Monday, September 6, 2010

Wisconsin Bakery promotes smiles and less tears

I don't even live remotely close to Wisconsin but this article makes me happy. The article not only touches on and explains all aspects of a gf life style (negative emotions, costs of food, struggles, feelings of 'loss', lack of awareness about the disease etc.) but also shows the positive impact that a single store can have on those who are Gluten Free. I hope more stores will realize that they can turn tears to smiles!

Nothing compares to walking into a store that has unexpected gluten free treats, especially baked goods, so I couldn't imagine stepping into an entirely GF bakery where there are no limitations!

‘Treat’ing Silly Yak disease

Madison bakery bakes up gluten-free good time

“It makes me cry,” she said, her eyes betraying her composure and filling with nearly transparent tears.

Surrounded by racks of fresh bread loaves, a cozy confectionary perfume and heavy metal rock playing loudly as the soundtrack, Holly Beach, owner and founder of the Silly Yak Bakery, is dedicated to the science and responsibility of gluten-free baking.

But it’s not the baking itself that truly makes her emotional, or the fact that on Tuesdays her day begins at midnight and ends at 9 a.m., it’s the reactions she witnesses whenever people discover the bakery, a haven of gluten-free goodies.

Beach previously owned the adjacent Bread Barn and began experimenting with gluten-free baking in 2002 after realizing how hard it was for those burdened by Celiac Disease (say it with us, “silly-yak”) to enjoy gluten-free baked goods, or food at all. Since opening Silly Yak and building her own gluten-free certified kitchen in 2009, Beach has encountered the candid emotion of CD.

“When I see little kids come in [to the bakery] and cry when they see the cupcakes they’ve never been able to eat, that always makes me emotional,” Beach said.

But why all the tears?

CD is a genetically inherited disorder that causes irregularity in the digestive system. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, when people with CD eat anything containing gluten, the body releases an autoimmune toxin causing damage to the small intestine and preventing gluten from being absorbed within the body. It is a type of condition not ever truly “healed” in a patient’s lifetime, but if a controlled gluten-free diet is followed, the intestinal lining will repair and symptoms can be almost entirely normalized.

The ingestion of gluten can result in an astounding array of possible symptoms, of which a victim of the disease might have all or just one, depending on the individual. These range from abdominal pain, constipation and vomiting, to short stature, unexplained weight loss, tooth discoloration and depression, according to Google Health.

While CD is not ordinarily fatal if diagnosed early and treated properly, it is a life-altering and undoubtedly discouraging condition — there are even celiac support groups so those with the disease may battle dietary obstacles together.

Part of the trouble with CD resides in its inconspicuous nature. Until a number of medical studies from within this past decade were published, Celiac Disease had been severely under-diagnosed. This meant that many victims — who continually puzzled doctors with their broad spectrum of seemingly unrelated symptoms — were untreated and unaware that their illness could be improved solely by removing certain foods from their diet.

Most unfortunate for those with CD, the lack of notoriety of their condition makes safe gluten-free food harder to come by and more costly. And in recent years, eating gluten-free has transformed into somewhat of a desperate diet craze, something that is both erroneous and exasperating to those coping with CD.

“I want people to realize this is not a diet fad,” Beach says. “It frustrates me when people see eating gluten-free as a way to lose weight.”

What some dieters don’t realize is that removing the gluten from foods simply removes the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, not the fat or calories.

Along with the misconceptions associated with CD, the cost of purchasing gluten-free ingredients and complying with the annual rigmarole of the certification process, for Beach baking involves so much more than simply kneading yeast.

The process of obtaining the seal of approval from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization alone is several thousand dollars — a hefty expense for Beach. But the constant cleaning of blades, random loaf tests for traces of gluten and the need to build a completely separate wheat-free facility is exactly the kind of lengths Beach would go to for her Silly Yak faithful.

“I’m proud to offer people safe gluten-free food that they can enjoy without having to worry about whether it’s been contaminated,” Beach says. “I’m allowing them a peace of mind.”

But it’s not only her devoted customers who she strives to help — on the second Thursday of every month the bakery donates a portion of that day’s sales to a local charity.

“After the first few years of being in the red and finally turning over a profit, that’s when we realized we needed to give back to the community that supported us from the beginning,” Beach says. “It’s a way of saying ‘thank you’ for welcoming us and helping us stay here.”

It might be shocking to think that people as far as Chicago and even California have Silly Yak’s baked goods and dry mixes shipped to their homes, but the reality is that gluten-free edibles are not always available. Even in places where gluten-free items can sometimes be found in health food stores, high cost and low flavor are common plagues of the gluten-free diet.

Testimonials on Silly Yak’s website report that many had all but given up on the hope of eating bread or cake again, or had stopped enjoying food at all.

One person says, “I have been suffering pangs of hunger for four years (diagnosed with celiac disease) and passing a bakery shop was sheer torture since then. I have YOU to thank for my freedom.”

Others dub themselves as “broken people” since being diagnosed with the disease, and report since their first encounter with Silly Yak, their outlook on CD has received a jolt of optimism, depicting the experience of enjoying bread again as “heaven.”

This is where Silly Yak ceases to be just a bakery, but serves as a beacon for those who would otherwise face a bland menu of rice cakes, cornmeal pizza crusts and bun-less burgers.

“I’m just very grateful to be a part of my customers’ lives,” Beach says, a hint of emotion still lingering on her face, but this time with a genuine glowing grin that seems to capture her tears and drain them of all their sadness. 

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