LAST year I penned a super-peeved post about our debut trip to the Allergy & Free From Show. From the ‘welcome’ bag stuffed with sesame bars to the willy-nilly nuts, the lack of allergy friendly cafe fare and the quacks offering dodgy allergy tests occupying pole position at the entrance it was less the allergy show, more the gluten free nut-lovers’ hippy dippy hokum show. OK, I exaggerate a bit: I did find some very fine allergy safe gnocchi and was bowled over to hear the fabulous Dr Adam Fox speak).
To give them credit, after I posted my rant the organisers got in touch and talked through each of my (and my fellow allergy bloggers’) concerns – explaining the reasoning behind some peeves and promising to put other aspects right by this year’s event.
Happily, it seems they have.
The first improvement is the venue – a larger, airier space in Kensington Olympia that makes navigating the packed aisles a whole lot easier to bear, especially with crotchety toddler in tow. The second is that there was no cod-scientific ‘allergy testing’ stand to greet us the minute we ambled in the door. Quacks are not exactly out – I’m pretty sure there are some still lurking, not to mention your usual array of iffy-looking chancers trying to jump on the ‘freefrom’ bandwagon – but they’re few and far between.
Thirdly, all of the exhibitors appear to have been given a stern talking-to on the topics of cross-contamination and labelling, not least I am sure because slapdash efforts last summer resulted in one allergy blogger suffering an allergic reaction. This time, nut warnings and the like were clearly and carefully displayed (big up to Knead Bakery for impeccable signposting) and ‘free from’ food samples kept carefully segregated from their dairy, nutty or wheaty cousins.
Other than that, there was a mini storytime zone with tales based around the escapades of various food allergy characters (thanks to Hailey, the very dedicated graphic designer auntie of one food allergic little girl). And for those who can, there were gluten free pizzas to munch on at the adjacent Pizza Express (oddly, they were selling takeaway pizzas within the exhibition hall but not the gluten free kind).
On the down side? A little (tiny) bit of effort had been made to provide on-the-go food for the multiple allergics – fresh fruit and Dove’s Farm cookies at the Leith’s caff, for instance. But again the hot meals contained nut trace warnings and there was nothing I could safely have fed to Sidney. I still don’t get why a gluten free pasta with a plain tomato and olive oil sauce is beyond the ken of caterers. Plus we ended up eating on the floor because there were so few seats to go around.
Anyhow. One last gripe: there are bound to be a lot of allergy parents heading to the show and a dedicated, roped-off play area with space for toddlers to run around would be a lifesaver. The ‘kid zone’ wasn’t enough to occupy a grumpy two-year-old for long and we ended up having to skip the final aisles as cabin fever took grip of ours.
But… the main purpose of our visit, as ever, was to stock up on safe food and hopefully discover new products to jazz up Sid’s culinary capers. And this we did. I’ll blog about each in detail soon but, in brief, here are my Five Favourite Finds:
What a revelation this company is. Set up by the mother of a multiple food allergic child, the kid-friendly, fair trade and organic brand makes lovely animal-shaped chocs, chocolate and rice bars and mini cookies free from all 14 of the EU recognised major allergens. The branding is smart, the taste is good and Sidney ate a chocolate elephant immediately. www.zerozebra.com
Lordy, are my travelling woes over? Egg, dairy, gluten and nut free meals from beef casserole to red thai curry, chicken cacciatora, gravy, soups and more. No preservatives, additives, sweeteners – all ingredients 100 per cent natural. Plus they don’t need to be refrigerated. Holiday suitcase here we come. www.ilumiworld.com
I’d heard of this brand before because of their egg free mayo. But I had no idea they made nut free, dairy free, gluten free chocolate too. I found mint choc bars, cooking chocolate drops and chocolate spread… www.plamilfoods.co.uk
4. Big Oz
Poor Sid must be bored to buggery of eating porridge every morning, though we try to jolly it up with dried apricots here, a banana there, a smattering of raisins. Other than Oatibix and Rice Krispies – which I’m loth to feed him often because of the sugar content – I’ve found it nigh on impossible to find a wheat free cereal that’s genuinely nut free, too. So hooray for Big Oz who make an array of cornflakes, puffed buckwheat, brown rice puffs and more. Confusingly, their flakes currently contain a nut trace warning but, as the very friendly chap on the stall explained, this is because they had been thinking about introducing a nutty granola to their range so made up all new packaging accordingly… then they decided the move would piss off their nut free customers so abandoned the idea. The packaging is still in use for now but the product is officially nut free.
Woo-hoo! A thin gluten, wheat, dairy, soy and egg free pizza base that isn’t full of crap! The Los Angeles-based pizza outfit is over here with everything from mini pizza rounds to flatbreads and a minimal ingredient list that’s little more than rice, tapioca, potato, yeast and salt. They aren’t labelled ‘nut free’ but I’m told they’re produced in a nut free factory. That’s good enough for me. We bought, in bulk.