supposedly, but we'll get to that in a minute) three times before determining that they are below the 20 parts per million required to receive a gluten-free label.  Cheerios won't release their test results; we're just all supposed to believe them when they say their product is safe.

This machine is supposed to pull out the tiny pieces of grains in every tiny Cheerio, which is a lot to expect from a machine.  In fact, it may be too much to expect, because the inaugural voyage of the gluten-free Cheerios went very wrong.  It can be blamed on human error probably more than on the machine.  Over 1.8 million boxes were recalled because of cross-contamination.  The testing wasn't done.  The company admitted negligence.  (See this source for a more in depth view.)

And D had already eaten an entire box.

Luckily, his box wasn't contaminated, but it was still an unfortunate learning experience.  Wren had not been allowed to eat any because D and I fought it out in the middle of Costco a week before.  It went like this:

Me:  No.
D:  They're gluten-free.
Me: No.
D:  They're tested.
Me: No.
D:  I love cereal.
Me:  I hope it's worth killing yourself, but I don't trust these people as far as I can throw them or their box of faux gluten-free Cheerios.  So you go right ahead, but Wren is not to eat those.

My reason for doubting all of this is: 1) oats.  BROW is pretty much hammered into my brain.  I will not easily forget oats being on that devil list, and I am not putting two of my most-loved people up as guinea pigs.  Celiacs DON'T eat oats, and there's no research to show what happens if they do.  2) I had a conversation after Wren was diagnosed with a big shot from a major food manufacturing company.  I grew up on the food they produce (it's less food, more chemicals), and somehow we started talking about Celiac.  This man sounded knowledgeable about Celiac and asked how many people in my house had it.  I told him, and then he asked, "So, are you all going to stop eating gluten?"  I said, "Yes, of course."  He responded by doing math on his hands showing that two pepole in the house cost him four customers (this was before the twins).  Then he nodded his head, smiled, and said the words that will forever be seared into my brain:  "Do you realize how much money our company will lose because of people like you?  I mean, our company is so pro gluten-free.  We want products your family can eat because then you will all eat them.  We have no interest in going broke."

I was naive then, not quite the person I am now who trusts very few companies and believes a money trail leads to most motives.  This was my first experience having my husband and daughter broken down to dollar signs, nothing more.  I realized cutting corners on testing and flat out lying were not beyond the man standing in front of me.  He's the one who said money was his motive.  This company didn't want to help D and Wren; it wanted to use them.  I won't ever forget what it felt like to hear that.

I'm not saying that is Cheerios' motive for becoming gluten-free.  All I know is they are doing a crappy job of producing gluten-free Cheerios, so maybe they should just stick to making regular Cheerios instead of misleading people who can't eat gluten.  I don't think they'd go broke.

And I'm not stupid enough to believe that just because a company is small that they are more trustworthy.  I just generally trust companies more if they have been doing gluten-free for years, even before it was popular, or companies who will pay the extra money to be certified gluten-free (and recalls happen within those environments, as well.  The lack of transparency from Cheerios since the beginning just really rubbed me the wrong way).

So when I see that Cheerios commercial, I pop off sarcastic comments like, "Hope you have the activated charcoal ready", or  D and I yell at the TV, "Don't eat it, little girl!"  Eating Cheerios is not the single most normalizing experience of a child's life, though this commercial makes you think it is.  It's great marketing, but it's not reality.

This isn't a Cheerios' specific problem.  With the rise of gluten-free products over the last five years, it's both exciting and terrifying to eat.  We make a lot of phone calls (okay, I make a lot of phone calls) and grill manufacturers until they want to cry.  It's my job.  And still, I don't always know who to believe.

There are many benefits to gluten-free going mainstream, but it's sometimes hard to know who your friends are.  Everyone wants to court the gluten-free market, but some of the people showing up for the date aren't worthy.   If I think they have money on their minds more than the health of my people, they won't make it through the door.

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