When someone orders from the gluten-free menu at the Melting Pot, a chain of 140 fondue restaurants, a complex safety system kicks in behind the scenes.
The server enters a "gluten-free" notice on the electronic order ticket. That alerts the chef to stop, sanitize his work station and change his gloves and apron. He prepares the plate from a separate set of food items, strategically arranged so those containing gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye and barley—can't contaminate those without. The server delivers the order on a separate tray, and the manager comes by to see if the diner has any questions.
"Educate, separate, sanitize—I pound that into our employees," says Maria Miller-Rodriguez, who trains new Melting Pot staffers in the Phoenix area in allergy awareness.
A growing number of restaurants are catering to patrons with food sensitivities. An estimated 15 million Americans—including 1 in every 13 children—have at least one food allergy, according to the Food Allergy Initiative. Another three million have celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, and millions more avoid gluten for other health reasons. Both food allergies and gluten issues are mysteriously on the rise. Some restaurants estimate that 20% of their tables have a person with a special dietary need. [more . . .]
Matt Ridley writes in this weekend's Wall Street Journal: (my emphases)
[...] Another person who spotted the importance of micronutrients a long time ago is a Swiss geneticist, Ingo Potrykus. Realizing that insufficient calories was not the only form of malnutrition, he concluded that vitamin A deficiency, for those living on a monotonous diet of rice, was the most tractable of the big problems facing the world. He and Peter Beyer designed a new variety of rice plant that could be given away free to help the poorest people in the world.
Vitamin A deficiency affects the immune system, leading to illness and frequently to blindness. It probably causes more deaths than malaria, HIV or tuberculosis, killing as many people every single day as the Fukushima tsunami. It can be solved by eating green vegetables and meat, but for many poor Asians, who can afford only rice, that remains an impossible dream. To deal with the problem, "biofortification" with genetically modified food plants is 1/10th as costly as dietary supplements.
"Golden rice"—with two extra genes to make beta-carotene, the raw material for vitamin A—was a technical triumph, identical to ordinary rice except in color. Painstaking negotiations led to companies waiving their patent rights so the plant could be grown and regrown free by anybody.
Yet today, 14 years later, it still has not been licensed to growers anywhere in the world. The reason is regulatory red tape deliberately imposed to appease the opponents of genetic modification, which Adrian Dubock, head of the golden rice project, describes as "a witch-hunt for suspected theoretical environmental problems...[because] many activist NGOs thought that genetically engineered crops should be opposed as part of their anti-globalization agenda."
It is surprising to find that an effective solution to the problem consistently rated by experts as the poor world's highest priority has been stubbornly opposed by so many pressure groups supposedly acting on behalf of the poor.
Me: For what I think are good reasons, I've always been scared of genetically modified foods. This article, however, makes me wonder if there might be exceptions. I don't know.