An Interview with Jeeva Anna George
You are a multidimensional personality, you are an entrepreneur, bakery specialist, diet consultant, Writer/Author. According to you, which is the main role you play and why?
I am a curious person in the sense I like to understand how things work! So, definitely the baker in me who tries to create new recipes that is definitely what is close to my heart. As a Celiac I understand the struggles of fellow Celiacs and by using my knowledge and skills if I can create foods which others can enjoy its a win for me. This is also reason why during the pandemic I started to teach baking online.
You became all of the above for some reason, would you like to share your story with our readers as I am sure, it will be an inspirational story?
It’s been long journey for me!
My childhood goal in life was to be an IAS officer. Well, inspite of being a favourite to crack it, I didn’t and then the 4th & last time I wanted to write it is when I kept falling sick.
Fast forward to 2010, I was so unwell that I quit my job and finally discovered I had Celiac Disease. I had to take time out to heal and even when I joined work back, when I had to take some emergency medical leave I was asked to leave. In the meanwhile I was cooking and baking gluten free foods for myself. I took an active interest to read everything I could find on Celiac Disease, whether it was medical journals or articles, or websites. I connected to Celiacs all over the globe. I went to stores in Bangalore and requested them if they could source gluten free ingredients for me and also whenever they needed to know more I spoke to the manager or store owner.
In 2013, when decided I might as well do something that can help me & others. I started commercially baking on a small scale, kept talking about Celiac Disease whenever I got an opportunity, my baking helped me get noticed. It created sone kind of awareness which was not there before and then people started asking me to talk and write about it. My willingness to share information and knowledge also was a reason for why I was recognized by Chefs and many in the food industry.
It has not at all been easy for me, I have spent countless hours, money, effort into all that you see me doing today. However, thanks to my family, a good support system and my faith its kept me going inspite of the numerous challenges.
At the end of day it is very important for me that whatever I do makes a difference and that is exactly why I wanted to be in the Civil Services anyway.
I would say this to summarize my answer everything I am doing today is due to a necessity or because someone requested me to help them out with something 🙂
When you came to know that you are Celiac, was your family and friends supportive? How was the reaction of society ? Were they sensitive to your needs
For family it was a relief because my symptoms finally had a reason. I am blessed to have a very supportive family..Friends were surprised there could be such problems. Society, oh well! Some were kind and empathized. Some were surprised that something like this was there and many also thought it was temporary and never took it seriously. I would say I haven’t had much trouble with family or friends but people even now, especially strangers feel its a fad diet and I doing it for losing weight! There is so much awareness from 12 years back but still so much more to happen.
You have met Higher up officials of FSSAI, what is your assessment about their understanding of this disease? Do you think Labeling laws are strict and good enough for food business operators .
I don’t think they still understand the problems we Celiacs face, sadly. Yes, we have good labelling laws but there is no accountability and that very fact makes the labelling laws ineffective. I know numerous manufacturers who never knew that they had to even list allergens or give a disclaimer about shared facilities.
There are manufacturers who happily put a gluten free label without even understanding the meaning of glutenfree. So its very clear that the labelling laws have not been clearly communicated and that companies are not held accountable if they do not declare allergens or all ingredients.
What made you think of writing the book ‘A Gluten Free Life’ My Celiac Story and how the experience as an author?
I was speaking about food & my struggles with Celiac Disease at a conference and in the audience happened to be a consulting editor who worked with Harper Collins. A month later she wrote to me and asked me if I wanted to write a book about my struggles and my journey.
That is how I came a write a book. It is really a miracle that a book deal was given to me. However,eventhough I submitted the manuscript in 2015, it was published only in 2018.
To write this book I took 1.5 years, I had to maintain a disciplined schedule and as my book has 25 recipes it meant a lot of time was spent creating those recipes as well. It wasn’t easy for me to go back in time & share many of my personal struggles but in order for developing the connect with the reader and serving the purpose of writing the book, I had to do things which weren’t emotionally a pleasant experience.
Writing a book is a lot of work and on a topic like health it is even more of a challenge as you don’t want the reader to be bored. In a world where only celebrities or movie stars are asked to write on health I still believe I am highly blessed to get this opportunity.
What advice/suggestions you will give to the Celiac community from the lessons you have learnt in your life ?
Well, one thing you have to realise is that
- Try to not to stress too much because at the end of the day it just effects us.
- Plan – Do not restrict your life because you have Celiac Disease. Instead, research and plan and live your life whether it is travel or anything else.
- Do not be hassled by people’s opinions who might think you are fussy or following a fad diet.At the end of the day no one can bear your pain. Physical pain cannot be borne by anyone else so you should do everything to make sure you are safe. Health is wealth, as cliché as it sounds, it is true.
- Be kind, clear and courteous when you are trying to communicate your dietary restrictions to chefs, managers or wait staff. Clear communication always gets through to others.
- Please also be kind when new Celiacs ask you for help or direct them to resources and people who can help.
Be kind to each other as well and support fellow Celiacs if they are trying to do something for the community.
The only way the Celiac community benefits is, if we have empathy for each other. There is always strength in numbers. For example just look at the vegan community just in a few years vegan products are flooding the market. I have seen how united they are. Their unity puts pressure on all big manufactures and it they cater to them.
One more question which came from my daughter. At what age you came to know about your celiac disease and what was your reaction to this ?
I was diagnosed at 27. Needless to say it was a little tough to grapple with it. However, since I didn’t know much about it then it wasn’t a huge shock for me. It was probably only after few months after my diagnosis the seriousness of it struck me.