It is not very often I have any thing bad to say about any part of the freefrom industry, however, very occasionally something appears that can't fail to play on my mind.
Quite a few weeks ago I felt privileged and excited when a huge box arrived from Woman and Home Eating Smart Magazine. After being sent their first issue (last year) and having a chance to give feedback I was intrigued to see how the second issue had been edited.
The letter addressed me personally and complimented my blog. It explained that the new issue was designed for people with a food intolerance, know some who does or people who are cutting out certain foods to reap the health benefits. It asked for my thoughts on the recipes and the magazine itself. It was suggested that if I wished it would be great if I would like to blog about the box and magazine including the links which you can find below.
My excitement dissolved after peering in the box and reading the covering letter. The range of brands and products were exciting, however, on closer inspection only a third of the products were both gluten and dairy free and one product contained both allergens. Some of the products were poorly labelled and I certainly wouldn't have bought them off the shelf with that little information. Instantly my guard was up and I felt uneasy about looking through a box of foods that I couldn't eat.
My email to Woman and Home Magazine took me 2 weeks to write. I am a confident blogger and love reviewing products. I always find a good word and view of the products I am sent. This time I was really struggling to put polite words in type!
"Dear Woman and Home Magazine,
I must start by thanking you for including me on your latest magazine promotion and package. I was delighted to have been able to comment on the first magazine and hopeful that a new era had dawned for allergy friendly publishing.
Sadly it has taken me two weeks to collect my thoughts on the second magazine and the gifts that were so kindly sent with it. I have been feeling utterly upset, angry, surprised and bewildered by the delivery since it arrived. I have been collecting my thoughts so I can present them to you in a constructive format.
Firstly I am flattered that you should have found my blog and included me in your marketing promotion. However, if you had read anything about me you would have known that I not only avoid gluten but also dairy, lactose and wheat from my diet. The inclusion of 7 out of 23 free products which contain, and even promote dairy in one case, is not only unsuitable and disappointing but dangerous for some people. This is potentially fatal for an allergic customer who believes them to be suitable. One product did not even have any allergy or ingredients information at all. To have products containing dairy delivered by a company proposing to be suitable for dairy free bloggers has left me feeling at best sad that I can't eat them and at worst ungrateful for not being appreciative of free products that I can't even eat!
The products included in the gift box are made by fabulous companies who have invested much time and money on their brands. To be represented badly by Woman and Home is a huge blow to all the hard work they must have already put in. It takes the shine, gloss and robustness off your publication. It has left me doubting the quality and knowledge of your researchers.
The magazine therefore starts to look as if it designed purely for the fad and trend diets market instead of helping the medically diagnosed freefrom reader. This is again implied by the name "Eating Smart". People avoiding foods for allergy or health reasons have often undergone a lengthy process and sometimes a fight for diagnosis. To imply that they are choosing to exclude food for smart reasons rather than so they do not die from anaphylaxis or inflict long term damage on their body is crass.
Many people picking up this magazine because they blog about freefrom food will already know how to make their food taste good. They will be well practiced in adapting recipes, aware of the issues surrounding making food from scratch and the problems you may encounter when using substitutes. I preume they will buy the magazine looking for recipes that will expand their repertoire and not expect to be subjected to obvious substitutes "gluten free flour" or "dairy free milk". Throughout the magazine there are inconsistencies in the terminology used for foods, i.e. unsalted butter on Fiona Cairns recipe. The use of vinegar in another recipe should make people aware of the different types of vinegar available when considering gluten contamination.
The magazine sadly gives the impression that it is easy to recreate recipes with no problems at all when omitting gluten or dairy. In many cases this is not true and you are giving people unrealistic expectations of what they can achieve. Recipes are manageable and achievable but sometimes require different techniques and ingredients to make them succeed. Surely if this was not the case then more people (including celebrity chefs) would be experts in making freefrom food.
Most of the recipes address solely gluten free or dairy free. When the two are combined the dairy free reader is given a less appealing, less "creamy" dish to consider. There appears to be a high predominance of gluten free options in the wider freefrom market and dairy free (or other allergies) are being given less attention. It would have been nice to see more focus on combined freefrom recipes without over using dairy in the gluten free recipes.
On the positive side it is fantastic to see a glossy and enticing well known publisher willing to tackle the freefrom food market. It is even more positive to see well known chefs will to contribute towards the recipes. The medical advice is technically correct and will direct the newly symptomatic and experimental patient in the right direction. I particularly enjoyed the nutritional pages focusing on individual food groups. They contained information that could help increase awareness and variety in peoples diets. Lastly the VIP focus at the back of the magazine is invaluable to the businesses published and to the reader who may not be able to learn so much about them elsewhere.
I hope you will consider my criticism with the constructive thought that I have applied to reviewing your magazine and gifts. I am always open to further discussion and would truly appreciate your comments on my concerns.
To their credit Woman and Home magazine did respond to my email (after a little prompting). They were extremely courteous and apologetic. In some areas they even admitted oversights in the way the process was carried out. It was explained that my thoughts had been passed on to the editors and researchers of the magazine. Sadly this information was only conveyed in a phone call. When asked if they could be kind enough to send a short email for this blog post Woman and Home Magazine declined and stated that they were unable to do so saying this "Unfortunately we will not be able to give an official response on this as it is not something as a company we are able to do, having checked with the various departments."
I would be interested as a blogger to know other peoples thoughts.
To find out more about the magazine for yourself:
or on Twitter:
or on Facebook
Woman and Home Magazine