Sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free? Fun-free, more like

THE GHOSTS OF gluten-free baking et al have been haunting me since that episode of Great British Bake Off a few weeks ago, when the poor souls who signed up for the competition thinking they could exorcise their inner gluttons had to half-heartedly whip up horrible things such as cakes without sugar. What kind of horrible punishment is that, I wondered. What a horrible thing to do. I’m talking about the cakes, that is, and that in some perverse culinary paradox were sort of made ‘healthier’. A sugarless cake is surely akin to a vitamin-less pear or a protein-less piece of steak. A sugarless cake is a cake deficient in fun.

This burgeoning obsession with ‘free-from’ food is driving me nuts (so I can’t guarantee I’m nut-free). While I understand there are many people in the world who do not get on with gluten, and that their substitute cakes made with ground almonds instead of flour are often really quite nice, I struggle to get my head around the idea that dismembering fundamental recipes that are accepted, tried, tested and adored for the sake of being a bit healthier is a good one.

I used to work in a pub. This pub serves sandwiches. Customers have the choice of white or wholemeal bloomer bread. One afternoon, a customer, when faced with this choice, dithered and said ‘do you have any gluten-free rye bread?’ I politely told her the obvious answer of ‘no’, at which she seemed a bit disappointed and decided to just not have anything. That night I looked up the possibility of there even being such a thing as ‘gluten-free rye bread’ and it turns out the woman was right – and there’s even gluten-free ryeless rye bread. Surely that’s just gluten-free bread? But this isn’t the worst of it. On the Internet there are more unspeakable things. In an online food forum, a woman was asking around for a recipe for a ‘gluten-free, sugar-free, low-fat cake’. Funnily enough, this does exist, actually, and it’s called an egg.

I’m convinced people have gone mad. It seems certain people think it’s acceptable to mutilate certain foods and then stitch them back up in a way that makes them feel less guilty about eating something tasty. Nigella Lawson once said she never feels guilty in taking pleasure, and I’m beginning to agree entirely with her. If you can’t enjoy a cookie because it’s got butter in it, then please do yourself the favour of having a cracker instead. That’s if you don’t mind eating gluten?

Although I’ll pass on kale chips, I’d have a superfood salad. I like healthy food. Some of these foods taste good, not forgetting the feeling of satisfaction some may get when they resist a bacon double cheeseburger in favour of say, a kiwi fruit. I like to have those sorts of foods in one corner of the fridge as much as I like to stack double cream and chocolate in the other. This is, as I think certain self-proclaimed foodies seem to have forgotten, quite the point – that the unhealthy and healthy camps are indeed just two tribes, and they aren’t meant to be fraternised and forced into forming a calorie-conscious coalition. I would never be so cruel as to deprive a cake of sugar no more than I would gratuitously drizzle a quinoa salad with melted dolcelatte. Some foods are destined to be bad for us, but that’s what’s so good about them. We’re meant to enjoy them for all their sins – well, in moderation, of course. So if you want to wave gluten, sugar and fat goodbye to be healthy, then good for you, just don’t drag naughty foods with you, because they belong with us. Take your gluten-free, sugar-free, low-fat egg and make a pitiful omelette with it.

Let’s be more like this cat. Image from rainydayproject.wordpress

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4 thoughts on “Sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free? Fun-free, more like

  1. Great post. I feel similarly about those who eat ‘notbacon’ and ‘cheez’, though I do understand that these vegan substitutes may be somewhat eaten from an ethical standpoint rather than a nutritional one (as in, not ingesting animal protein due to beliefs about the protection of animals, not because they want a ‘healthier’ option). The biggest deception within this whole ‘free from’ business is that processed products with subtracted natural sugar, fat or wheat usually have something else added (a chemical filler, artificial sweetener, another refined flour or similar) to make the item palatable. And eating that much processed, GM crap is surely worse for you than eating butter in a biscuit. I’ve got all the time in the world for people who have actual food allergies (and therefore require something gluten free to prevent serious consequences) but in terms of fad diets and ‘healthy food’ promotions? Please. Can we just eat REAL FOOD, the way that our grandparents and great grandparents used to make it? As far as I know, there wasn’t an obesity or food allergy epidemic back then.

  2. As a coeliac myself, an author of two blogs, one of which is dedicated to recipes without grain, dairy, soy and any sugar, developed for our friend who does not tolerate these products, I might surprise you by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with most of your writings. I would have put some ideas even stronger. But I also completely disagree that cakes, pastries and even bread have to be terrible. I can take any bet that cakes I can offer will beat regular cakes in taste and texture. And I use only natural ingredients, no fillers, no inferior substitutes. The point I want to make is, that gluten free diet as a necessity does not have to limit enjoyment of quality and healthy baking. With more strict limitations the challenges are serious, I will not deny it, but it is also possible to make exceptional deserts. You might be surprised.

    • I’ve actually tried first-hand some really delicious gluten-free things and wouldn’t shirk them if they were offered to me (so if you want to make me free cakes, then please go ahead!) I completely understand the challenges for people who have no choice but to live gluten-free, and while this article was rather quite tongue-in-cheek, my frustration is not with those who need to live without gluten, but with those who voluntarily commit nasty crimes against food so they don’t feel guilty about having gluten. Either way, happy baking and thanks for reading!

      • I never thought that I live to witness common sense back and read that butter is not bad, eggs are good, full fat is better than low fat with all the substitutions. So I am with you, food is fun and joy to prepare, pleasure to eat and it nourishes our body. A lot of commercially manufactured gluten free food is may be even nice in taste, but terrible in nutritional value. One might avoid gluten, but get many other problems. One thing I appreciate with all these crazy trends, that many new and interesting ingredients are easier to buy, and they are becoming less expensive.

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