I recently had the opportunity and pleasure to interview the creator of one of my favorite product lines – Mary Waldner of Mary’s Gone Crackers (and Cookies and Sticks). I remember it was my other half who actually first found Mary’s years ago and brought them home. I’ll never forget it. We were having a dinner party and, at the time, there was definitely a lack of great gluten-free crackers. When I first tasted the original flavored crackers I immediately knew that the gluten-free landscape was indeed changing in a very good way. Well fast forward almost ten years and you still find them in my cupboard along with their cookies and my new favorite obsession their Sticks & Twigs (don’t miss the spicy Curry flavored – a personal favorite). I’ll have full reviews of all the Cookies and Sticks & Twigs in my product review section very soon.
Mary’s Gone Crackers started as Mary sought out gluten-free options only to find what she was looking for did not exist (both Mary and her son are gluten-intolerant). So she took matters into her own hands and, as they say, the rest is history.
As you will read in the interview below, Mary and Mary’s Gone Crackers is about so much more than just being gluten-free. It is about the larger picture of, as Mary puts it, healthful, delicious food. So, grab your favorite Mary’s Gone Crackers snack and join me as we learn more about the inspiring woman that made Celiacs across the country Go Crackers.
GFM: You created your business as a result of having to go without – something many Celiacs, particularly those of us diagnosed before gluten-free really began to mainstream understand. What was it like trying to grow a gluten-free product in a gluten-filled world?
MW: When I first developed the crackers, it was for my own dietary needs but after I watched probably hundreds of people of all ages eat them, I realized that this wasn’t just a gluten free product. While we always focus on serving our gluten free base, the crackers are so unique that we hoped that they would be a crossover product, which proved to be the case. We’ve always talked about gluten free, even when most people didn’t know what that meant. That has changed now, so it’s easier to have a conversation about gluten free now. Our focus really is on healthful, delicious food. Gluten free is just one aspect of Mary’s Gone Crackers, albeit an important one.
GFM: How do you feel the gluten-free landscape has changed since starting your company?
MW: There has obviously been a huge surge in awareness about what gluten is, how many people are adversely affected by eating it, what foods contain it. For years I would go into restaurants and ask about gluten in their food and frequently be faced with wait staff and sometimes even chefs who didn’t know what I was talking about. There are also now many new companies springing up who are offering gluten free options. In my travels I find gluten free menus frequently in all sorts of unlikely places. I’ve been gluten free since 1994, so that’s a big change. I’m still surprised, though, at how unhealthy many of the gluten free options are. Everyone seems to have focused on creating gluten free options without taking advantage of the opportunity to create more healthful food. Mary’s Gone Crackers is still unique in that way—using whole grains, whole food, organic ingredients.
GFM: You are a proponent of Conscious Eating and it is something that is clearly very important to you. Tell us more about what it means to you to be a Conscious Eater.
MW: Conscious Eating means paying attention to what you are eating on many levels: the ingredients and whether there is any nutritional value to what you are eating; where the food comes from, who grew it, how the production of that food may have impacted the environment or the people who have grown or manufactured it; if it’s animal based, how were the animals treated? It’s been within a relatively short time frame that all these issues have to be attended to. It used to be that we generally ate locally grown, organically grown food. It was the only option that was available. In a couple of generations that has all changed and most Americans are living (barely) on empty junk that is killing us. Paying attention to your body and how you feel when you eat something is another part of Conscious Eating.
GFM: Your company participates in the Non-GMO project. What made you decide to take part in this initiative?
MW: Genetically modified organisms (GMO) is another modern day horror in my view. The hype is that it will help feed our burgeoning population, but the reality is that it is a dangerous creation that is permanently affecting our planet and we know very little about the impact it is having on our health. The FDA has deemed it safe and without significant difference so it is not labeled in our country. That is not the case in Europe and other parts of the world. When people are made aware of what it is, no one wants it in their food supply. The Non-GMO project is educating the public, since our government is failing in that regard. Using Certified Organic ingredients is another way to support Non-GMO agriculture, since nothing that is organic is allowed to use GMO ingredients. Mary’s Gone Crackers uses all certified organic ingredients.
GFM: You mentioned that it was after a trip to the Caribbean that you really felt your crackers needed to be mass produced so I’m guessing we both share a love of travel. I often take along what I like to call a gluten-free contingency pack of safe snacks and items. What would we find in yours?
MW: Always my crackers, pretzels (Sticks & Twigs) and usually some cookies now as well. It’s great that I don’t have to bake everything myself anymore! I also like to bring some super foods like chia seeds and other green powders like chlorella, so I can supplement my meals. Sometimes eating out for days on end is not the best nutritionally.
GFM: What would be your top three tips for traveling gluten-free?
MW: Before you leave, do an online search of the area you are going to. Find some restaurants you know you’ll be able to eat at and/or find local health food stores where you can buy products that you are familiar with. Sometimes I’ll book a hotel based on its proximity to a Whole Foods or a Co-op store where I know I can get food that works for me. I’ve also learned to ask at restaurants for what I want, even if I don’t see it on the menu. For example, I like eating steamed broccoli or spinach for breakfast and I’ve learned that most decent restaurants can accommodate that request. I also ask for gluten free options, even when I know they aren’t available. It’s an educational opportunity. If I’m traveling in another country, I make sure I know how to express my need to eat gluten free in their language. I’ve been surprised how much easier it’s been to find gluten free food in other countries. I think the US is just beginning to catch up to European countries in its awareness.
GFM: What made you decide to add a cookie line extension to your product lineup?
MW: I haven’t really found that many good gluten free cookies that I want to eat. Most of them are too sweet and they aren’t organic; they are often full of ingredients that I’d rather not eat. I’ve also learned so much about more healthful ingredient options now, so I’m really excited about having made cookies that are good for you, as well as tasty. When you have to go to the trouble to make a gluten free product, I’ve found that it’s a great opportunity to start from scratch, in a way. Why use the same ingredients as everyone else is using, especially when they aren’t that great for us in the first place? Mary’s Gone Crackers love Cookies are unique in that way as well.
GFM: Of all of the Mary’s Gone Crackers products and flavors, which is your favorite?
MW: That’s a tough one—it’s like asking which of your children is your favorite. I regularly eat Onion crackers, Chipotle Tomato pretzels and all of the varieties of the cookies, depending on the day. I also use the “Just the Crumbs” (which are only available on our website) pretty regularly.
GFM: What is your favorite way to eat your crackers – is there a favorite topping or dip?
MW: I love guacamole and hummus; and goat cheese is pretty outstanding with the crackers as well. For a real treat, melt some dark chocolate and use it as a dip with the Original crackers or the Sea Salt Sticks & Twigs. Yum!
GFM: What’s next for the Mary’s product line-up? Are there any new products or flavors on the horizon?
MW: I’m always working on new products but I don’t know which will end up in the pipeline any time soon. Stay tuned!
My sincere thanks to Mary for taking the time to chat with me. Now that your appetite has likely been piqued, who wants some Crackers, Cookies, and Sticks & Twigs? How about one of every product and flavor Mary’s Gone Crackers makes? Sound good? Well, my friends, that is exactly what one lucky reader is going to get. One of every delicious product they make. All you need to do is make a comment here sharing your own travel tip or even your favorite Gone Crackers product. If you are shy, just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll make sure you are entered. I’ll pick a winner at random on 5/31. One entry per person please and limited to residents 18 and over of the Continental United States.