The reality of free from living: A deconstruction of The GBBO

As my fellow GBBO lovers will know, last week saw Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood attempting to get down with specialty diets by holding a free from week on the Great British Bake Off.  I was excited to see what variations and experiments the contestants were going to try out but was instead disappointed with a rather mediocore display.  We started with a sugar free cake Signature Bake, followed by gluten-free pitta breads in the Technical and ended with a flashback to school dinners involving a dairy free Arctic Roll for the Showstopper Challenge. The turmoil in the tent caused by all of this was enough to make any viewer think that making a cake without sugar is nigh on impossible, or that strong flour is the only thing that can possibly bind pittas or maybe that homemade ice-cream without milk JUST DOESN’T WORK.  Well I am going to use the next few hundred words to try and debunk the myth of free from diets being a chore to maintain.

More and more people are choosing free from diets nowadays.  There are a variety of reasons contributing to this: increasing awareness and diagnosis of food allergies, environmental reasons, animal rights and the ‘clean eating’ movement.  I dabbled in gluten-free living a couple of years ago for personal health reasons, however my reaction to it isn’t severe enough for me to lead a totally GF lifestyle.  I have also been a vegetarian for a year and a half with various vegan phases so I’m going to be obnoxious and say I’m well equipped to discuss this issue.  There were many problems with the GBBO challenges: they failed to deal with vegan baking; substituting dairy is easy if you know how different milks and vegetable fats react and taste in cooking.  Similarly swapping sugar for agave is not rocket science and neither is swapping plain flour for gluten free flour and xanthan gum. They may be fancy ingredients but if you live a GF or SF lifestyle then you are likely to have them in the house.

So what really foiled the contestants in this nightmare of a week?

It would seem that as soon as someone who is not familiar with free from baking, or cooking for that matter, is faced with the beast itself they go into panic overdrive.  Suddenly life is a booby-trap: do apples have gluten in them? Is rice vegan?! It is this common misconception that fuels my daily rage at having to justify my lifestyle to people who don’t understand that I don’t eat meat (even though vegetarianism is lowest of the low in dietary requirement hierarchy).  Similarly, the idea that imitation food like vegetarian sausages or gluten free baking is not as good as the ‘real thing’ is ludicrous.  The foods are two different combinations of ingredients, therefore they are not the same and can each be enjoyed for their own tastes.

I’m going to admit here that I was really angry with Alvin the first round.  Ugne was being all creative with her gluten free sugar free masterpiece cake and Paul had his gorgeous icing work but Alvin got away with throwing together a pineapple upside-down cake and just substituting sugar with agave leaving him half an hour on his high stool half smug, half bricking it.  But in hindsight this is what everyone should have done. Knocking up a simple and delicious cake within the guidelines would have been a beautiful two fingers up to the people who see free from baking as some crazy difficult modern fad (sorry Mary and Paul, but I’m looking at you).  None of the recipes caught the bakers out with their lack of traditional ingredients; rather they were some quite challenging recipes.  Once the xanthan gum mystery was solved (it’s a binder for gluten free food because it tends to fall apart) the only problems seemed to be the contestants not understanding what pitta breads are and/or Arctic Rolls (side eye to Mat’s confusion between an Arctic and a Swiss Roll here feat. smirk regarding Alvin being convinced that pitta breads are triangular).

So the next time your free from friend (everyone has one) is being forced to justify their diet or accused of being some kind of fad diet nutjob, spare a thought for their tired soul who is just trying to do good by their body and the planet.

Peace out x

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