Gluten Free – at the Chelsea Flower Show?

‘Know Your Risk’ – the Royal College of Pathologists runs a campaign at the Chelsea Flower Show to raise awareness of allergies to wheat, apples and carrots, according to FreshInfo.

At the Chelsea Flower Show? The Royal College of Pathologists? What’s more, they won one of the highly prestigious RHS Gold Medals for the exhibit.

What’s going on? The Chelsea Flower Show is a very upmarket gardening show. Pathologists study the causes of disease and death. Relationship: the bad effects some edible plants can have on your body.

Unusual as the combination of the Chelsea Flower Show and pathology might seem, apparently the RCP estimate that 3-6% of Britons are unable to tolerate one of these three: wheat, apples and carrots. Coeliac UK estimates that 1% have coeliac disease, which means that allergies to apples and carrots must be surprisingly high.

Coeliac disease is best known – though experience tells me it isn’t all that well known, and isn’t usually described as an allergy (though I will admit, it does make it easier to explain to people if you say ‘allergy’).

Oral Allergy Syndrome can be precipitated by apples (and a long list of other foods). This is more like an allergy: itching or swelling of the tongue, lips, mouth or throat, and sounds very unpleasant. It isn’t an allergy to the food, but a syndrome that develops in hay fever sufferers – the immune system mistakes the food proteins for the pollen proteins, and causes an allergic reaction. Apples are a cause, but also almonds, cherries, hazelnuts, peaches, plums and walnuts.

Symptoms of carrot allergies range from mild, through abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting (sound familiar?) to life-threatening anaphylaxsis. Not at all good.

So – round of applause, please, for the RCP for raising awareness. Coincidentally, this would have been immediately after Coeliac Awareness Week 2007.

I wonder whether it would have been possible to eat gluten free at the Chelsea Flower Show?

Top 5 places to eat gluten free

Eating out with a child who needs a gluten free diet can be tricky.
gluten free
Well, eating out with children who doesn’t have dietary problems can be difficult enough, but if you need to analyse every item on the menu as well as deal with the usual childish issues, it can be a real problem.

In fact, many adults don’t eat out either, once they realise they need to eat gluten free. According to the latest edition of Crossed Grain (the Coeliac UK publication), 67% are less likely to eat a meal outside of home once they are diagnosed.

This is a shame, for a number of reasons:

  1. Eating out is one of life’s pleasures …

    I really enjoy not just eating a meal I haven’t had to prepare, but one I haven’t had to think of in advance or shop for (how many meals do you know that will suit all three children – not only a coeliac, but also a child who won’t eat vegetables, and one who won’t eat meat?) – and which I won’t have to wash up afterwards

  2. How to behave in a restaurant is an important skill for children to learn, whether or not they need a special menu.

    I know it is hard work, but the more you do it, the easier it gets – honestly!

  3. Not eating out reinforces the view that ‘there’s no call for gluten free meals’ – if nobody asks for them, then they won’t offer them. That’s the way the market works.
  4. Explaining to a waitress – or even to chef, if need be – about the gluten free diet makes it easier for the next one along.

    I’ve been vegetarian for over 25 years, and the changes that have taken place over that time are entirely due to individual vegetarians asking for vegetarian food and explaining why. Let’s do the same for gluten free!

So, where to eat? More specifically, where to eat out with a gluten free child?

5 great places to eat gluten free in the UK

Drum-roll, please … in reverse order:

  • McDonalds. Yes, I know … but they have a very good allergen listing, and are reliably the same from town to town. When desperate, you know you can feed a child gluten free at McD’s.
  • TGI Friday’s – or indeed any American-style restaurant. These places tend to be child-friendly, the service is good (in that the staff are prepared to amend orders, take notes and check with chef) and often there is a GF menu
  • La Tasca. This is a Spanish-style chain, so I guess other Spanish restaurants would be the same. The menu is marked up with what is GF, and because it is basically tapas, you can order a lot of different things – there’s bound to be something that is both gluten free and acceptable to your child!
  • My local chippy – Green Island Chippy. So OK, this isn’t so easy for the rest of you to get to … but they deserve a lot of credit for spotting a gap in the market and filling it with gluten free fish and chips, gluten free sausages and chips … They have a dedicated GF fryer, so they can cook gluten free whenever they are open, and they use their own gluten free batter
  • Smollensky’s on the Strand. This isn’t just for children either – I’ve spent a lot of time drinking cocktails here, as a younger (child-free) woman. Smollensky’s menu is marked up with gluten free items in both adult, big child and small child size portions – both main meals and puddings. And they give out fantastic goodie bags for the children …

What are your recommendations for eating out? We’re always looking for good new places to try!

