My oldest son just celebrated a birthday. Having graduated from college last May, he is now working his first real job in an office setting and living on his own. I laughed when he said, “Birthdays just aren’t as much fun when you’re a grownup.”
No matter how old you are, birthdays aren’t as much fun when you have to pass on the birthday cake, too. College Grad is allergic to dairy and eggs. Of course, there are plenty of treats he can eat, but the office is small and they are evidently unaware of the nearby allergy-friendly and vegan-friendly bakery with cupcakes like the one below.
A few years ago, for a short time, I worked in an office. I didn’t know back then that food was making me sick. I’d buy a sandwich on wheat bread or bring one from home and spend the rest of the day doubled over. Fortunately, the company allowed me to work at home often, but I became so focused on figuring out what was wrong with me, I resigned. My husband likes to say I quite my job to be a blogger.
That experience, and now having a son with allergies in the working world, has made me empathetic to those who must manage food restrictions among co-workers who don’t alway understand. Even my younger son in college experiences challenges managing his celiac disease while interning for companies. Both sons developed allergies and celiac disease as young adults, so they had to learn to speak up for themselves; a teacher or a parent wasn’t always there to ensure their food safety. Still, when you’re young and interning or starting your first job, it’s not easy to ask your manager to wipe the cookie crumbs off the counter or explain to the company CEO why you can’t eat the cheese pizza he just bought for the staff.
One of my friends, a project manager who developed anaphylactic reactions in her thirties, told me how she had to train her staff to use an epipen. Can you imagine? Who wants to stick a needle in their boss’s thigh? A man I recently met shared how uncomfortable it is to have a reaction among co-workers and be the center of attention. He worried that others would view him as weak.
Whether you’ve grown up with food restrictions or reactions are new, you must learn to speak up for yourself and be proactive in managing your dietary needs. Christina Griffin, who blogs at Bubble Girl Happily, and Alice Enevoldsen have written a terrific guide Managing Food Allergies in the Workplace. This manual is for both food-allergic folks and for their employers. FARE also has useful information.
I’ve been feeling pretty cool lately because quite a few high school and college kids following me on Instagram and Twitter.
Wait! It just dawned on me that I hide my face behind a lemon with sunglasses. So maybe the girls think I’m actually a hot hipster guy and the guys think I’m one of those size-2 cross-fit smoothie-drinking girls. But then again, if I was a size-2 cross-fit girl I wouldn’t be using a lemon’s mug shot, would I?
None the less, it sure makes me feel good when people my kids’ ages want to see the photos of food I post or the info I tweet. I was super flattered when a high school senior named Erica Brahan asked me to review an e-book she wrote called A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions: A Practical Guide to Keep from Going Crazy.
Poor Erica probably thought I’d never actually review it because I’ve been crazy busy with my social media addiction. But when I finally opened the pages of Erica’s e-book, I was hooked.
Erica has an upbeat attitude about life with multiple food restrictions, yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the very real challenges young adults like her face. While food restrictions are difficult at any age, fitting in is especially important to high school and college students. Erica writes, “When eating other than the standard American diet, teens stand out and may be labeled as different or not normal. When you don’t fit in there is typically a desire to find others like you, but there is not usually a strong and united support system for teens with food restrictions.”
To help teens deal with food allergies, celiac disease, or other special diets needed for health problems, Erica asks readers to answer probing questions such as What are my dreams? Is my current health preventing me from achieving them? She then provides concrete ways to overcome obstacles. Among topics discussed are friends who don’t understand, dating difficulties, eating in school cafeterias, and choosing colleges. Readers can also find support and encouragement from others’ stories.
While A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions is aimed at young adults, parents and other family members as well as teachers and counselors can learn from Erica’s experiences and honest writing. You can purchase her book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or from her website.
Other Resources for Teens (and Their Parents)
Erica’s blog: Edible Attitudes
Gluten Away (a teenager’s blog about celiac disease)
On Twitter: @teenallergies, @celiacteen, @coeliacteens
Please let me know about any other resources for teens and young adults.
Sitting at the hotel bar during a recent food allergy conference I was surprised–no, shocked– when two mothers of food-allergic children told me that adults shouldn’t need help coping with their allergies. They were wondering why I was at the conference. Now before you get angry, let me explain their side. They assumed all adults with food allergies had developed them as children. Hence, by adulthood, food-allergic folks should be experienced–physically and emotionally–at handling restrictions and reactions.
