Vacation, Eating and What I Learned

For those of us with Celiac and/or Food Allergies..we know how it is when any of us say that we are going on vacation.  Inevitably, we get asked two questions:

Where/who are you going with?         Where will you be able to eat?

I found myself getting so excited to be able to say that we were going to the beach with my family….the food part was not even a concern for me and I just said; “I am bringing all of my own food”. Sometimes we hear; “oh, that must be so hard”.  Actually, it is not hard! I would rather be safe and enjoy my time with my family. I don’t mind eating before we all go out somewhere…what is important is that we are all together and that is what makes me happy!  (I don’t try to bring my own food into another restaurant)

As many of you know, we (Dave and I) don’t get out of the cafe, deli and bakery very often. If we do, it had never been the two of us together at the same time!  Thanks to our wonderful staff; Susan, Jessica, Yvonne, Emily, Ryan, Alana and Dominic; we were finally able to take four days off (Mon-Thurs) of last week. Our staff safely fed our customers while we were gone. I am so grateful to them for allowing us some much needed time off.

Every year, my family gets together at the beach in Maryland and Dave’s family gets together on Lake Michigan. Two years ago, Dave went to see his family for five days and I actually made a trip to Narragansett and Newport, RI to spend time with some family there.  In five years, that has been it folks.  Thanks to the generosity of our friends Jim and Joyce; we were able to go this year because they let use their condo at the beach.

Another exciting part of this was the ability to see my sisters, brother in laws, nieces, nephews, my son, grandson and daughter in law and some close friends. Having a grandson who lives 10 miles away from the restaurant is great, however, the problem is that I have not been able to bond with him. I saw him for a few hours on Christmas Eve, drove 45 minutes to his birthday party in Feb; only to be able to stay for 30 minutes and return to work….that was it. Any other time they have to bring Cody here to see me and this environment is not conducive to bonding with a 1.5 year old.

The bottom line for me is that vacation is about being out of our normal environment…getting away from our exhausting jobs and being able to spend time with those who we choose to be with. For me it was my family and close friends. That is what I was excited about. I think our culture puts too much emphasis on food.  Eating food is just what we seem to do when we are surrounded by people.  The important part for me is the people I am with. (I brought lots of cupcakes for the big bonfire on the beach and everyone enjoyed them!)

For me these 4 days were so great; I did not turn on the TV for 3 days. I spent time with my family. I got to bond with my grandson, Cody, take him to dip his feet in the ocean, play with him in the sand and read books to him. I was able to witness what and incredible mom that my daughter-in-law Kristen is!

Mostly, I am so grateful for the great one-on-one time I got to spend with my son Mike. I was so glad that he told me that he wants my “time” and for me to be “in his and his son’s life”.  He knows very well how committed I am to what I do and he understands my passion (after all, he was one of my first employees 7.5 years ago), but he also expressed his concern over how much I work and how he feels that Dave and I are missing out on so much family time.

What is so great is that Mike share’s my work ethic and his nickname at his job is “Passion”…because he is so passionate about what he does. I found the role reversal very interesting when he used my own words back to me; “I want your time”.  That is music to a Mom’s ears!

We discussed the delicate balance that we all have to walk between personal life and our jobs. I know that I could not have done this when he was young and he said how glad he was that I was home with him when he was growing up. We discussed where I envision One Dish Cuisine Cafe, Deli and Bakery in 5 years and he was not at all surprised by my answer. Then he said he is willing to share me with all of you because he knows that we need safe places to eat. But,  he is “putting me on a time limit to get it all done”.

I better get back to work gang!

PS: No, I never felt left out while my family and friends were dining out… I never felt more included…because I was actually there with them and not hearing about their experiences from someone else!

bonfire oc 2017 9

Advertisements

Letter to American Airlines re: Food Allergy Policy

Here at One Dish Cuisine Cafe, Deli and Bakery, we have the most amazing customers! The following letter is from our young customer, Leah, who is a teenager, asking American Airlines to re-think their food allergy policy.  Leah has a peanut allergy and so does her brother. I think you all will beyond impressed with this letter and the research she did in order to write this wonderful letter!

