Judging the 2016 FreeFrom Food Awards
by Maria McHale
It’s very hard to describe the sense of deprivation a person can feel when they are told to remove something from their diet. Cravings go into overdrive, even if you didn’t particularly like the item in question!
Such is the daily life for coeliacs (who must avoid gluten) and those who are allergic or intolerant to dairy, nuts and any of the 14 allergens which must be listed on all food packaging. It can make eating out a nightmare and a visit to someone’s house a minefield.
So hats off to Dubliner John Burke, a coeliac since childhood, and the man behind Ireland’s first FreeFrom Food Awards which aims to highlight and champion the wonderful diversity of products available to those on a restrictive diet.
As a lover of good food and a coeliac, I was very excited to be asked to judge the awards and got many envious comments from friends and colleagues about my long days of eating and tasting. However, food awards judging is no joke – if you’re tasting 23 different cakes and 26 different flavours of crisps and snacks, you need to make sure you’re giving your best and honest opinion to each and every product, and it’s quite tiring!
The hard-working team of judges included journalists, dieticians, bloggers, long-time coelics, and three UK judges, including the founder of the UK awards Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, journalist Alex Gazzola, and coeliac David Johnstone (experienced hands, as the UK awards are now in their eight year).
And boy was the food quality high! Several judges shudderingly recalled how it used to be – crumbly bread from a tin that was impossible to make a sandwich from (I was diagnosed coeliac in 2011, so never had to suffer that horror!).
Times have changed, and it’s wonderful to champion food producers who have worked to create good-quality products which taste nice and are near-perfect substitutes for the real thing. Winning one of the gold, silver and bronze awards up for grabs might make all the difference to their business growth, not to mention that they have made life a lot more bearable for people on restrictive diets.
My lips are sealed on the winners, but all will be revealed on 9th June, when the awards dinner takes place at the Mansion House in Dublin. To find out more about the Free From Food Awards, visit www.fffa.ie and you can check out all the behind-the-scenes action over on the FreeFrom Awards Facebook page.