With celiac disease awareness on the rise we are all hearing about more and more gluten-free products. Now that we have so many gluten-free companies where do we go to get them? Sure, there is that little three foot area of items at the grocery store but if you are like me you look it over up and down in disappointment until you finally give in and grab something.
I am fortunate enough to live in Los Angeles where food is everywhere and celiac disease is well understood. More importantly its where Pam Mac D’s Gluten Free Market is. That’s right, a gluten-free market! A whole store dedicated to people like you and me. Gluten-free heaven, if you ask me!
So who is Pam and why did she decide to open a store with the largest selection of gluten-free items under one roof? I had a chance to talk with here and this is what she had to say:
Where were you born?
I’m an Air Force brat who was born at Lockbourne AFB, Columbus Ohio. My parents were native to Los Angeles and upon my Dad’s retirement, settled in San Pedro, proud hometown of the Port of Los Angeles. It’s safe to say I’m a “harbor chick” living in the valley.
Did you grow up with gluten in your household?
I’m a product of the 50’s, so gluten awareness as we know it today was non-existent back then. Howdy Doody and Wonder Bread all the way. When Swanson’s TV dinners came out, the moms of my generation thought it was manna from heaven.
Are you gluten-free?
Yes. Celiac caught up with me in 1997.
What problems were you having?
I had a hysterectomy in 1990 and was fine for some time. Then the lower GI started acting up with bouts of diarrhea out of the blue. Of course I was diagnosed with IBS, but my late husband was undergoing chemo and his chemo nurse said she had been reading about a “new woman’s disease” called celiac.
What changes do you see now that you have eliminated gluten from your diet?
I really enjoy not being glued to a toilet seat for a couple of hours at a time! Kidding aside, I didn’t have achy joints, chronic fatigue or some of the other problems associated with gluten intolerance.
How long have you been gluten free?
About 15 years. Many of those first years were without bread and pasta. My gastronomical life was really sad – Italian food had been my quintessential favorite!!
Do you have any other family members with celiac disease?
That’s a good question. We know that father’s pass the genes on to the daughter with a bit more regularity. Do I know for a fact my dad was celiac – no. But he was a B-52 Command Pilot, and although not particularly tall, he was a strong man. By the time he passed away his osteoporosis was so bad he barely came to my shoulder; peripheral neuropathy brought him to the point he could barely walk and in the end the fire department had to pull him off the toilet. You do the math. I think my brother probably has it as his vitamin D level is extremely low, but I can’t convince him to stop eating wheat let alone get tested. If the celiac gene doesn’t run in the family, stubbornness among our men sure does.
What inspired you to open a 100% GF store?
Most people would assume it was Celiac, but honestly, it’s not the case. I had lived GF for a long time , so it wasn’t that difficult. Although it was annoying having to drive all over once decent GF food lines became available in the US, but I had married later in life with no children to worry about, so it wasn’t a huge deal. But when I found out about the anecdotal correlation of GF and autism I really started my focus on creating something akin to what has become Pam MacD’s. I couldn’t imagine what the parents of children with autism had to go through on a daily basis with their child’s autism in terms of stress in the family, medical costs, educational expenses then, if a GF/CF diet helped, these parents were also faced with running around town like the rest of us “GFers”. It just didn’t seem right to me.
How has the public’s response been to your store?
Outstanding for the most part. I get hugged – a lot!
Do you mostly see those who are celiac, gluten sensitive, etc in your store?
You must remember that, according to studies, 20% of the population is actually gluten intolerant. Of that 20%, only 1% are Celiac. We have people coming in with conditions that are in the areas of hematology, endocrine, dermatology, neurological, autoimmune, gastro and autism. We have people who are undergoing chemo who go gf during treatment as their autoimmune systems are compromised. Plus we do help people who have allergies to wheat, corn, yeast, soy, nuts and casein. And a good number of people do come in who are “gluten lite” – they’re just trying to cut down on gluten intake. Ultimately I do suggest that if going gluten free somehow makes you feel better, GET TESTED FOR CELIAC DISEASE. I’m always on the prowl when someone brings in a young child who has been diagnosed with celiac to be sure that the parents have been tested.
What is the reaction most have when going to your store the first time?
Much like yours, Miranda. A gluten free heaven. “So, I really don’t have to read the labels?” I had one women who just walk into the market and yelled “Thank You”. My personal favorite is the parents telling their little ones that they can eat anything in the store – the kids do get wide eyed and a squeal or two can be heard.
What’s your advice for someone new to changing to a gf lifestyle?
It’s not easy. Be prepared for food culture shock. Have yourself a good old pity party. And then get on with it. Don’t complain, because it doesn’t do any good. Your friends are going to get tired of hearing about it, especially if you keep making a big deal out of it. Try to make adjustments as gracefully as possible when in public. Google the restaurant’s menu before going out with your friends so you know what you’re going to order or call the management in advance. Eat before going to a party – if you’re going to someone’s home for a full dinner, do suggest to your hostess that you can bring your own food and that you don’t want her to worry that she might inadvertently prepare something with gluten which would make you ill. If they are a true friend, they won’t be insulted – they care about your well being. Forget banquets – I end up going to a lot of them and the safest thing I can do is ask the waiter to bring me steamed vegetables – which usually makes some folks look at you as if you ordered a plate of fish eyes! You never know what mystery sauce is poured over the rubber chicken and who wants to look at a slice of chocolate cake while trying not to drool in a nostalgic stupor.
Mostly remember: Going gluten free is a hard adjustment. Don’t get freaked if you make a mistake – we all do. Even after all these years I still mess up. I’m still bad about forgetting to ask about croutons, which is pretty fundamental. Remember, your body will tell you when you do mess up, so just back track. Figure out where you went wrong and make a mental note.
It may be really challenging, but going gluten free means that you won’t suffer from mystery symptoms that sidelined you from a good, healthy life.
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You can find Pam MacD this Saturday (August 25th) at 4pm at the Sheraton Downtown Hotel( 711 South Hope Street Los Angeles, California 90017). This is an event in conjunction with the Dodger’s game at 6:10. Get your tickets here.
Miranda Jade Turbin
From our home to yours, Miranda Jade.