13 March, 2017

Mr. Robert Isom, American Airlines

Dear Mr. Isom,

American Airlines is an amazing machine of prominent leadership, in charge of thousands of people per day. And leaders all over the world should continuously be in tune to human needs and safety, making sure that those they are in charge of are both safe and happy. This includes the 3 million people in the world who suffer from anaphylactic nut allergies, who put their lives and safety into your hands (Idiom?) whenever they fly American. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), “every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room” (Logos). People with food allergies live in fear of this statistic, everyday tasks made tricky. Flying is a whole other story. But American can be the airline allergic people come to, the airline they trust (Anaphora). It is American’s time to step up as a leader in the food allergy community, American’s time to save lives everyday because of positive safety measures installed for food allergies. It is American’s time, Mr. Isom. (Repetition)

Recently, there have been complaints against your airline for mishandling and lack of knowledge regarding food allergies. In a New York Times article, lawyer Mary Vargas (Ethos) states that “when [nut allergic] families request permission to pre board [and wipe their seat free of nut allergens]…they risk being taken off the flight” a negligent mark on American Airlines’ policies (Rabin 2). Not only is this bad publicity for an airline like American, and heartbreaking for those being kicked off the plane, it may be illegal. According to FARE, “American Airlines’ policy is a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act, which provides that no air carrier may discriminate against any…individual with a disability” [Logos/Ethos] (Russell 3). Since food allergies are a fatal disability under the law, American Airlines not allowing passengers to accommodate for their allergies (no “nut buffer zones”, no pre-boarding, etc) is not legal. Should American really be defined by discriminatory policies and illegal actions? (Rhetorical Question) That goes against all the excellent values of quality, dedication, and service that the airline stands for! And everytime American denies a nut allergic passenger the right to fly, or hassles them about a disability they cannot control, they not only lose a customer. They truly hurt someone, or worse, endanger their life.

Food allergies are not only tricky to manage, they are terrifying (Personification). The constant checking of the labels. The knowledge that a peanut butter sandwich is poison (Metaphor). All people with food allergies want is to feel safe, and be treated like any other person. Take it from Roseanne Bloom, a mother who was kicked off an American plane because her two sons had nut allergies. She writes, “several AA employees approached us…and told us we were not able to fly [on American]…your employees were condescending and rude…my boys felt discriminated against and were treated as if they had done something wrong…what had we done wrong?” [Pathos] (Bloom 2). What did they do wrong? (Rhetorical Question) Why should anybody be stopped because of an immune system response they cannot control? Denying nut allergic passengers the right to fly is not the answer to the problem. It hurts more than it benefits. When a young girl flies American and reports “employees were joking about her severe allergies…[being] very rude” it not only reflects negatively on the airline, it makes a disabled person feel terrible about something that they cannot control [Pathos] (Rabin 3). Food allergic people do not deserve to be treated like scum (Simile), or even worse than non allergic counterparts- it’s the opposite. They deserve to be on an airline that takes the time to care about their needs, and ensure they have a safe flight. Just like they would anyone else. Other airlines have already began to find solutions to make sure allergies are not an issue on their flight. American Airlines undoubtedly has the power and standing to follow suit. Will you take this opportunity to help the 15 million in the world with food allergies? (Logos, Rhetorical Question)

Other airlines, such as Delta and JetBlue, have already found solutions (Bandwagon) to protect those with food allergies and help them get where they need to go. In an NY Times article, Sydney Silverman reports an excellent food allergy experience with Delta Airlines- recalling “a flight attendant asking people…‘Is it o.k if I don’t serve you peanuts on the flight?’, and they all said yes” [Dialogue] (Rabin 3). The attendant also made an announcement over the intercom to say they were not serving peanuts because of an on board allergy. No passengers complained or fought the allergy- and the flight went smoothly. Meanwhile, American’s policy says ‘We are not able to provide nut buffer zones, nor are we able to allow passengers to pre board to wipe down seats’. The policy also proclaims that nuts will still be served in the midst of a food allergy. These policies must be changed as food allergies continue to rise, and more allergic passengers look for an airline to protect them in the sky. One may agree with Dr. Andrew Craig of the American Peanut Council, [Ethos] who says that “the evidence about the perceived risks of eating nuts on planes has been presented [as low]” (Craig 2). But one man’s findings do not erase the story of Alisa Gleason, who “went into anaphylactic shock on board a…flight when a woman sitting several rows in front…opened a bag of peanuts” (Wicker 2). Or the story of a young 4 yr old, when “a passenger [despite warnings] sitting several rows away…opened a bag of nuts. The girl stopped breathing but luckily survived” (Wicker 3). Those stories could have gone many different ways. They could have ended in tragedy and loss. Or they could have not happened at all, because an airline took time to secure passenger safety. There could have been buffer zones, stricter warnings for non allergic passengers on board, a no nut flight, etc. (Enumeration) Allergies are on the rise, and sufferers need someone to take the time to care and protect them. It can be you, Mr. Isom. (Direct Address) A little extra time and preparation can save a life. Your motto says you are “The World’s Greatest Flyers.” And if you care about those with food allergies, saving lives and gaining new customers everyday- you truly will be.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and hope it inspired an idea of change in American Airline’s policies of dealing with food allergies. A lot of people do not really understand food allergies, or their fatality. But American can be the ones to help them understand, through excellent policies and safety measures. Because while allergic people still struggle to fly safely, the issue of food allergies on planes remains unresolved. American can be the ones to solve it once and for all, providing a safe place for nut allergic customers. The rewards of saving lives of nut-allergic people outweigh the benefits of discriminating against them. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Leah Packer

