TSA Took My Lunch! Airports and Food Allergies

As I watched TSA swab my jar of peanutbutter, I thought back to the good old days–not the days before Sept 11 when airplane security was less rigorous, but back to the good old days when I didn’t have food allergies and celiac disease.  My biggest concern before becoming An Allergic Foodie was what shoes to pack. Now, I begin hyperventilating while making an airline reservation. What will I eat it? Where will I eat? What if I have a reaction? Should I just stay home with the dog?

I made many ignorant mistakes in my early days of traveling through airports with allergies.  Let me share a few.

Mistake #1. “Surely, I’ll find something in the airport to eat.”

Wrong. I’ve wandered through some of the largest airports in the U.S. and come up with zilch. Too many times I’ve drooled over my husband’s burger or pizza slice while eating a bag of potato chips and an overripe banana. On occasion I’ve hit the jackpot and found a restaurant with a menu I can eat off, but this is like finding a four-leaf clover in a field of dandelions.

Now I always carry a lunchbox with me and keep it by my side as if it’s full of diamonds. The plastic salad bowls with built-in ice packs are great for chicken salad and quinoa salad. I fill snack-sized bags with carrots, sliced peppers, and apple slices to replace the standard airplane pretzels.

Snacks for the airplane

Mistake #2:  “Peanutbutter is not a liquid.”

My husband travels every week for business and he even thought peanutbutter wouldn’t count as a liquid.  But it did.  Because it was the only protein I had with me, we allowed TSA to swab a spoonful. Now I know that if  I want to take peanutbutter, or applesauce, or yogurt, it must be under 3.4 ounces and placed in a plastic bag.

Mistake #3: “I’m starving! I’ll take a chance.”

It was midnight and there was only one restaurant open. Having to use sign language wasn’t making me feel too confident that the waiter understood “no dairy, no soy, no wheat.”  In retrospect, being hungry for another few hours would have been better than what happened next.

Mistake #4: “It’s a short trip; I’ll eat when I get there.”

Yeah, how many of your short trips have turned into 12-hour ordeals? And being irritable from low blood sugar and a grumbling stomach does not help one negotiate with the ticket agent. Don’t just bring one ham sandwich on gluten-free bread–bring two.  Statistically, you can pretty  much count on a flight being delayed.

United Snackpack

Snackpack from United Airlines: The only food An Allergic Foodie could eat was the hummus

Mistake #5:  “I ordered a special meal.”

We were going to Italy and I ordered a gluten-free/lactose-free meal, thinking there’d be something I could eat. What I didn’t know is that airlines can only put one code in for a meal: GFML for gluten-free meal and NLML for non-lactose meal.  There may have been a vegan option too, but those always scare me because I’m allergic to tofu (soy).

Somehow I got neither meal–maybe the two codes cancelled each other out? The flight attendants felt horrible and kept bringing me apples and bananas.  Fortunately, I had frozen some allergy-free turkey and ham with me that I nibbled on throughout the long flight. Beware:  You’ll have to throw away any food you take with you when you enter another country so eat it before you get off the plane.

Mistake #6: “Sure, I’ll have a second glass of wine.”

Hey, I got upgraded and the wine was free. I just couldn’t eat any of the foods in the snack pack. Actually the hummus was allergen-free for me, but my seat mate gave me the evil eye when I tried squirting it into my mouth. Eating wine on an empty stomach is never a good idea.

I’ve been traveling for six years now with food restrictions and it has gotten easier. Airports are offering healthier options including gluten-free menus, though I’m not sure how confident I am about the service folks being aware of  cross-contamination issues. Allergy-friendly snacks have started appearing in the convenience stores, too.

At the recent Food Allergy Research and Education conference, I had the opportunity to hear Kim Koeller of  Allergy Free Passport, share some tips for airline travel, staying in hotels and dining out with dietary restrictions.  She says, “There are three keys to safe travel and dining out: education, communication, and preparation.”

To learn more about traveling safely with celiac disease and food allergies, visit Kim’s website: Allergy Free Passport and check out her popular series “Let’s Eat Out Around the World Gluten and Allergy Free.”