Imagine! I had no idea some people thought this way! Of course, I quickly took this opportunity to tell them how wrong they were.
I explained people can develop food allergies and celiac disease and other health issues requiring food restrictions at any time in life. I shared that my symptoms started in my late thirties, though it took nearly ten years to find out multiple food allergies, celiac disease, and eosinophilic esophagitis were the cause.
My kids ate everything–and I mean everything!–when they were little. Their food issues developed as teens. My oldest son realized dairy and eggs were off-limits in high school, and my youngest started showing signs of celiac disease his first year in college. I also mentioned one of my adult friends couldn’t eat dairy and gluten due to Crohn’s Disease and another developed life-threatening reactions to many foods in her thirties. Oh, and by the way, one of my favorite attendees at the conference was a spunky senior citizen with over 40 recently diagnosed food allergies and intolerances.
After we were all on our second glass of wine, I may have suggested that getting diagnosed with food allergies as an adult may actually be more difficult than being diagnosed as a child. What I was trying to say is the food-allergic adults needed the conference as much as the parents of food-allergic kids did. Figuring out all the foods containing soy, dairy, gluten and corn fell on my shoulders–I didn’t have mom and dad to guide me. My young adult sons taught themselves how to negotiate school cafeterias and participate in social activities with peers who didn’t get that food could make them horribly sick. My oldest even figured out how to eat dairy- and egg-free in Italy, the land of pizza and cheese. After years of not needing to worry about allergy-friendly menus, or planes with peanuts, or explaining to family members why they couldn’t double-dip, becoming “the weird person who can’t eat anything” is like being a foreigner in a new land–yet the doctors don’t offer any counseling.
I think the women were kind of tired of me by then. They wanted to get back to talking about preschools and camps. But this conversation opened my eyes to how some people may view adults with food allergies. Will a waiter or chef who thinks I’ve managed celiac disease all my life have a false sense of security that I know what I’m doing when ordering my food? Will my co-workers and friends not believe me when I become sick from food; after all, shouldn’t I know how to eat by now? My own mother doesn’t understand my health issues because I didn’t have food allergies as a child, so how can I expect strangers to understand?
Fortunately, there are those out there who do get it. The next few blog posts will focus on resources for teens and adults, starting with Erica Brahan’s “A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions: A Practical Guide to Keep from Going Crazy.” Gotta love the title.
Please be sure to let me know of any resources I miss. And remember, I do know how difficult a later-in-life diagnosis is–I am here to help.
Ten days ago I posted a photo on Instagram of an awesome gluten-free pizza using Udi’s Gluten-Free crust that I enjoyed at Flatiron’s American Bar and Grill in Colorado Springs. I hadn’t eaten at this restaurant for over six months because all I could ever order was salad. You all know what that’s like.
So imagine my surprise when I learned Flatiron’s now had a huge gluten-free menu that could also accommodate my dairy and soy and corn allergies. We’d just picked the College Celiac up from the airport and I was thrilled we went to Flatiron’s because he could eat safely. I even tweeted my appreciation. The restaurant is locally owned and I like to support neighborhood businesses.
— An Allergic Foodie (@anallergicfoodi) August 6, 2014
Last night I was craving that pizza. So my husband and I went to Flatiron’s and I ordered the exact pizza I ordered ten days earlier: Veggie pizza but substitute the poblano peppers and garlic for pepperoni. I clearly stated that I was celiac and needed the pizza to be as clean as possible.
The pizza arrives with cheese, which was entirely my fault. I sometimes forget pizza typically comes with cheese! I send the pizza back and the next one arrives with no cheese and no pepperoni. Overcooked, barely any sauce, it tastes awful. And I know that Udi’s Gluten-Free pizza crust tastes good when cooked correctly.
I whip out my camera and show the ten-day-old Instagram pizza photo to the manager who says matter-of-factly, “That doesn’t look like our gluten-free crust, it looks like our regular crust.”
Here’s a photo of the one I got last night. The only difference I see is this one is overcooked and lacking sauce and pepperoni.
I turn to my husband. “So I guess I can eat gluten now.” I was being sarcastic. It was late and I was hungry.
The manager says, “Maybe you’re not allergic anymore, I’ve heard that can happen.”
I just stared at my husband with my mouth wide open. Here is a manager of a restaurant with a huge gluten-free menu–they even advertise 20 percent off gluten-free items on Thursdays–who clearly has no understanding of celiac disease or a wheat allergy.