Works Cited:

Bloom, Roseanne. “American Airlines Nut Policy.” 25 Dec. 2016. Letter.

Craig, Andrew. “Nuts on Planes.” PeanutUSA.com, 2014, http://www.peanutsusa.com/about-peanuts/health-nutrition/186-nuts-on-planes-myths-media-and-facts.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Rabin, Roni Caryn. “Travelers With Nut Allergies Clash With Airlines.” NyTimes.com, 26 Jan. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/well/family/travelers-with-nut-allergies-clash-with-airlines.html. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Russell, Ben. “WATCH LIVE:  Streaming Now: NBC 5 News logo_dfw_2x HomeNews LocalNBC 5 InvestigatesNBC 5 RespondsHealth ConnectionTexas NewsVideo Vault U.S. & WorldWeirdTraffic WeatherSportsEntertainment Few Clouds69° Connect  American Airlines Allergy Policy Discriminates: Complaint.” Nbc.com, 11 Jan. 2017, http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Allergy-Advocates-File-Complaint-Against-American-Airlines-410365005.html. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Wicker, Amy. “Flying with Nut Allergies.” AllergySafeTravel.com, Jan. 2015, allergysafetravel.com/2015/01/flying-with-nut-allergies-a-call-to-action-2/. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.

St Pat’s Day; Safe GF Beers and Food!

How do you navigate Saint Patrick’s Day with Celiac, Wheat Allergy or Milk Allergies? Well, I am gonna give you some insight and talk about the food and the beer. Yup, where do you get some safe food and the Good, the Bad and the Ugly when it comes to Gluten Free (GF) and Gluten Removed Beers!

When I remember St Paddy’s day, I think of corned beef, Irish Stew, Colcannon (Irish Potato Salad) and beer.  I have great memories of my childhood and the parties my parents would throw with our friends, neighbors, parish priests and nuns all letting their hair down to celebrate Saint Patrick; the Patron Saint of Ireland.

Who was this Saint Patrick and why do we all want to party with this guy?  Why do we have this religious and cultural celebration each year on the anniversary of his Death; March 17th?  Well, it started off as Religious Holiday in the 1600’s; a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics because it was he who brought Christianity and Catholicism to the Pagans of Ireland. It is said that he taught them about the Holy Trinity using a 3 leaf clover.

Shamrocks

I guess everyone caught onto all of the fun that the Irish were having and now this holiday is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival!  Ah, those were the days..not that I was around in AD 385-461, hanging out with St Pat, but passing on traditions is what the Irish do best. However, way back in once upon a time, time;  I could go to church, come home and celebrate and I could drink beer; real beer. Most Catholic Dioceses allow consumption of meat on Friday when the holiday falls on a Friday during Lent. The good news is that you have dispensation if you live in the Archdiocese in Baltimore or Washington, DC!  The Cardinal said…let them eat meat!

The Danger Foods on St Paddy’s Day: These memories get my mouth watering  for the real deal folks! Many don’t realize it but a whole lot of beer (Guinness) can be put into the stew and even the corned beef or something as innocent as a burger! (yes, a burger). Not to mention that the stew in mainstream places is thickened with flour too. Although, you don’t need to thicken with flour when you have potatoes in a stew.  Then there is the butter and milk in the mashed potatoes in a shepherd’s pie. Wow, talk about feeling left out. Not this year gang, you can have traditional Irish fare without sacrificing taste or getting sick! Here we go gang; first the food and then the Beer.

