Pioneer Power

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Pushing the frontiers of gluten-free living for over 20 years.

beth hillson gluten free pioneer

Today’s gluten-free world looks very different from the one I lived in when I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1976 and when this magazine was launched in 1998. Today, gluten-free is the hottest trend in food, reaching more than $2 billion in annual sales. Grocery shelves are lined with pasta. Frozen and fresh loaves of bread are plentiful. Pizza comes in every imaginable configuration. Safe, convenient mealtime choices are in abundance. You’d think everyone eats gluten-free!

Back when I was diagnosed, the pickings were slim. Life looked bleak with years of plain meat and baked potatoes in front of me. My only way out of this culinary abyss was to try to create delicious food without gluten. These early experiments were dry, gritty and crumbly.

When xanthan gum became available, it revolutionized my baking. A pinch added elasticity, a stretchiness that allowed me to create yeast breads, pizza and pasta that were moist and tender. Before long, I was measuring out recipes of dry ingredients for my favorite foods–bread, muffins, quick breads, pizza, brownies, cakes—so I could whip them up at a moment’s notice. I attached instructions for liquids and baking times to each bag and began sharing them with others.

These mixes became the foundation of Gluten-Free Pantry, the company I founded in 1992. People who had not had a birthday cake, yeast bread or brownie for years called to thank me. That’s how the solution to my problem became a solution for others.

beth hillson gluten free pioneer

Yes, I’m a pioneer in the gluten-free world—but you are, too. We all have new frontiers before us. We’re all working for change in our own personal way, whether it’s educating a chef so a restaurant can become a safe dining haven or contacting the Food and Drug Administration when you spot a violation in gluten-free labeling. You push boundaries when you inform a caterer of safe dietary protocol so you can enjoy your cousin’s wedding. You set a precedent when you help your child’s school understand food allergies or when you let your physician know that all first-degree relatives should be tested if someone in the family is diagnosed with celiac disease.

beth hillson gluten free pioneer

In ten years, we’ll likely have a pill to supplement the gluten-free diet and perhaps a vaccine, thanks to the hardworking researchers tackling these frontiers. We’ll likely be able to conclusively diagnose celiac disease without a biopsy and perhaps even provide gene therapy to prevent the disease from occurring. We’ll almost certainly have labeling standards for prescription medicines.

When I created Gluten-Free Pantry in 1992, I had no idea that my concept for gluten-free mixes would grow into a major company. You, too, may have no idea how life-changing your actions will become—but trust me, you are history in the making. Every time you speak up, send an email, volunteer, donate or support safe gluten-free living, you join the community of trailblazers who are making life easier for the next person diagnosed with celiac disease.

Food editor Beth Hillson is a chef and cooking instructor. She is founder of Gluten-Free Pantry, one of the first gluten-free companies in the United States, and author of Gluten-Free Makeovers and The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free (Da Capo Lifelong). Hillson sold Gluten-Free Pantry in 2005. The company’s mixes are available in grocery stores throughout the country.