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.

The Masters and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

I went to the Tuesday practice round of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA this week.  It was exciting to see a few of the players I’ve been watching on TV for years as well as the notable and beautiful golf course.

And I’d read and heard so much about the food.

You had to know this would be about the food and not the golf, right?

Concessions at The Masters

Augusta National is famous for its $1.50 egg salad sandwiches and pimento cheese sandwiches served at the tournament. (I wonder if they charge so little so you won’t feel so bad about forking over $100 for a golf shirt later on?).  Having celiac disease and being allergic to dairy, I knew I wouldn’t get to eat either of these sandwiches and I bought along my own gluten-free ham sandwich.

Here’s the thing that surprised me though: The only healthful and non-wheat food choices were bananas and fruit cups (and I couldn’t even eat the fruit cups because they contained pineapple!).  The one food I could eat was a trusty bag of Cape Cod potato chips with this impressive packaging.

The only food an allergic foodie could eat at The Masters

For Eaters of Everything, there were mini moon pies, cookie sandwiches with Georgia peach ice cream in the center, caramel popcorn, and lots and lots of candy.

Hard to eat at The Masters if you have celiac disease and/or food allergies

Yup, it was all junk food. (I’d use another word but my  husband is afraid we’ll be banned from future tournaments if I do.)

Doesn’t it seem odd that an athletic event only served junk? Even baseball and football stadiums are offering gluten-free hotdogs and buns and salads these days.

DSC00173

I’m guessing at Augusta National, it’s all about tradition. People expect the pimento cheese sandwich and the mini moon pies. I get it.

But at an event that requires miles of walking and hours of standing, most of the spectators could probably use a little protein pick-me-up instead of a sugar rush.

Here’s the other thing that surprised me: I didn’t feel like I was missing out–even when my husband said the egg salad was really good. The old me would have been sad and maybe a little angry that she didn’t get to taste it. The new me really could care less.

Somewhere along the way, a switch has flipped.

I’m okay with “missing out,” especially when I know the food will make me sick. Really, really sick.

This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked something besides a bag of chips.

After being a men-only golf club for 80 years, Augusta National invited two women to join, so maybe, just maybe, adding a salad with grilled chicken to the concessions isn’t too far off.

The Masters and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

From an Allergic Foodie

To Eaters of Everything from an Allergic Foodie

Dear Eaters of Everything,

I remember what it was like to be you.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I sipped my Starbucks soy latte while nibbling on a blueberry muffin, waiting for my kids to finish their guitar lessons. On shopping excursions, I picked up a fast-food salad without worrying about the croutons or the shredded cheese or the dressing with soy oil.  During football games, I ate deep-fried chicken wings not once considering what else had been fried in the fryer.  At movies, I shared buttered popcorn with my husband.  I even munched on prepackaged cookies–without reading the label!

From an Allergic Foodie

Some people can eat whatever they want.

Once upon a time, not so long ago,  I was also intolerant of people with “food issues.”

(Please don’t hate me my dear readers who have very real food issues, but it’s time I come clean.)

I, An Allergic Foodie, once rolled my eyes when my girlfriend passed on the bacon-wrapped melon appetizer because melon made her “tongue feel funny.” I believed people who were lactose intolerant just didn’t like the taste of milk. I thought my sister-in-law who ate only organic veggies and fruits and grass-fed meats was a pain in the neck.  I thought my friend who was constantly running to one doctor after another for stomach pain was a little bit of a hypochondriac.

Payback is hell.

Dear Eaters of Everything, while I certainly don’t wish you any harm, someday your stomach may betray you just as mine did.  I was well into my life when I developed multiple food allergies, celiac disease, and eosinophilic esophagitis. On top of that, my youngest son also developed celiac disease and my oldest son started reacting severely to dairy.

I had to learn a whole new way of grocery shopping, preparing foods, ordering out, reading labels.  I studied nutrition, the gastrointestinal system, and naturopathic medicine.

Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is tough when your allergic of wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, corn, etc. (Photo credit: Bruce A Stockwell)

As I said, payback is hell.

But as I became informed, something wonderful happened.  I became empathetic to those with food issues. And that’s why I am writing to you, Eaters of Everything.  I don’t want your lack of information to cause you to be  intolerant to those with food-related illnesses.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Please recognize and accept that some foods make some people sick.  And so, when we take ten minutes to order in restaurants, we are being picky eaters for a reason. When we eat in your homes, we are not trying to cause you extra work in the kitchen–we’re just trying to stay healthy. Sometimes, we are trying to save ourselves or a family member (or you)  a trip to the emergency room.  Don’t be afraid to ask us questions. We don’t expect you to know all the ingredients where allergens hide, or how to keep foods from being contaminated.  We don’t mind explaining our special food needs; we want–no, we need–you to understand.

Eaters of Everything, thank you for taking the time to read this.  I wish you continued good health.

Happy Eating!

An Allergic Foodie

Some of my other posts you may like:

Celiac Disease Wasn’t a Part of the College Plan

I’m a Picky Eater. And Proud of It!

Living Life with Food Challenges

To Eaters of Everything from An Allergic Foodie originally appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.