Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Special Occasions and Eating Out

I must firstly apologise for sounding ungrateful in this post. I am very lucky to have food on my table and no worries about starvation or thirst. The following post is designed to illuminate the problems in the catering and food industry in the western world regarding food allergies and intolerance, specialist medical diets and an understanding of healthy food. I hope to help support those requiring freefrom diets and encourage businesses to embrace the growing needs of their customers.

The wedding I attended this weekend was magical, romantic and extremely well organised by the bride and groom, their families and the venue. The venue was beautiful and efficient with happy, friendly staff and a good star rating. All these points were reassuring and I attempted to put my worries out of my mind.

I had rung ahead to discuss my food exclusions with the wedding planner. She was extremely helpful, noted my concerns and promised they could accommodate them without fuss or much difference to other peoples meals. I was keen to avoid causing problems for the future bride and groom and to avoid drawing attention to myself at the table.

On arrival at the hotel my husband and I checked in and I asked for my Almond Milk to be placed in the breakfast kitchen fridge (as suggested by the wedding planner). I explained that I was dairy, lactose, wheat and gluten free for medical reasons. We settled in to our room and came down to the bar for lunch. We had been on the road since early morning and knew the wedding breakfast would be much later on. There was nothing on the menu that was suitable and no mention of food allergies or intolerances. I requested some chips and asked the waitress to check for dairy, lactose, wheat and gluten explaining that I couldn't eat them. She returned with chips and subsequently mayonnaise that she was happy were free from these foods. Before getting ready for the wedding I asked the receptionist to check that my meal would be free from my food exclusions. She confirmed it would be no problem.

After a gorgeous ceremony, some celebratory drinks and avoiding all the canopies, we were seated for the wedding breakfast. The waitress for our table confirmed I was the gluten free guest and I said yes and also that I was dairy free and lactose free too. My starter arrived after everyone else so I was already looking different to other guests who were intrigued by my different meal option. My starter arrived wonderfully presented, a full plate of melon and sorbet. In contrast to goats cheese salad or salmon parfait I certainly stood out. There was even a comment of "are you having pudding first?". The starter was delicious and I could not fault the quality. I tried not to worry about the ingredients in the sorbet, instead trusting my caterer to provide.

Main course was served at the table. Everyone had warm plates brought round, except me. The waitress advised mine was to come ready plated. The "normal" options were roast pork or chicken with roasted or new potatoes, vegetables and gravy. My place card was labelled plain chicken. I admit I tried not to be dubious. The children at the table were to have the same as me. The chicken looked suspiciously buttery and crispy on the skin, but I kept tight lipped. When there was a delay in the whole tables vegetables and potatoes arriving, I asked the lady overseeing the restaurant if we could have some and could I check that the veg were not buttered as I was dairy free and gluten free. She checked her list, looked at me (with the look we all know) and exclaimed "we weren't aware you were dairy free too". I balked and had to think what I had just eaten, checking for possible problem ingredients. I was brought plain veg and the same potatoes as everyone else. 

Eating out should be a pleasurable experience no matter what your chosen dish happens to be. I can't say that mine was pleasurable. The children who were eating the same as me but with the addition of the gravy didn't look overly keen either! Although no one complained about the food I noticed there were few comments of how tasty it was either. In fact no one really said anything apart from "that chicken must be tricky to eat dry?". I was surprised as the venue was otherwise fabulous.

The plates were cleared away and my thoughts (and tummy) turned to images of pudding. I have always loved pudding, the more calorific the better. As a child I have eaten well and certainly consumed many puddings both healthy and indulgent. As an adult I am no different and I refuse to miss out. Anyone who has read my previous post (below) will know that I packed a stash of emergency items in case the venue really messed up. There were two of these occupying most of the space in the small handbag under my chair! 

The rest of the guests were presented with a trio of desserts. A cheesecake, a roulade and meringue accompanied by cream, coulis and sugar decoration. The children were waiting for Neapolitan ice cream. My plate was served last and looked stunning. Sadly, it was a stunning assembly of the fruit and sorbet I had for starter with the addition of some extra fruit. I politely smiled and thanked the waitress and asked whether it was possible I could have a little meringue if they were suitable for me. They quickly brought out a larger version than the other guests had. 

A friend of mine was half humored and half stunned that my dessert was the same as my starter. Despite being non freefrom she is a capable cook and suggested some alternatives that she could think of on the spot. I hated the thought of looking ungrateful or pompous but I had to do what I did next. I pulled out of my bag a Knead Bakery Double Chocolate Brownie (http://www.lovelactosefreelife.co.uk/#/donate/4564272948/Double-Indulgence-Brownie-Knead-Bakery/5310698) and placed it on my plate next to the fruit. I have to say it was an impressive improvement. The raspberry sorbet made a wonderful contrast to the chocolate and other people shared my fruit (there is only so much fruit you can eat!).

The challenge continued with the arrival of coffee, tea, macaroons and chocolate truffles. Later there was also a buffet with not a single suitable item apart from salad. I wasn't hungry or in need of any more food, however, neither was anyone else and that wasn't the point. I knew I wasn't the only person in a room of roughly 150 dinners that required certain food exclusions. I munched my way through a bag of Mulu buttons while drinking a ginger beer, contemplating the psychological challenge of food need versus food desire. Mean while many people around me carried on their evening unaware of the need to know what is in their food or even caring what they put in their bodies!

I am fortunate I have enough to eat. I am fortunate that I don't have an anaphylactic allergy. I am also lucky that I enjoy cooking and baking. I am blessed that I have an avenue to communicate my concerns and frustrations. I am hopeful that through my ramblings I may be able to achieve even a small improvement in the offerings for people in need of specialist diets. 

If you would like to purchase Knead Bakery Brownies, Mulu Raw Chocolate and other delicious free from treats please visit our website: www.lovelactosefreelife.co.uk 


  1. Good job you had that brownie in your bag :) it really is poor considering how many times you check they could cater for you

  2. I think the amount of checking is what strikes me as the most bizarre. I felt obsessive stating my food intolerance's so many times but clearly I wasn't obsessive enough! I do know myself well enough to know that without that brownie or chocolate buttons I would have been a miserable excuse for party company ;)