TSA Took My Lunch! Airports and Food Allergies first appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Symptoms and Celiac

Not All of Us Want to Share Our Symptoms

I explained to the white-coated chef at the Marriott Residence Inn that I had celiac disease and a bunch of food allergies so I couldn’t eat the potatoes cooked in butter or the eggs or the yogurt or the cereal.

While I scooped fresh blueberries from the waffle station to top my Bakery on Main oatmeal, she circled me like paparazzi around Gwyneth Paltrow.

I knew what was coming.

“What are your symptoms?” she asked loud enough to make my husband cringe.

I looked around the room full of men and women in business attire and families with young children on school break and said softly, “Unpleasant ones.”

Now I have no problem talking about celiac disease and food allergies. After all, I spill my guts in this blog (pun intended). Of course, you may  notice I hide behind a lemon in sunglasses.

But if I’m in public, I’d rather not talk about my bathroom habits. And I’m almost positive these people eating their bagels and cream cheese didn’t want to hear about my flatulence and IBS.

This gal was relentless. “How unpleasant?”

Really? You really want me to talk about my diarrhea and painful cramps before I’ve even had a cup of coffee?  I glared at her. “I experience gastrointestinal issues.”

She got it. Finally.

Blushing, she said, “Oh, I just asked because I have eczema and people tell me maybe I should go off gluten.”

Why didn’t she just say that!

“Have you gone off gluten to see if it helps?”

“I probably should,” she said. “But I couldn’t possibly live without bread and pasta.”

May is Celiac Awareness Month

Let me share another story.

We are at a restaurant and the waiter asks what kind of allergy I have: “Is it the kind that makes you run to the bathroom, or run to the hospital?”

I know what you’re thinking: I’m making this up. I wish!

I could have told this waiter–who happened to look like one of those bronzed guys with the abs of steel in middle-of-the-night infomercials–if I eat even a crop of the sauce with the cream, I will spend the next three days glued to the toilet seat.  I could–and probably should–have told him it didn’t matter what kind of allergy I have–both symptoms are bad. If I continue to get sick from restaurants like his, I could get cancer.

Actually, I can’t remember what I said.  I’m pretty sure I went to the bar and ordered a goblet of wine, and my husband ordered me a plain filet with olive oil, salt and pepper and steamed broccoli (my go-to-allergy-safe meal).

Food Allergies have many symptoms

Now some people–I can think of several of my fellow bloggers–can easily speak out about their bathroom habits. Erica Dermer has a chapter in her book, Celiac and the Beast, titled “Let’s Talk About Butts: A Story of a Girl, Her Rectum, and the Scope That Loved Her.”  Erica probably wasn’t raised by a mother who ordered “chicken chest” for dinner, as I was.

Ironically, Erica doesn’t have the nasty GI symptoms that many of us do. In the first line of her book, she says, “I wish I could tell you that if I ate a bowl of Pasta Roni right now, I would swiftly crap my pants. I only wish this because then you would plainly see that something is very, very wrong with my insides.”

Erica goes on to say that her symptoms appear days or weeks later–sores in her mouth, a swollen tongue, extreme tiredness. “I experience the same life post-gluten as every other celiac,” she writes.

While we all are in this together, our symptoms may be similar and different. Celiac disease has over 300 symptoms! 300!  Throwing food allergies into the mix only complicates matters.  Your autoimmune system reacts to proteins in foods differently from my autoimmune system.

So when a waiter, a chef, your spouse’s boss, or someone in the grocery store checkout line who sees you buying Udi’s gluten-free bread asks you what your symptoms are, feel free to share if you like. But I prefer telling them to go to one of these websites:

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)

Fare has recently launched SafeFare, a resource center to make dining out safer

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

Make sure you print out NFCA’s Celiac Awareness Month 2014 Toolkit

* * *

May is Celiac Awareness Month, and Food Allergy Awareness Week starts May 11, 2014.  Please share information about celiac disease and food allergies–especially symptoms so people will stop embarrassing An Allergic Foodie.

Not All of Us Want to Share Our Symptoms first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.