I should have said something like, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease with over 300 symptoms and it is not reversible. The only cure is to not eat gluten.” But at that point, I just wanted to go home and get in my jammies and heat up a can of soup. We left cash to cover our wines and bolted out the door.
Of course, as soon as I got home I tweeted about my bad experience.
— An Allergic Foodie (@anallergicfoodi) August 16, 2014
People jumped to my defense and were appalled by the manager’s ignorance. I just love my Twitter friends.
So here is what I woke up this morning thinking: If a restaurant is going to offer a gluten-free menu, every single employee must be educated and trained. They must understand what celiac disease and food allergies are, and why preventing cross-contamination is so important. They must understand that one wrong ingredient can be life-threatening. They must take their customers’ health concerns seriously.
Otherwise, don’t even bother offering a gluten-free or allergy-friendly menu.
I’d rather order that boring old salad than risk getting sick. I certainly don’t want my youngest son with celiac disease and my oldest with dairy and egg allergies to think they are ordering safely when they aren’t.
Ten days ago, I thought I’d re-discovered a restaurant I could eat in. Obviously I was wrong. Just because a restaurant has an extensive gluten-free menu doesn’t mean you should eat there. I’m pretty sure this restaurant, like so many others, jumped on the gluten-free diet movement to make a profit. If they are serious about serving their celiac and allergic customers, they’ll immediately remove the gluten-free menu while they get proper training for the waitstaff and the chefs and the managers. This experience makes me question every restaurant’s reason for offering gluten-free choices–unless I see a certification from a third-party or talk to a manager who clearly “gets it,” I won’t feel safe dining out.
Here’s the other thing that bothers me about this whole experience. As a blogger and social media guru, I recommended this restaurant to my celiac and food-allergic brothers and sisters. Less than two weeks after doing so, I realized this is not a safe restaurant to eat in. So should I stop reviewing restaurants and posting food photos on Instagram? I’m still trying to figure this one out.
Oh, and by the way, I did get sick the next morning–even after eating one small piece of the pizza.
Today’s the day the FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule goes into effect. Hear what those of us with celiac disease have to say about this new ruling that will impact our lives significantly. I will update this list as new blogs are posted–be sure to let me know of any you read or write.
Celiac and The Beast: Aug 5 Gluten Free Labeling Just a Start
Gluten-Free Fun: Today Is the Day: Gluten-Free Labeling Rules
Gluten Free Gigi: FDA Guidelines for Gluten-Free Labeling are Frightening for Celiacs
The Savvy Celiac: 10 Things to Know about the FDA’s Gluten-Free Labeling Rule
Simply Gluten-Free: All You Need to Know about the New Gluten-Free Labeling Rule
The Tasteful Pantry: The Tasteful Pantry’s “Gluten-Free” Boxes and Products Following the New FDA Rules
Tumbling Gluten Free: Tricked Out Tuesday: Pop Culture Label Takes on Gluten-Free Labeling
I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen while growing up so I wasn’t much of a cook when I left home. My husband will attest to that. Most of what we ate came out of a cardboard box, the freezer aisle of the grocery store, or Pizza Hut. Then there was that year, two kids still in diapers, when I got most of our food from the Schwan’s delivery guy. When my husband couldn’t button his pants and I hadn’t lost any post-pregnancy weight, I decided I needed to learn to cook.
Out came the wedding gift crockpot. We ate a lot of beef stew and chicken with potatoes for a long, long time.
No one in our young family had food allergies (that we knew of). While my kids grew into young adults, we blissfully ate all types of foods without any worries—-until yours truly developed multiple food allergies and celiac disease and eosinophilic esophagitis (an allergic esophagus).
That was the game changer.
Suddenly I had to eliminate gluten (wheat, rye, barley, spelt), dairy (no more cheese!), soy, eggs (are there eggless cookies?), and more foods. It was hard. Really, really hard. What I struggled with most was finding the staples I relied on for decades . . . salad dressing, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, mustard, and marinades, to name a few. Even the staples that were supposed to be “allergy-friendly” contained at least one of my allergens or were not certified gluten-free.
I was still struggling with my new way of eating and cooking when I met Colette Martin on the shuttle bus heading to the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Las Vegas. Because I knew Colette was the author of a well-respected cookbook on allergen-free baking and because she was pretty much captive on the bus, I complained to her about how I couldn’t find any decent allergy-free mayo.
Turned out she was in the middle of writing her next cookbook and she was working on a mayonnaise recipe! (I didn’t admit this at the time, but I ‘d never even considered making my own mayo from scratch! Who does that?).
