Away From Home

Eating a special diet, in order to deal with food sensitivities and allergies, is a very difficult and demanding task. At home, we can gradually put into place the tools and ingredients that will help us achieve our goals. The minute we walk out the door of our home into the big, wide world, all bets are off.

It’s a jungle out there. Every time we put food into our mouths, we either take our health and well being into our own hands or throw caution to the wind and hope for the best. The latter can have disastrous results. That leaves us continuously reading labels, trying to explain our needs to others, preparing well in advance, restricting our options or taking our own food with us. What happened to spontaneity? All we want is what everyone else around us takes for granted: access to safe food that we don’t have to plan and analyze to death.

It’s beginning to happen. The general public is gradually becoming more interested and aware of our collective needs. As our ranks swell and the medical community becomes more informed through state of the art research, our dietary problems are becoming more mainstream knowledge. In all fairness, it’s a huge task. We know because we’ve had to apply it to our own particular needs in our own homes.

Public forums such as restaurants, food stores, public or corporate meetings, reunions or family gatherings and parties are a few of the places we can face the need to eat or drink potentially hazardous foods. Food has always been associated with social gatherings. It continues to be the way we come together and relax. Even meetings frequently offer food in a effort to lessen tension and provide an opportunity for more informal social interaction and idea exchange. These can be mine fields for those of us who are food challenged.

This past week was extremely busy. I had several opportunities to face these issues head on in a variety of ways. Although these happened here in Kingston, I’m hoping that they will inspire others everywhere to tackle similar problems from a new angle.

The first occurred last Sunday at the book launch of a friend. Author, Diane Dawber, and illustrator, Pat Wilkinson, debuted their latest book “Looking For Snow Fleas” at the Play ‘n Learn store on Princess Street. Being a former elementary school teacher, Diane knew that it was obligatory to provide something visual and memorable to link the experience to the event: if it’s food so much the better! Diane decided to provide “mulch cookies with snow fleas”, as the icing on the cake, so to speak. Being food challenged herself, Diane used all her creative juices to make up her own hypoallergenic cookie recipe so that anyone who attended could partake safely. It was a huge success from beginning to end!

The second event occurred on Tuesday at the local Celiac Association meeting. A group of owners, managers and chefs representing a number of Kingston’s restaurants came to discuss Celiac Disease and what is being done in the industry to accommodate people with special dietary needs. The panel had an opportunity share their perspectives and the audience was able to ask questions of the experts. It was a very lively evening and I, personally, learned a lot. I felt it was so beneficial because it brought the two groups together in a positive environment to share ideas and explore options. The proactive approach demonstrated an industry that is willing to learn and provide us with the safe dining environment we need.

My final experience took place at a local restaurant on Friday afternoon. Sapporo Sushi on Bath Road in Kingston has long been a warm and friendly place for my husband and I to go for Japanese food. When I first began eating gluten free, they asked a lot of questions and even ordered special gluten free soy sauce from Toronto, just for me, so I could continue to come and enjoy the food they so carefully prepare. Now, another customer has just discovered he has Celiac Disease. Mark and Karen, the owners, want to provide a safe place for their customers to come and eat. During the quieter portion of the afternoon, we got together to experiment with different recipes and discuss how the special dietary needs of Celiac customers could be met. It was very exciting to see restaurant owners so committed to providing a safe environment. It was nothing short of an inspiration!

As cities go, Kingston is relatively small and yet, so much is going on here to help people with special dietary needs. I hope that your community is making similar strides. My more experienced friends keep saying, “Baby steps!” and they’re right. We need to take one step at a time. With patience and a positive approach, some day we’ll all be able to step out of our homes with confidence, knowing that there are safe places for us to eat besides our home.

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