As much as I enjoy calling out Big Food’s deceptive tactics and worrisome practices, I also like to recognize companies that offer real food and a refreshing “what you see is what you get” approach. Among that small group of all-stars is Mary’s Gone Crackers (apart from crackers, they also offer cookies, pretzel-sticks, and “crumbs”).
I have been a staunch fan since my first bite in 2008, and have been spreading the word about them since. Any time I have brought these to an office, meeting, or get-together, many people express curiosity and, after trying one, immediately ask, “Wow, where can I buy these?”.
While the crispy crunch, unique flavor, and dip-withstanding texture are definite pluses, my favorite aspect is the whole-food, organic, non-GMO ingredients. Did I also mention the entire Mary’s Gone Crackers product line is wheat and gluten-free?
With October being non-GMO month, I wanted to speak with creator Mary Waldner about her goals with the product line and get some insight into production and sourcing issues.
Q: Hi, Mary. Many thanks for your time. So, how did Mary’s Gone Crackers come about, and what was your main goal with the product line?
A: I developed the crackers after my own diagnosis with celiac disease. I was (and am) a healthful eater and did not like the gluten-free options available to me—nothing organic or whole food based. People ate my hand-made crackers for years and LOVED them, so I thought it would be a good idea to offer them to the public.
My husband and I started this company after the age of 50—I had a private psychotherapy practice for 26 years and he was a general contractor. It’s been an amazing journey! We have our own dedicated gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and certified organic facility in Northern California. We manufacture all of our own products and have a fabulous team of more than 100 people!
My values of offering organic, gluten-free, vegan and whole food ingredients in great-tasting food is the reason we started this company. There is still very little on the market that adheres to all of those standards. And, as we grew, our values became more clear. As the gluten-free and healthful eating consciousness has grown, our standards have become even more important to the “conscious eating” community.
Q: That commitment to gluten, vegan, and whole-food ingredients is definitely appreciated. Did you encounter any ‘surprises’ once you made the transition from a homemade product to one that was produced on a larger scale? For example, were you surprised at just how cheap it can be to make a product with GMOs and crop subsidies?
A: Generally, we do not even price ingredients that are not certified organic, but of course we know non-organic is less expensive. The ingredients we use, such as quinoa and brown rice, are (thankfully) not genetically engineered. It’s a relief not to have to worry as much about GMO contamination. I think a positive surprise for me as we grew was how our relationships with farmers grew, and how we directly support increased organic farming. Farmers are often prepared to increase their organic production if they know the demand is there.
Q: That is encouraging. For those who may not be familiar with the issue of genetic modification, can you speak to the problems with/dangers of GMOs that have led Mary’s Gone Crackers to be part of the Non-GMO project?
A: We are manipulating the genetic structure—the DNA—of plants without having any real idea of what the consequences are. No testing was done on any of these “foods” before the FDA approved them and declared them as no different from any other plant and therefore safe for consumption. Some of the tests that have been done subsequently on genetically engineered food show very disturbing results. Most European countries have banned their use or at least require clear labeling. There is a movement now in the U.S. declaring our “Right to Know” so that products containing GMO ingredients would have to be labeled as such.
People don’t realize that ALL soy, corn, and canola, unless certified organic, is GMO. Even the organic versions now are often contaminated. It’s very scary. Then there’s the theorized connection between the introduction to GMO in our food and increased food allergies in children. The truth is just beginning to emerge. We have been human guinea pigs in Monsanto’s experiment.
Q: From a production standpoint, is it challenging to create a mass-produced snack that is free of GMOs?
A: Because we are gluten-free and organic, and especially because we use ancient grains and seeds, we do not have to worry about GMO contamination. It’s another reason why using alternative (outside the mainstream of corn, wheat and soy) ingredients is so important. While we do use a small amount of wheat-free tamari in the crackers and Sea Salt Sticks & Twigs, it is certified organic, so I (and the non-GMO project) feel okay using it.
Q: I notice (and appreciate!) that the word ‘natural’ does not appear on your packaging or advertising materials. Was this a conscious choice, given the way that term is so abused and misrepresented by many Big Food companies?
A: Absolutely. We are certified organic, which has much more meaning to me. I know consumers are confused by the term “natural” and actually think it has more meaning than organic does. I want to educate people to understand that “natural” has no meaning, as well as educate them on what “organic” means for farming communities, the health of our planet, and the health of our bodies.
Many thanks to Mary for her time, and to Stephanie Castillo for helping arrange this interview.
I encourage you to show your support for this great company by following them on Twitter and/or “liking” them on Facebook. PS: the second Small Bites/Mary’s Gone Crackers giveaway will take place after Thanksgiving, so if you have yet to try any of these great products, you may get your chance before the year ends!