Fast forward eight months. A reader’s copy of The Allergy-Free Pantry: Make Your Own Staples, Snacks, and More Without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts (The Experiment, September 2014) by Colette Martin arrives in the mail! Of course, I immediately flip to the mayo recipe.
Oh-oh. Sounds kind of complicated for a novice like me. First, I have to make “eggs” using flaxseed, which I just so happen to have in my pantry because I buy all the food-allergy cooking ingredients but never actually cook with them. I add water to the flaxseed and make the “eggs.”
I follow the steps to make the mayo using a hand-mixer that I’ve moved into three houses but have never plugged in.
Hmmm, not so difficult after all.
Wait! This mixture is actually starting to look like mayo! Using my finger, I put a little on my tongue. It tastes like mayo. Maybe even a little better than what I remember mayo tasting.
I decide to make Colette’s potato salad. Did I mention I have really missed potato salad since becoming allergic to eggs/mayo?
I serve the allergy-free potato salad and short ribs to my family. I don’t tell them about the flaxseed, which might turn them off. No one notices the mayo is eggless or made with flaxseed–they all help themselves to seconds.
Since that fateful day of making mayo, The Allergy-Free Pantry hasn’t left my kitchen island. Using this book, I now make my own allergen-free ketchup and mustard and barbecue sauce. I’m planning to branch out to crackers in a few weeks. For anyone with food restrictions, this cookbook will become your most-used kitchen tool. You can pre-order a copy today at Powell’s, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. Thank you to Colette Martin for writing this book and for sharing her flaxseed mayo and potato salad recipes (below).
Makes 10 to 12 servings
Friends and neighbors will have no idea that this allergen-free version of potato salad was made without traditional mayonnaise or off-the-shelf salad dressings. Instead, Flaxseed Mayonnaise (page 99) is used to make a salad with added fiber and essential fatty acids—and that tastes marvelous! Add some blue potatoes, if you can find them.
Even though this potato salad contains no eggs or dairy, be careful not to let it sit out longer than an hour; it’s the potatoes, not the mayonnaise, that contain the bacteria that can make you sick.
10 to 12 medium Yukon Gold and Red Gold potatoes, with skins, cubed
1 teaspoon salt
About 5 cups (1200 ml) water
1 medium red onion, diced
2 tablespoons diced Dill Pickles, optional
½ cup (120 ml) Flaxseed Mayonnaise (see below)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- Place the potatoes and ½ teaspoon salt in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Lower the heat to medium and continue boiling for 10 to 15 minutes, until fork-tender but not falling apart.
- Place the potatoes in a strainer and run cold water over them for 30 seconds to halt the cooking. Drain the potatoes well.
- Combine the onion, pickles (if desired), flaxseed mayonnaise, herbs, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add the potatoes and stir to coat.
- Cover and chill the potato salad for at least an hour before serving. It will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.
Makes 1¼ cups (300 ml)
Because this mayonnaise starts with flaxseeds rather than eggs, it has the benefit of being both healthier and tastier than traditional mayonnaise. Even if you aren’t allergic to eggs, this might just be the best sandwich topping you have ever tried!
Use measuring cups with a spout to measure the oil; this will allow you to pour the oil directly into the container for your blender when making mayonnaise.
2 Flaxseed Eggs
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (measured after grinding) or flaxseed meal
6 tablespoons warm water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Mustard, or ¼ teaspoon ground mustard seed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup (120 ml) organic canola oil
½ cup (60 ml) light olive oil
- Combine the flaxseed eggs, salt, mustard, and lemon juice in a working glass or the container for your immersion blender, blender, or food processor. Pulse four or five times to combine the ingredients.
- With the blender running continuously, pour a few drops of canola oil into the container. The slower you pour, the better. The mixture will start to become creamy as emulsification occurs.
- Continue blending and adding oil in a slow trickle until all of the oil is incorporated; add all of the canola oil first and then the olive oil. If the oil starts to pool on top of the mixture, slide your immersion blender up and down ½ inch, or stop pouring until the oil combines.
- Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. The mixture will set further as it chills.
A single oil or any combination of oils (up to ¾ cup/180 ml total) can be used to make this mayonnaise, with the exception of coconut oil or palm fruit oil (which behave differently). Use less oil for a thinner spread.
Make Chia Seed Mayonnaise by substituting 2 Chia Seed Eggs for the Flaxseed Eggs.