This post has been entered into the Problogger group writing project – just for fun. Do go and look at all the other entries …

… and then go out to eat tonight!

When is a food ‘Free From’?

Is it just me, or is anyone else concerned – or confused – about Boots’ latest promotional idea?

I had an email from them marketing their latest labelling idea – that products sold by them which are free from artificial colours, artificial flavours, hydrogenated fats and flavour enhancers should be labelled as Free From.bootslabel.gif

Now, I’m all for products without artificial colours and flavours etc, and commend Boots for their intention of labelling to help consumers, but surely ‘Free From’ (when used with respect to food, anyway) means free from at least one of gluten, wheat or dairy? It is used by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons to mean exactly this. (For those visitors not based in the UK, these are our five biggest supermarkets).

And yet Boots have decided to use it for a completely different purpose.

OK, so companies have the right to use language as they choose – within legal and ethical bounds, obviously! – but I’d have thought this was at least potentially misleading.

Or is it just me?

Cafe Life – John Lewis, Cheadle

Once again, I bribe the children with drinks and cakes – this time so we can get their feet measured for school shoes.

Because they woke up late (ooh, back to school tomorrow will be a shock), we headed for John Lewis, which as their fans know, doesn’t open until 10am, ducked under the opening shutter and raced up the escalator to be the first in the shoe queue. We only just made it.

40 minutes later – yes, I have three children, and it just does take that long to find shoes that fit – we headed for the cafe. If you were behind me in the shoe queue, I apologise for my son’s indecisiveness.

Nothing labelled as gluten free, but (as a previous customer) I knew that something would be, and sure enough, it was the Paradise Cake again.

There’s nothing wrong with the Paradise Cake – it uses grated coconut, raisins and glace cherries – and tastes fresh and light. Its very pleasant. But coconut isn’t to everybody’s taste (not my daughter’s, for instance), and it would be nice to have a choice.

To be fair, John Lewis were among the first to have gluten free cake as an option, and I remember seeking out the manager about 8 years ago to thank her, in tears because I was so pleased that my daughter could eat something with the rest of us in the cafe. My excuse is that I was hugely pregnant with baby 3 at the time. It was Paradise Cake back then too …

I think it would be quite possible to lunch both well and gluten free at John Lewis – I haven’t tried it in years, because lunch out with three children is very expensive – but they do offer more than just the standard omelette and baked potato. One day I’ll venture out and let you know …

Cafe Life – Trafford Centre

Along with about 40,000 other people, we decided to visit the Trafford Centre yesterday. (Yes, the car parks, which hold 10,000 cars, were full – luckily we’d got up early to catch the first showing of Flushed Away).

Film was very entertaining, thanks – but at the end, we were hungry, and I had refused to allow the children to have sweets and popcorn for the film, so we called in at Muffin Break. On our last trip, the advertised gluten free muffins weren’t available, but they did have gluten free muffins this time, and we collected two different flavours: banana and blueberry, and chocolate chip and blackberry.

The muffins were good enough – denser in texture than the standard muffins, and the flavours are odd (chocolate chip and blackberry?) – the banana and blueberry was the better of the two. I’m not a huge muffin fan anyway, finding even the ones with gluten in rather heavy and uninteresting. And for some reason, muffins are always twice as big as they need be, and are big enough for two children. However, as muffins go, these were good, and it is great to find food that a coeliac can eat when we’re out.

Next time we’ll visit again, and see if there are different flavours to try. There are apparently a wide range of flavours available.