For Marvon Pierce

GenCare Lifestyle develops gluten-free dining program for residents.

Through its Whole Life Dining program and the recent addition of gluten-free menu items, GenCare Lifestyle, a senior living company based in Seattle, is changing the way it approaches food in its six communities. FSD talked with Marvon Pierce, corporate director of culinary services, about the company’s food philosophy.

Q. What is Whole Life Dining?

A lot of retirement homes use a lot of processed, premade items, which are loaded with salt. In our Whole Life program we make pretty much everything from scratch. We are using fresh, whole and organic foods. Our goal is to keep striving for healthier things. Before the Whole Life program, we offered typical retirement food. We used a lot of premade products and used a lot of canned goods. Now we focus on various parts of diets. For example, the next thing I am looking toward is IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) because a lot of people are affected by it. We want to educate people on IBS, the foods that can irritate it and foods that can keep it under control or minimize it.

We’ve done studies to test our residents to see how their health has improved during the past four or five years. The normal stay of a resident in communities like this is between one and three years. Our residents are staying anywhere between five and six years. They stay longer because they are healthier.

Q. Why did you start offering gluten-free meals?

A lady named Cynthia Kupper, who is with the Gluten Intolerance Group, came to different functions we had in our communities. She told us about how many people have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. From there it took off. We decided that this would be something great and something that other communities weren’t doing.

Sometimes when residents come in to tour the community they ask about [gluten-free options] and we would turn them down because we weren’t offering gluten free.

Q. Are you making the gluten-free items in house?

A lot of it we make ourselves. Things like bread and cake mixes we buy from a company. Because we make all of our foods from scratch, a lot of the items we have on our menus are already gluten free, so it’s just a matter of safe practices. We are developing some gluten-free recipes. We have a special of the day and we focus on something new. Now we’re starting to make gluten-free specials.

Q. What operational changes have you made to accommodate the gluten-free items?

We want to make sure that when we’re making a gluten-free sandwich that we are keeping it away from anything that has gluten. You have to use separate cutting boards and utensils. You can’t store regular bread over your plates or cups because the smallest crumb can poison someone with gluten. So we’ve changed some of the techniques we use in the kitchen, as well as storage. Anything that is gluten free, we store above anything that has gluten. It’s like with raw meats; you store raw meats on the bottom shelf and cooked meats above.

Q. How many residents follow a gluten-free diet?

We have about five or six people. We have one building that is certified gluten free by the Gluten Intolerance Group. To become certified gluten free, you have to document all products and changes in brands to ensure they are gluten free, make gluten-free items from scratch and denote menu items that are gluten free.We hope we will bring in a whole new crowd that is gluten free. We are getting a lot of calls about it.