I’ve known that I have Celiac disease since I was in preschool. My father didn’t find out that he had it (or what it was) until he was already an adult, so his diet suffered greatly for it until that point. Even after, during the early 2000s, gluten free foods were difficult to come by. For a lot of foods, we either had to trust salesperson’s guarantees that wereーat the best of timesーnot guaranteed, or make our own substitutes for commonplace meals. For something as simple as a cheese sandwich, we defaulted to quesadillas with corn tortillas. That’s not to say the food was bad, but it was definitely a lot less convenient than simply buying a loaf of bread. Even now, while there are numerous options for gluten free foods of decently high quality, they very frequently end up being two to three times as expensive as their standard wheat counterparts. It’s a hassle, to be sure, but I’m not here to complain about my genetics or my palette.
I’m here to complain about testing and food labels.
See, when a company makes a product that SHOULDN’T contain any ingredients that are allergens, that doesn’t actually guarantee that the people who are allergic to those things can eat them without risk. Cross contamination in the manufacturing process is a real issue, with certain prepackaged foods being made in the same facilities or even the same equipment as other products. For instance, a Lunchables pack that doesn’t have any gluten-based components isn’t able to be labelled as gluten free because the other Lunchables might have crackers or pretzels, which make other foods made using their equipment unsafe for those with gluten sensitivity or Celiac. To counteract this problem, companies will clean their equipment regularly, and then have the resulting products tested to assure that they can slap that beautiful ‘Gluten Free’ label next to the ingredients list.
Unless, you know. They don’t.
I love M&Ms. Like, a lot. They are, for those of you who are so uncultured (or have allergies of your own, I don’t wish to assume), small chocolate drops with a light but crunchy candy shell, and they are one of the greatest joys known to mankind. Growing up, they’ve been a staple of my less healthy decisions in life, a glorious default with which you can never go wrong. And MARS, the company which manufactures them, has always had a happy little label next to their ingredients assuring me that it was safe to eat them and I had nothing to worry about. Until they didn’t, which I found out about...oh, sorta now-ish? For some reason I can only infer, their testing process no longer assures that the candiesーwhich in no way, shape, or form contain anything that even resembles a grainーare gluten free, despite almost two decades of being perfectly acceptable.
Now, I realize that there are other M&M flavours which I can’t eat. Fudge M&Ms (which Kroger falsely labels as being safe on their website, by the way), Pretzel M&Ms, Crunchy M&Ms...These all make sense to me. Of course I can’t eat them, they’re filled with bread and cookies. But why is it that suddenly their normal, generic, run-of-the-mill M&Ms, which I would argue are their best kind anyway, are no longer able to be guaranteed as safe? In all likelihood, if I were to eat some, I would be fine, but now there’s doubt. In removing assurance of safety, they have made me doubt a pillar of my childhood, a precious chocolate gem encased in an inconspicuous, innocent, sugary exterior. What changed?
I want an explanation. I called MARS’ customer service line a few times, but with it being Easter and all, that was a fruitless attempt. I want resolution. I want a candy that melts in my mouth, not in my hand, but instead I face an uneasy corporation, lacking in the confidence to assure me that it’ll all be okay, only resulting in my rage, an all-encompassing flame of a thousand chocolate suns, each emblazoned with an imposing lowercase ‘m’. Am I exaggerating? Yes. Am I angry? Not really. I’m sad. I wish that food manufacturers who have established themselves as trustworthy and helpful to those with food restrictions would maintain that approach. If there’s a reason for a food that was previously labelled as being safe for consumption no longer being so, I’d at least like an explanation. Am I supposed to check every product for the rest of my life every time I make a purchase, making sure that they haven’t suddenly changed their policy with neither fanfare nor warning? Maybe I should, just to stay vigilant, but never would I have thought that such a procedure would be necessary for a simple, innocent, perfect candy. I truly wish that it wasn’t.
Now Toblerones, THEY know what’s up, lemme tell you. You know Toblerones, right?? Basically, Toblerones are-