FOOD: We have you covered with safe food at the Cafe, Deli and Bakery; then you can pick up your safe beer on the way home!

-Traditional Irish Stew: Maureen’s recipe with Beef and Lamb and a soft roll to soak up the juice; Free of Gluten, Dairy and Top Allergens

-Traditional Reuben: Maureen’s recipe available free of all top allergens or choose real Swiss cheese.

-Irish “Cream” Whoopie Pies: Chocolate and mint “cream” filling!

irish stew 3

Beers: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

Taste Good GF Beers:  I have not had them all, so the other source is Gluten Dude!

-Pyro (Burning Brothers Brewing out of MN, co founder has Celiac)  Click Here

-Glutenberg (Quebec, Canada; owner gluten sensitive) Click Here

-Harvester Brewing (Ground Breaker Brewing out of Portland, OR) click here

Taste Bad GF Beers:

-Redbridge: I really, really, really tried to like this one back when it came out; it was my only choice and tasted like sorghum, bitter, yuck enough said! Turned m

Ugly Gluten “Removed” Beers that you should not drink if you have Celiac or Gluten Sensitivity or serious allergy to wheat or rye or barley!

-Omission

-Daura

-New Planet

I have had several gluten sensitive customers tell me that if they have 2 or more of these “Gluten Removed” beers, they get sick..so why would a person with Celiac. Gluten Sensitivity or a Food Allergy try them? It is like people knowing that “GF” Cheeri-oh-nos, as I call them, are not safe but are still eating them. Then they go to the doctor when they can’t understand why they don’t feel good and he says their celiac antibodies are high. Crazy. Here is the info you need to know about Gluten Reduced Beers and why they ARE NOT safe referencing a study done by GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group). Click Here

What does Gluten Dude have to say? Click Here

 

Gluten Free Watchdog

Many customers ask me how I learn about unsafe gluten free items so I decided to share this incredible site with you.  Gluten Free Watchdog randomly purchases and tests products for the presence of gluten.  Every week I get emails from them with test results of the products they have tested.  They test items based on what their subscribers want them to test and they test items randomly as well.

This is how I found out that GF Cheerios were not really GF. (see 2 previous blog posts)  I had heard this from many customers as well..telling me how sick they got when they tried them.  It all made sense when I read GF Watchdog’s report on them and how they are not using certified GF oats and they are not using solid testing methods to test the product.  I also learned about a Teff Flour today that is testing higher than 50ppm and it is Certified GF!

How does this happen?  How do you find out about it?

It is easy, just sign up on their website.  The cost is $5 per month and you get more than what you pay for from this invaluable service.

Click Here to Learn More

Non Hybridized Wheat and Spelt

Okay, the subject on “non hybridized wheat and spelt” comes up time and time again so I thought I would set the record straight for all of you.  I had a good laugh last week.  At first it was not funny..I was actually concerned. So here is the story and I am going to use this as a learning experience for you all.

A customer came in saying she had to eat gluten-free (GF). She went on to say that she eats healthy GF breads made with Spelt; also known as Farro or Dinkel.  She wanted to make sure my breads contained this “healthy” Spelt in them.  I think she wanted to educated me about healthy GF eating. I explained to her that we are a GF Facility and that Spelt is NOT Gluten-Free and not allowed in my facility!  She  was stunned.  We were very busy and I was going to try to talk with her further but she just walked out. Maybe she was embarrassed because her husband looked stunned when I said Spelt was not GF.

A person with Celiac Disease (CD) or Gluten Sensitivity (GS) or Wheat Allergy cannot eat Spelt and cannot eat Non Hybridized Wheat when they are traveling in Europe!  I hear so much garbage about this from customers and people on the internet.

Spelt/Farro/Dinkel is gluten. Non Hybridized ancient grains are just as toxic to a Celiac as the modern grains! PERIOD.

