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logo_12_revovlesMichelle Berriedale-Johnson the founder and Editor of FoodsMatter and the Free From Food Awards, now in their sixth year. I was lucky enough to be invited to judge some of the hundreds of products submitted. Throughout the day I was astounded at the lengths Michelle goes to, in order to improve, raise awareness of and campaign for the free from food world.

Using more than 30 years of free from food experience, including manufacturing her own products, Michelle brings knowledge, passion and rigour to the Free From Food Awards. The yellow sticker is now widely recognised for excellence and challenging the standards across the category. For more info on the winners of this years Free From Food Awards, keep watching @FFFoodAwards and their facebook page

So, I am thrilled to share with you an in-depth insight into the FoodsMatter world with Michelle.

NGF: Tell us a little about yourself. Are you or someone in your family gluten free?

No, I am afraid that I do not have any dietary issues at all!  However, my son and his father were dairy intolerant which is how, way back in the late 1980s when my son was a baby, I got involved in what were then call ‘special diets‘. Because I was already a professional ‘foodie’ I was horrified at the lack of alternative foods available for those on a dairy free diet. So we decide to create our own range of foods. But this was long before ‘freefrom’ had even been thought of and we couldn’t sell enough to cover the interest on the overdraft, let alone make a profit! So I took to writing about it instead.

NGF: With SO much gluten free and coeliac advice and information available, what makes Food Matters different?

Well, it appears that although there are loads of sites out there, they do not always give that much information. The reason that we set up the coeliac section of FoodsMatter as a stand alone website (http://www.coeliacsmatter.com) was that we kept getting site visitors telling us that the information that we had (articles and a large archive of research reports and studies) was so much better and more comprehensive than they had found elsewhere but it had been hard to track down as it was ‘buried’ in the depths of the FoodsMatter site.

NGF: What prompted you to launch the Free From Food Awards six years ago?

We had run monthly tasting sessions of groups of ‘freefrom’ foods – dairy-free milks, gluten-free pastas etc in our magazine. We had then published the results in a table giving details of the foods, what they were free of, what was in them, where  you could buy them, what they cost – and what they tasted like! These were always very popular and the sector seemed to be growing quite fast – so we used our tasting sessions and tables as the basis for annual awards. We had no idea what a good idea that would prove to be!!

NGF: How have the products / awards changed over the years

The products have improved dramatically in almost every way: taste and texture, nutritional profile, range, availability, innovation and price! The awards have moved along with them. The biggest recent change is the way that the main food industry has adopted freefrom – and pretty successfully too – see Warburtons and the new Heinz pasta which goes on the market at the end of the month. The other really good change is the improvement in the nutritional profile of many of the foods – particularly the supermarket own label ranges. They are still far from perfect but at least they are no longer loaded with fat, salt and sugar to replace the gluten!

NGF: Whats your advice to anyone who has just been diagnosed coeliac or gluten free?

Don’t panic! Although it may look as though there is nothing for you to eat, in fact there is lots!  I did a little blog about approaching a restricted just last week  – all about looking at what you can eat rather than what you can’t. But in practical terms – find a  decent healthfood store or on line supplier (I would always go to Goodness Foods) and check out what you can have.  However, be practical – there are certain foods that are really not likely to work gf – like croissants! – so do not depress yourself by having bad ones!

Also, very important, look at foods and dishes that are naturally gluten-free – or which use very little gluten – soups or casseroles for example – and focus on them rather than trying to create or buy foods that are heavily dependent on gluten – such as pies or pizzas. You stand far less chance or being disappointed and will therefore feel much more positive about the diet.

NGF: What does the future hold for Foods Matter and Free From Food Awards?

As a portal the FoodsMatter sites will just continue to grow and to connect to an ever wider range of information.  As for the awards – we have already linked up with FreeFrom Europe, a European trade show, this year and will hope to be working with even more companies from across Europe and the US next year – maybe a FreeFrom Food Awards Europe?…. Meanwhile, back home, in our eagerness to extend ‘freefrom’ more effectively into food service,  we are looking at, although it is only in the early planning stages as yet, launching a FreeFrom Restaurant Award for next year….!

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Many many thanks to Michelle who took time out of her hectic free from world to give us an insight into FoodMatters.com and the Free From Food Awards – for which the winners will be announced on 16th April 2013.

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