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My husband used to have an addiction to your Thin Mints. Admit it—you know that type of addiction adds to the funds needed to continue to support your programs. Add the inability to resist the appeal of your young saleswomen and most of us just can’t resist. It’s like cigarettes, only not nearly as bad for us—especially if we control ourselves and freeze those cookies and eat them from time to time—versus just devouring them in February after we’ve bought way too many boxes at the office!

About 4 ½ years ago my husband was diagnosed with celiac disease. That means he can’t eat products made from wheat, rye, barley, and most oats. That leaves out most traditionally made cookies, including yours. In solidarity with my husband, I don’t indulge in buying Thin Mints anymore. Do you know how guilty I feel when those little girls approach me in the grocery store parking lot?

According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, 1% or 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease, yet around 97% of those people are not yet diagnosed. However, more doctors are becoming aware of subtle symptoms at the same time the blood tests they use as a part of their diagnostic tools have become more reliable, so it’s only a matter of time before many others are diagnosed.

Food giant General Mills introduced a gluten-free version of Rice Chex in April 2008. How much easier our lives have become because finally we can buy a cereal in a non-specialty store. I’m pretty convinced that General Mills is finding this profitable because in October 2009 they followed with five more gluten-free versions of their cereals. In fact, just last month, General Mills introduced a website dedicated both to providing information on their gluten-free products and the gluten-free lifestyle. And, oh yes, those who must eat gluten-free are happy to see Betty Crocker gluten-free mixes—which can also be found in non-specialty stores. Baked desserts are not so easy to find for those who cannot eat gluten—which, of course, brings me back to your cookies.

People who have celiac disease are always looking for products they can eat, and when they find them, they are often so giddy with joy that they tell all their friends, plus they post the information in their support groups and on the Internet. The grapevine is incredibly well used among celiacs.

No doubt, right now, eating gluten-free is also a trend—or a fad—depending upon who you ask. Many people have decided that gluten isn’t really good for anyone, even if they have no physical damage from eating it. Quite a few kids with conditions such as autism and ADD are being placed on gluten-free diets, whether or not they have diagnostic reasons for giving up gluten. Many parents swear by their positive results, although, so far, publicly released studies aren’t really confirming this.

A February 2009 Jefferson Andrews article at Celiac.com reported on how the market for gluten-free products was growing, even in the midst of the recession. The article stated “Nielsen Co., reports that the gluten-free products sector increased 20% in the 12-month period ending June 14 [2009], to $1.75 billion from $1.46 billion the year before.” Not bad in a time when most business segments were losing ground.

An article posted in September 2009 (Josh Sosland) on BakingNews.Com discusses a Hartman Group study on consumer interests in gluten-free foods. Hartman’s statistic of a current 40 million or 13% interest in gluten-free products supposedly strikes terror in the grain-based food product industry, but Sosland goes on to say, with apparent relief, that Hartman does believe interest will diminish with time for the general population.

But why should the grain-based food product industry panic at all? There are many more grains involved in baking than just the traditional wheat flour. Even if interest in gluten-free foods wanes for the general population, people with celiac disease will always have to eat gluten-free.

That’s still one million people, many of whom are children. It’s hard enough to be a kid forgoing most snacks in group settings, but imagine how it must feel to be a Girl Scout during the cookie drive when she isn’t able to eat any of the cookies herself.

It seems to me that Thin Mints would be the easiest type of Girl Scout cookies to make gluten-free. The abundant chocolate coating should help the cookies remain fresh, which is often a concern with gluten-free products. Plus, freezing is a common way for gluten-free baked goods to remain fresh and many people already have great success freezing Thin Mints.

People who have celiac disease are a captive market and many of them are starved for the foods that are part of the social eating traditions in our country. Girl Scout cookies may be more American than apple pie these days. My husband didn’t eat apple pie in the first place, but Thin Mints were always a weakness for him.

So, dear Girl Scouts, wouldn’t now be a great time for you to develop a gluten-free cookie? The market is ripe—there’s a whole group of people out there hungry to support your organization through its products—if only they can. How sweet it would be to savor the satisfaction of helping a group of people who in turn can help the many girls within your organization.

Now for a message from the Girl Scouts in Nebraska–thanks to my friend Cynthe at Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska for sharing!

When you struggle with certain everyday aspects of life, it’s amazing how much relief you can find when the struggle is reduced even a little bit.

Wednesday, after I took Christiana to the doctor, we stopped by a King Soopers that we knew carried the Udi’s gluten-free blueberry muffins she likes. But this particular King Soopers, unlike those in our neighborhoods, carries a multitude of gluten-free products.

Christiana may have been sick, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the ear-to-ear grin on her face. In both the freezer section and the baking section, she encountered a multitude of the products we use—and several more we hadn’t discover yet. In the store her walk turned almost Tiggerific.

Kinnikinnick chocolate-chip muffins and frozen-waffles. Chebe breadsticks. Amy’s macaroni and cheese. A full assortment of Bob’s Red Mill products, including brownie, pancake, and chocolate chip cookie mixes. All gluten-free products in a non-specialty grocery store not too far out of the way for us.