There are nuns in Europe producing “GF” Communion Wafers with non-hybridized wheat that they are saying is Celiac Safe.  Wrong. It is testing at 80 ppm….it is not safe folks! There is a safe GF Host out there gang. If your church won’t get it, you can choose to abstain! (I have done several posts on this)

No, I don’t take communion at church and I think GOD is okay with that decision. I could take communion and be sick for ten days and not be able to supply safe meals to those with CD and Food Allergies.  OR    I can skip communion and continue helping others suffering from CD and FA)  Mmmmm, this decision is “no brainer” for me and I don’t think there is a GOD who would hold this against me.

Eating Ancient Grains in Europe: I have heard gluten sensitive people say they went to Europe and ate “ancient non-hybridized wheat” and drank beer and they were fine. Really?  A Celiac would not do this.  So, to the GS folks who do this; maybe you just felt great because the food is so much fresher and not filled with junk and preservatives like it is here so it can sit on a shelf or a sidewalk and remain unchanged for a year!

food-festivals

Modern Wheat Breeding Does Not Contribute to Gluten Toxicity! (ie, the breeding of modern wheat is not what is causing CD or GS or allergies)

-Stay safe and don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

-Don’t believe that GF Cheerios are really GF.

-If you have CD, GS, Wheat, Rye or Barley Allergies, you should not eat Spelt,  Ancient Grains, or “GF Cheerios”. Period! (lots of posts about Cheerios on my blog)

http://naturalsciencenews.com/2016/12/13/modern-wheat-breeding-practices-do-not-contribute-to-gluten-toxicity/

Food Allergy Dad Raises Funds for Childrens National Medical Center

 

I’m so excited to support Food Allergy Dad, Mike Monroe, in his 3k Burpee Challenge. Mike always does amazing athletic challenges to raise funds for food allergies.  On Jan 25th, he will complete 3000 “Burpees” in 12 hours or less to raise funds for food allergy research at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC)! His goal is to raise $50K.  

-Why I support CNMC: We all know the feeling of being in the hospital and there is nothing safe to eat for a person with celiac or food allergies. Well, CNMC actually feeds you safely in-patient and in the cafeteria with our meals! They truly “walk the walk and talk the talk” and they showed it via the action they took 6 years ago when they put One Dish Cuisine’s food in place to meet the needs of the Celiac & Food Allergy Community! I am all about people and organizations who take action…and don’t just give lip service. Words without action are just words and don’t change anything. Actions bring change.

What is a “burpee”? If you are not a fitness enthusiast; you might be wondering.  We have provided a link below so you can see them performed by Mike.  Doing 3,000 of them is quite a challenge!  I always say, stop complaining and do something positive to fight your food allergy, celiac disease or autism.  Mike is a shining example of that.  If you don’t have the time to do actually go out and do something yourself, please consider supporting someone who is able to make the time and effort and raise funds for an important cause.

The link below is a video of Mike talking about this fundraiser and showing you what a burpee is.  click here

He has raised $21k so far! I hope you will consider a donation; click here.

To follow on Mike’s Facebook Page; click here

Visit CNMC’s Donor Drive today!

 

 

Father of 3 Food Allergy Kids Created App to Find Allergy Friendly Restaurants

AllergyEats is the leading web based guide to finding allergy-friendly restaurants nationwide. I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Antico. He shares why he founded the site and how he handles dining out with three children with multiple different food allergies and how he feels mainstream restaurants respond to food allergic diners.

What inspired you to found the AllergyEats Website?

About 10 years ago, my wife and daughter were out of town, leaving me and my 2 food-allergic boys to enjoy a “guy’s weekend.”  I wasn’t as well-practiced in managing my kids’ food allergies as I am now, though I knew how to protect them (and, of course, how to use an epinephrine auto-injector).  On Saturday night, I took the boys out to eat around 7PM (first mistake – prime time).  We went to one of our “go-to” restaurants, but the wait was 75 minutes, so we moved on.  At our second “go-to,” the wait was about an hour.  Same as our third.  We didn’t want to wait that long anywhere.  Unfortunately, I had run out of “go-to” restaurants and realized that I wasn’t terribly comfortable determining on-the-fly if a restaurant could accommodate our boys or not.  We ended up driving for about 2 hours – the boys crying in the back of the car – until we ended up at a “greasy pizza joint” that had egg-free pasta and could serve both my kids.  But as I was driving, and reflecting on the many times my family has gone an hour or two trying to find a restaurant we’d be comfortable at – be it in a big city like New York or a smaller town like Lack Placid – I kept saying to myself “I wish there was a guide! I wish there was a guide!”  Being in the business world for 15 years, at that point, I realized there was an unmet need and a market of food-allergic diners and their families that really needed such a guide.  So 2 years later, when I left my job in the financial markets, I decided it was time to start AllergyEats and fill that void.

