I recently read, in a not very friendly Daily Telegraph article – that the ‘free from’ food sales in the UK hit £0.5 billion last year and ‘gluten free’ alone is ‘worth’ £238 million a year. No wonder we are seeing more and more foods hitting the shelves. With a growth of more than 15% in just one year, you can see why the supermarkets have embraced this. Just this month Lidl launched their gluten free range and are no doubt currently analysing a positive impact on their overall sales figures.
It’s almost a month since the new allergen law came in. At the start there was a flurry of press coverage about what this would mean for allergy sufferers. Our very first experience was a very positive one – at Winter Wonderland – followed by a ‘medium to good’ one at Zizzi’s.
Since then I’ve been reading lots of posts in various Facebook groups and through other social media of some very unsatisfactory experiences. Many of the chains are being named and shamed. Some are being praised – but people usually talk more about their bad experiences, so the picture is somewhat skewed. The main problem seems to be staff training and attitude – and it varies wildly from location to location. Much effort seems to being put into compliance with the law with regard to menu and labelling but the staff are just not getting it right and reputations are being affected.
Over two years ago, we visited Zizzi in Winchester when we heard that they did gluten free pasta. We had a good experience and although the only dairy free pasta sauce was tomato we were impressed. The staff were helpful and ‘got’ gluten free. Zac had never ‘eaten’ in a restaurant before and it was so lovely to see his little face. Much has changed since then and more and more restaurants have been embracing gluten free but still the dairy free offering has always been poor.
I was so nervous before we went on holiday. Would I be able to find enough dairy free, gluten free foods, to be able to get by? Would I be able to make enough room in the suitcase to take a good supply to get us through the first few days? Are you allowed to take a packed lunch in hand luggage? Since we had last travelled abroad Zac’s diet has become a lot more restricted and I had never faced these issues before.
Fortunately my parents had been out to Spain just before us and did a good search around the supermarkets and found a decent selection of bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, milk and yoghurts. We were self catering, so I had pretty much resigned myself to doing a lot of cooking from scratch whilst away. Eating out at home is challenging enough and even though I have some good basic Spanish, I just couldn’t face asking those questions and trying explain his condition every time we ate out. So instead I would cook for him before we went out, and take a few healthy snacks for him to enjoy, if the rest of us were eating later.
When we met Dr Fox in November, he agreed that the only way to successfully diagnose Zac was to run proper allergy tests. Sounds a bit obvious, but in three years of trying, he was the first doctor we met who came up with that conclusion. Alarming.
After going through his case history, he thought Zac’s reactions to wheat and gluten could either be pointing to wheat allergy or non-mediated IgE allergy to wheat and gluten, as Zac’s reactions when eating the foods seemed so sudden and quite dramatic – instant bloating, liquid stools, tummy ache and itchy skin. More…