Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

For quick offline reference, you can purchase Planet Lactose: The Best of the Blog as an ebook on or Almost 100,000 words on LI, allergies, milk products, milk-free products, and the genetics of intolerance, along with large helpings of the weirdness that is the Net.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Patricia Wheway: Creator of "Free From" Foods

I've written about "free from" foods before. Free-From Foods to be Less Fickle in UK, "Free From" Foods Grow in Sales, and More UK Free-From Foods Honoured.

"Free from" foods are free of ingredients like milk or wheat that can trigger allergies, lactose intolerance, celiac disease or other eating disorders. The term seems to be uniquely U.K. At least, it's not one I've seen in the U.S. and I don't remember coming across it in articles about other countries.

Another thing I didn't know was the origin of the term. It came in a dream.

But maybe I should start at the beginning.

As Simon Crompton writes for the TimesOnline, A one-woman food revolution, the free from campaign is due entirely to one woman: Patricia Wheway.

Her son, George, suffered from a long series of problems. More through trial and experimentation than doctor's awareness, she found that removing various allergens from his diet helped remove his symptoms. But finding foods that were made without dairy, wheat, or certain additives were a challenge. As I've written in those previous posts, the U.K. lagged years behind the U.S. in developing a true alternative foods market.

When nobody else has stepped up, sometimes you just have to do things yourself. When I first learned in 1978 that I was LI, only one book existed that was of any help: Isobel Sainsbury's The Milk-Free and Milk-Free Egg-Free Cookbook. She had written it because her own son - born in 1954! - was allergic to dairy and eggs and no cookbooks could be found that didn't load up the recipes with milk and eggs and she had to learn how to devise substitute recipes for herself.

I wrote my first book on LI, No Milk Today: How to Live with Lactose Intolerance, because there weren't any books on LI and I wanted to share with others the years of research I put in on my own.

Wheway's problem was slightly different: she couldn't find the products she wanted. So she wrote to the head of the largest supermarket chain in the U.K. and asked to take over. And they agreed.

Wheway trudged around every supermarket and every health store near her Surrey home, trying to find something that was safe and edible, but in vain. “I was baking gluten-free bread for him every day and preparing all his food myself,” she says. Angry at the food industry, disillusioned and worn down by George’s obsessional behaviour (he would switch lights on and off for hours), she wanted to change things. In 2001 she decided she was the person who would make the food industry change. She wrote to Tesco’s chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, with a plan for the sorts of allergy foods that any self-respecting supermarket should have on its shelves. She told them all about herself — her background in retail; her experiences with George — set out a strategy, and offered to develop the range herself.

Amazingly, Tesco said yes. Sir Terry wrote and asked her to come to see them, and then gave her a job. It ended up with Wheway introducing Tesco’s Free From range in 2002, and kick-starting a supermarket revolution with all the other leading stores following suit. She is now brand manager at Tesco, not just for Free From but also the additive-free Tesco Kids range, launched last February, and the Fairtrade range. It makes her one of the most influential voices in the UK’s biggest food store.

She gave the line of foods the name "free from" because it really did come to her in a dream. Still a great name, though.
and the response was amazing, she says. Market research indicated that customers thought it was one of the main areas where “Every little helps”, as the Tesco slogan goes. The main purchasers, she says, are people with coeliac disease (an inability to digest gluten) or intolerance to wheat or gluten. Tesco sells more than £30 million worth of the range annually and expanded it this year because of customer demand. Wheway believes that people with food allergies and intolerances are now much better catered for than the days when she was tearing out her hair.

Two other major U.K. chains, Sainsbury's (any relation to Isobel? I don't honestly know) and Morrisons, have also introduced "free from" lines.

A happy ending? You bet.
George, now 10, is happily settled at a small school for children with moderate learning disabilities, and is free from seizures, diarrhoea and hyperactivity. The family lives a short drive from Tesco’s headquarters in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and Wheway has been allowed to work part-time so that she can be with George after school. This year she won an Allergy Magazine award.

Congratulations from me as well.

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