What allergies do your children have? 

I now have 5 children, 3 of whom have food allergies.  My 19-yo son has had a tree nut allergy his whole life, experiencing 2 anaphylactic events (not including the few we didn’t understand before he was diagnosed – we got lucky!).  My 16-yo daughter has no food allergies.  My 14-yo son currently has allergies to tree nuts and sesame.  He has outgrown eggs entirely – baked and raw – and even outgrew peanuts.  He also has EoE (eosinophilic esophagitis) that reacts to dairy.  My 9-yo son has no food allergies.  And my 7-yo daughter has had an egg allergy her whole life, with – so far – no sign of outgrowing it.

What is the main goal of the AllergyEats website and app?

There are two primary goals of AllergyEats.  The most important, of course, is to provide a valuable tool to the food allergy community that hopefully makes the dining out process easier and more comfortable by providing them with crowd-sourced information showing which restaurants have been better choices than others for food-allergic diners.  The secondary goal is to reward those restaurants that make the effort to properly accommodate our community and thus incent other restaurants to take the appropriate steps themselves.

What is the biggest challenge that you see facing people with food allergies who want to dine out?

The biggest problem is accepting that there is ALWAYS risk – no restaurant is perfect (though One Dish Cuisine may cause me to re-think that) – and making the decision about whether you can accept that or not.  It’s not easy – anaphylaxis can be terrifying, even when you know you have your epinephrine with you.  Of course, you want to minimize your risk by choosing an appropriate allergy-friendly restaurant, which is where the AllergyEats app and website come in.  And, most importantly, YOU have to do your part by: a) never dining out without epinephrine, b) ALWAYS disclosing all your allergies to your server (and possibly the manager or chef), and c) visually inspecting your food as best as possible before eating it.  I’ve found that the “bad events” that happen at restaurants usually involve a breakdown of responsibility by BOTH the restaurant and the diner.  We need to take care of our end of the bargain, so those 3 points above are critical.

Are mainstream restaurants taking food allergies more seriously than they have in the past?

Absolutely.  It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore with so many restaurant diners disclosing food allergies, and even the stingiest of restaurants/chains will eventually understand the spending power of the food allergy community and those they dine with.  I find that smaller, nimble chains seem to be on the front-end of the wave.  Many independents are there too.  The laggards tend to be larger chains, though that is by no means universal.  AllergyEats publishes a list of the Top 10 Allergy-Friendly Restaurants in America each year (coming at the end of February this year), and you can see that there are large chains that do “get it”, though the average score – from AllergyEats users themselves – is generally much higher for the smaller chains.

What are the biggest obstacles a restaurant has to overcome if they want to provide allergen safe meals?

The biggest obstacle is also the simplest – commitment.  It truly is that easy.  Whether the owner of an independent restaurant or the CEO of a chain, that individual’s attitude toward accommodating food-allergic diners will set the tone for all employees.  The training is easy.  The financial burden is minimal.  The disruption to operations in making appropriate changes is almost nil.  So it all comes down to commitment.  Find me an owner who cares about food allergies and I’ll show you an allergy-friendly restaurant.  The reverse is also true.  Find me a CEO who pooh-poohs food allergies and I’ll show you a chain that isn’t safe for our community.

Is there a way for mainstream restaurants to be trained in handling food allergies?

Absolutely.  There are very basic programs online that, while they won’t make a restaurant very allergy-friendly, they will incrementally increase the knowledge of a restaurant’s staff.  But there are also bigger, all-encompassing programs as well for those restaurants that are ready to make the all-in commitment.  The one that is making the most headway is AllerTrain.  AllerTrain does on-site training and well as train-the-trainer programs for larger chains.  They are training restaurants, colleges, entertainment venues, and more.  They do have online modules as well, but the most comprehensive training is provided face-to-face, generally onsite.  Outside of AllerTrain, there are independent trainers as well.  And many restaurants develop their own programs from the knowledge or experience of key employees.

How many times a week do you dine out with your allergic children?

