Back in May, I was excited when Starbucks introduced its first-ever gluten-free baked treat, the Orange Valencia Cake. But last week, the company announced — via Twitter — that it was no longer going to carry it. Instead, gluten-intolerant people would have to make do with KIND bars, one of those fruit-and-nut snacks which, in my opinion, are neither healthy enough to justify as part of a meal nor decadent enough to qualify as a treat.
To me, it was a great disappointment. It wasn’t that I was in love with the cake. I’d been in several Starbucks locations where the cake had been taken out of its packaging and set on a cake stand in the display case, alongside the wheat-based baked goods, entirely defeating the point of it being gluten-free. But I was surprised that such a major US chain would go to the trouble of developing the treat, stocking it nationally, then just ditch it within weeks. I’m not sure what Starbucks’ message to the growing number of gluten-free consumers was supposed to be, but it certainly wasn’t that they were committed to serving us.
Triumph Dining has organized an online petition to Starbucks, designed to get the company to bring back the cake. Personally, I’m choosing to focus on shopping at places that have consistently shown an interest in serving celiacs. The recession has made me more conscious about where I spend my money. With the growing number of empty storefronts in New York City, I want to support new businesses like HealthSmart of NY, which opened in Murray Hill a couple of weeks ago and which boasts a surprisingly huge gluten-free section for a relatively small store. I also like to buy my groceries at local stores like Natural Green Market and Fairway, or national chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, all of which have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the celiac community.
My feelings about supporting businesses that serve celiacs extends to bakeries — such as Babycakes and Shabtai Gourmet — and especially to restaurants. When I’ve gone out lately, it’s mostly been to spots such as Bistango, Risotteria, GustOrganics, and Rosa Mexicano, all places with an impressive record of serving celiacs. (Rosa Mexicano doesn’t have a gluten-free menu, but over the course of many visits I’ve found them to be very celiac-aware.)
At a time when we’re all watching our budgets, I’d like to make a case for spending even more carefully. If a major corporation like Starbucks isn’t serious about serving the gluten-intolerant, I see no reason to support them. As Ethan at Gluten-Free Maps pointed out to me last week, Starbucks offers a gluten-free fair trade chocolate cake at its outlets in Great Britain. And this isn’t just about Starbucks; as Chris at Celiac Handbook has noted, McDonald’s restaurants in Finland have a gluten-free menu (as do the ones in Sweden). If these American-based companies can manage these feats overseas, they can do it here. No excuses.