I wondered why until I realized this was the King Soopers closest to Beau Jo’s. The shopping center at Yale and Colorado Boulevard is definitely developing into a celiac’s best friend.

What a difference from our experiences last month. The supposedly simple act of eating just got a little bit easier for our family—thanks to the businesses that cater to this growing market of people who are just as hungry—if not more sometimes—as the rest of us.

And that makes all the difference to this family.

Eating—in any place—is not easy for our family, but eating out is even more difficult. Both Sherman and Christiana have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune response to gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley, and some oats. It’s hard enough to avoid foods that you know contain gluten without adding in the factor that gluten is often used as a filler.

Celiac disease is one of those underdiagnosed diseases since only about 10% of the population exhibits the classic symptoms—you know, feeling sick to the stomach pretty quickly after eating gluten. When a person with celiac disease doesn’t follow a gluten-free diet, he or she is opening the door to much more serious diseases, such as the other autoimmune diseases or even colon cancer or lymphoma. If nothing else, people who eat gluten when they shouldn’t are prone to depression, mood changes, irritability, and attention problems.

Part of the problem in getting a diagnosis is that symptoms are so varied. Sherman was diagnosed in his mid-40s because he was rejected as a blood donor a couple times for anemia. Since anemia in men is often related to a serious health condition, like colon cancer, he was referred to his doctor. Long story, short, he was diagnosed about 3 ½ years ago. But looking back, he’s pretty sure he’s had this for much of his life (celiac disease can go into periods of remission but it never goes away for good.)

Christiana was diagnosed last year at 15—and it’s been a very long year for her. She’s had to give up many of the foods she’s loved. But sometimes the bigger factor is how little access there is to food, unless she’s at home or has really planned ahead.

What teenager wants to be at home all the time or think ahead all the time? Spontaneity is what that period of life is often about. And that includes eating with friends without planning ahead—and often without thinking about calories or any other factors. Kids share things like pizza, donuts, muffins, cookies, and cakes, often on a whim. School groups and sports teams get food together for rewards, motivation, or relaxation.

Just in the last couple weeks Christiana has had a couple of her out-to-eat options pared down. Last weekend we struck out twice. First, Deby’s Gluten-Free Bakery and Cafe had just gone to wholesale operations only. And then Noodles & Company told her that the cheese sauce she’s had on her rice noodles there includes gluten.

Just as doctors are becoming more aware of the various symptoms of celiac disease and are doing a much better job of diagnosing more individuals with the disease, we need more dining options, not fewer.

There must be business benefits to providing food for this growing market. In the past few years a Colorado restaurant, Beau Jo’s Pizza, added a gluten-free menu (thank to a partnership with Deby’s products) and draws many “mixed” families, feeding both those who need gluten-free food and those who eat from their regular menu.

So, on Saturday when once again Christiana was faced with going hungry, as another restaurant did not offer something simple like corn tortillas, we walked over to Beau Jo’s for a little comfort food. She got a huge slice of cake (made by Deby’s), which put some smiles back on her face. But it wasn’t the meal she wanted or needed—all she wanted was a quesadilla made from corn versus flour tortillas.

I do hope that the pen (keyboard!) is mightier than the sword because it’s time for me to do battle, nicely, of course, in the name of my family members and all those others who just want to be able to do something most of us take for granted.

Finding something to eat shouldn’t have to be so hard.

Today I am going with my yoga friends to celebrate the Chinese New Year—the Year of the Ox—by eating lunch at the Twin Dragon. (By the way, Twin Dragon has gluten-free offerings, too!)Chinese New Year reminds me of chi.

Years ago our business worked with a CPA—who wanted to be a healer. Talk about varying interests. Long before I knew anything about feng shui, he told me that clutter was bad chi.

I didn’t understand what chi was at the time, but I knew that clutter was no good for me. Too bad I have always been drowning in it, due to my lifelong difficulties with both knowing where to put things and when to let them go.

Chi is the life force—of the universe, people, even buildings and homes. T. Raphael Simons says, “When (Chi’s) flow (in the home) is obstructed due to clutter . . . your chi becomes obstructed, the elements in your body become unbalanced, and your health and affairs suffer.” (Feng Shui: Step by Step, Crown Trade Paperbacks: New York, 1996, p. 95.)

I keep a pile going for charity donations, but heaven knows the pile is always way too small! Last night when I received my reminder call from the charity’s pick-up service, I had two bags ready. Now seven very full bags sit on the porch.

Kids’ books. Clothes that no longer fit or never get worn. Boots. Hats. Towels from my mother’s place—like I need more towels falling out of my linen closet. But someone out there does need towels.

My bad chi may be someone else’s necessity for living through these tough times.

Sometimes the bad chi is inside us—not that I’m 100% convinced we can really blame the clutter. On the other hand, the clutter is leaving the house at the same time the story is being written down on paper and loosening its grip on a heart.

Coincidence—or not?

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