We don’t shy away from dining out.  When we’re home, we usually go out about once every two weeks, though about once each week in the summer.  However, we travel a lot.  We have family in 4 different cities, we like to vacation, and our kids – like so many others – are involved in a ton of activities, some of which have us doing overnight travel.  We also now have to visit our oldest son in college!  When we travel, we eat out most nights.  So I guess my best estimation is that we eat at restaurants probably 50 times a year.  We probably order in another once per week.  And while we certainly have our “go-to” restaurants at home and in some of our destinations, we do like to explore and gain some variety where possible.  So, using AllergyEats of course, we find new favorites as we go.

How do you handle vacations with three of your five children having food allergies?

We’re old pros at this!  After 19 years, we’ve developed a routine.  Really, though, we generally do not have problems dining out.  Using AllergyEats, we do our homework in advance.  Sometimes we have to take a flyer on a restaurant that’s not yet rated on AllergyEats.  Either way, we periodically come across a restaurant that we just don’t feel comfortable can keep our kids safe and we politely leave before ordering.  But that’s rare and we no longer have to search for an hour or two to find a restaurant like we used to.  We find most restaurants want to accommodate our food-allergic kids, so we just have to work with them regarding what they have, what is safe, and how to prepare it safely in the kitchen.  I’m happy to say that in all our years of travel and dining out, “the system” (the dual responsibility of the restaurant and ourselves) has only broken down once, exposing my middle son to dairy.  And the mistake was 100% on our end.  Certainly, other restaurants have made mistakes, but not without either us or them catching the errors in time.  So think about it – our family has had hundreds of meals from restaurants without a single mistake on their part that hasn’t been caught!  Of course, our epinephrine auto-injectors are with us wherever we go and we usually have some basic food like soy nut butter and crackers in our room for a quick, safe snack.

How do you educate schools to keep your children safe?

Fortunately, I haven’t had to be a pro at this.  The primary/middle school my kids have attended from age 3 through 8th grade, Inly School in Scituate, MA, is extremely allergy-friendly.  They won an award from FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network), one of the precursors to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), in 2011 for food allergy excellence.  All staff members are diligently trained and the processes and procedures in place are great.  The school has become known for this and actually brings in some students BECAUSE they are so allergy-friendly.  As the kids have moved onto High School and now College, we’ve found that these schools generally have a program and set of rules in place.  They aren’t as safe as Inly School, by any means, so our kids have to be smart about keeping their epinephrine with them, asking the right questions, taking proper precautions – basically, they have to do what they’ve learned and seen my wife and I do for all these years.  And so far, so good.

How do you handle it if there is an accident and one of your children needs to use their Epi-Pen?

Fortunately, in all these years, we have only had 2 incidents that needed an epinephrine injection.  The first was a tricky delayed onset reaction.  I say tricky because our kids react to many of their allergies without anaphylaxis, needing only Benadryl to ultimately feel better.  In this case, my oldest (with a tree nut allergy only) ate a chocolate ball at a nut-free event.  His throat started to itch, as it does when he has non-dangerous oral allergy syndrome from exposure to some fruits, but this one was a little worse.  Regardless, with us thinking the food was nut-free and the signs pointing to OAS, we went with Benadryl.  Unfortunately, the symptoms weren’t improving.  One could definitely say we should’ve used the auto-injector then (if not earlier), but we actually tried another dose of Benadryl.  Same result.  I prepared my son until he eventually made the decision for us.  “Hit me.”  Boom.  Immediately, he felt better.  (Turns out he had a biphasic reaction – a second anaphylactic event in the hospital – so we were very lucky we finally took the appropriate action.)  We believe, by the way, that the chocolate ball was cross-contamination with tree nuts.  A year later, while teaching at a farm camp, this same son thought he might have accidentally ingested something with tree nut residue in it.  He wasn’t sure, but was feeling symptoms.  Realizing how easily and quickly the epinephrine auto-injector worked the last time, he didn’t hesitate to use it himself.  In hindsight, and while we can’t be sure, I don’t think he was having an allergic reaction – I think anxiety symptoms made it hard to tell.  Yet, either way, he did the right thing.  When in doubt, use the epinephrine.  It is generally considered a very benign treatment that can rarely do any harm to you.  And do not wait as long as we did in that first event.  Anaphylaxis can spiral out of control quickly, even if delayed, and getting epinephrine in the body early is critical.

Do you blame yourself when an accident happens? What emotions do you go through?

Of course I do.  Isn’t that true when anything goes wrong with one’s kids?  In fact, forgetting food allergies for a second, I’m constantly wondering how ALL my past and current actions are affecting the lives of my kids.  (I hope that just makes me a good father and not a lunatic!)  However, I understand that I’m human and mistakes happen, so while I feel terrible and guilty, I apologize to my son or daughter and move on.  They understand that these things happen too.  It stinks, but it’s life – and we all need to accept it.

What would be the ideal dining out situation for you and your family and do you ever think you will feel totally comfortable dining anywhere.

Fortunately, we’ve had many, many very comfortable restaurant meals, but that is also a product of our long experience.  We’ve been doing this long enough to know the best questions to ask and to “read” the staff’s responses well (verbal and physical).  In the optimal case, we would find a restaurant known for their ability to accommodate food-allergic diners (yes, you know where we find them), have a conversation with the staff that shows a real proactive zeal for wanting to satisfy us, and have them proactively reaffirm all the steps they took when the bring the meal (separately or clearly marked) to our table.  That all said, we do still have some “on edge” experiences where we believe the restaurant can accommodate us, but we’re not entirely secure with their food allergy knowledge.  In those cases, we usually have to walk through their menu and their process in the kitchen step by step to ensure that – even if they don’t have broad food allergy knowledge – they will be able to make safe meals for our kids.  Our epinephrine is always with us!

Do you think the general public will ever have a thorough understanding and respect for the serious nature of food allergies?

I hope they never have to – because that would mean a cure is found before broad public acceptance has a chance to take place!  But realistically – because unfortunately we have to accept the fact that a cure is nowhere in sight – yes, I do think the general public will eventually have a healthy respect for the seriousness of food allergies, if not a broad understanding.  Let’s face it, most people in their 40’s and younger today probably know someone with food allergies.  And for the younger cohort in particular, once they actually get to know someone with food allergies, they tend to be compassionate and accept the seriousness of food allergies.  Further, recognize the surge in food allergies that has taken place in our kids over the past 20 years.  Logic would suggest that almost all people 20 years old or younger have grown up with or gotten to know friends with food allergies.  Our kids are more accepting than our older generations; thus, I think the trend is our friend and broader acceptance is taking place every day.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to widespread respect and understanding of food allergies?

Time.  The younger generation gets it, and each day they become a larger part of the population.  The older generations are also coming into contact with food-allergic individuals more and more each day, with many of them accepting it as well.  I’ve seen the acceptance improve dramatically over my family’s 19 year journey.  It will continue.

What advice can you give to parents of a child with newly diagnosed food allergies?

Do your best not to panic by recognizing that millions and millions of parents have been in your shoes.  Yes, this can be terrifying – we all love our kids more than ourselves – and it can feel overwhelming, but as you start this journey you’ll soon learn that it’s manageable, even if not always (or ever!) comfortable.  Each step has it’s challenges – shopping for safe food, eating food made by a family member or friend, dining out, starting your child in school, going on vacation, having your kids eat out with friends, eventually going to college, etc. – but you take each of these steps one at a time.  Support groups like Kids With Food Allergies Foundation (www.kidswithfoodallergies.org) can be a big help in the beginning, as can local support groups, and online forums.  Of course, finding friends and acquaintances who have been down this path can be extremely helpful as well.  Realize too that, as you proceed down this path, you need to teach your kids all along the way, preparing them for their ultimate independence.  Of course, rule #1?  Never find yourself without epinephrine nearby.

What do you see in the future for AllergyEats?

For now, our focus continues to be on attracting new visitors to our app and website, and building our database of ratings.  A lot of people in this world aren’t online raters in general (I’m one of them), but we have to impress upon these individuals that our food allergy community is all in this together and that each new rating someone adds on AllergyEats makes the app and website even more valuable for future food-allergic diners.  (And yes, I AM a rater on AllergyEats, of course.)  Like many other small businesses in the food allergy space, we’re also trying to execute a business model that can generate a profit (or at least breakeven) since we’re not a non-profit and can’t attract grants and funds in the same way.  If we’re successful in doing so, the opportunity for AllergyEats to expand both vertically and horizontally is awesome.  Our platform lends itself to many, many other options.

I am so grateful that Paul has developed this site to help us find allergy friendly dining spots. Please check out the site!  Click Here for AllergyEats website

paul-antico