Disclosure : As an IFBC Citizen Blogger, I received a reduced conference rate in exchange for sharing three posts about my experience. This is the first of three.
If it wasn’t for a little race called Ironman, I would have attended the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) 2016 conference, held in Sacramento, CA. But wait! What does an Ironman race have to do with interfering with plans to attend a food blogging conference?
Well, actually, Ironman training made a great many decisions for me in 2016, from what available time I had, who I socialized with, how much and when to eat, and yes — even determining what conferences I could attend.
Last year, I spent 15-20 hours a week on top of my hours in the office as a private practice counselor, training for Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Every spare hour was spent in the pool or in the lake, riding my bike on a trainer or up and down hills, and running for hours. To do all those things, I also had to grocery shop, prep, and cook all my own meals and make my own race food. Over time, my needs grew to the point that I could not eat outside my home, and could not spare even a day of food sensitivity by making inferior food choices. When the IFBC 2016 dates were announced, I realized they were just too close to the dates of my race, creating some risk for the Celiac athlete to try new food combinations or sample beverages. It didn’t make sense to put my race in jeopardy, so I took the conference off my plate (pun intended).
When I heard that the IFBC would return to Sacramento in 2017, my mind was made up: I would come back again. This was an exciting development, because I was really kicking myself for having missed the 2016 conference at that specific location. This post is about why I’m attending IFBC 2017 as a “citizen blogger” for the second time. And it’s also about why you as a reader should care.
Things You Should Never Say to a Person With Autoimmune Disease or Serious Food Allergies
I’m going to skip past the customary introduction to the subject of autoimmune disease etiquette faux pas and allow your imagination to run wild. For the moment, let me just say that people say the dumbest things with the kindest intentions. Yes, they sometimes do.
I was on an airplane flight, and when the attendants began handing out snacks. As is my custom, I politely returned mine with a, “I can’t have this, but thank you.” The attendant asked me if there was anything I could have from her snack cart, and I said, “I have Celiac Disease and a lot of food allergies, so if you have a gluten free snack, I could look at the ingredients to see if it’s safe for me.” She began to rummage through the options.
An older couple next to me overhead my response*, and the woman said to me, “Oh, I’m gluten free too! You should try their corn chips. They’re gluten free, you know.” I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t have those corn chips, because CORN (and the usual gastrointestinal HELL that is unleashed when I eat corn). Then her husband cut in, suggesting that I try flying to Europe sometime and eating their wheat, “Because this writer said that the wheat in Europe isn’t full of GMO’s and so we are safe to eat the gluten there.”
It took everything in me to not give them an eye-roll. Eye rolling is a sign of resentment, and yes, I have a number of things I feel resentful of in this life. Their momentary presence in my life is not one of them. But when I’m tired, I can feel my eyeballs start to move upwards, as if drawn by an irresistible force, and I have to just stop and breathe, emotionally lassoing my eyes to look straight ahead, soften my gaze, and relax my jaw from clenching.
On a good day, I can just listen and not react. On a stellar day, I can listen, not react, AND if I have the energy and the audience is listening, I can educate on the subject with a nearly unlimited amount of patience and understanding.
But on a day where I’m traveling, where there is nothing to eat, and the guy across the aisle is on his fourth beer and flinging his gluten-laden snack and sandwich crumbs in at least two meters in all directions, I want to go off on a rant. A RANT, I say!
And so, you get to read my rant about the things you should never say to a person with Autoimmune Disease and multiple serious food allergies.
As we draw near to Halloween and the ritual of Trick-or-Treating across America, I thought it was time for me to speak personally about two related subjects: a safe, allergen-free Halloween celebration, and the problem with our sweet tooth.
OK, please don’t hate me, and I am sharing with you both things you should know and want to know, yet I am a realist about the subject! Many of us would just as soon bury our heads in the sand if we have to hear one more person telling us that we can’t have that decadent slice of gluten-free pie, or we can’t have that piece of candy from the candy bowl that says, “gluten free, made with corn syrup.”
It’s time to reveal how my project here at My Allergy Advocate on WordPress.com is different than the average, run of the gluten-free mill blog about living the “free-from” dietary lifestyle.
Let me give you a moment. Open up a search bar on your computer or device’s browser, and type in the words, “gluten free blog”. Do it now. Don’t take my word for it. The top ten search results on Google should pull up some well-followed gluten-free bloggers. While each has a different style, they all have one thing in common. It’s that one thing that will likely keep me from ever having my blog up near the top (so I’m aiming for in the Top 20 later in 2017).
Do you remember the very first cake you baked by yourself?
I was in elementary school and had been signed up for the Brownies, the seven-to-ten-year old age group of the Girl Scouts. We were each given a mixing bowl, a round cake pan, spoon, two eggs, water, and a box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix to share between two girls, as each would make one layer of a two-layer cake with frosting.
Just add eggs and water! Mix, pour, bake, frost, and serve! Voila!
Within a few hours, we had Betty Crocker Supermoist chocolate cake and frosting on our plates, aprons, on the floor (how did it get there?), and on our mouths from licking the raw batter. The Brownie leaders took our cake pans and baked them in the oven, and within minutes of our cleanup time, our neurochemicals undulated to the beat of the Mighty Sugar King and his chocolate minions.
It was supposed to be fun! And it was! We made chocolate cake! We were goddesses of the modern kitchen in just a few hours. There were no tears, no frustration, and hardly a mixing of ingredients. We just dumped out the box into a bowl. What could be easier or more carefree?. From my childhood view, it was like watching a miracle spring out of a pan.
I did not understand what was happening to me as a kid in the 1970’s, when food producers had successfully overrun the slow cooking movement as well as the Home Economics agenda of the American school system. For several decades, homemakers had been targeted by powerful marketing and social pressure to convert their kitchens and larders into micro distribution centers of industrialized cooking methods, namely canned soups, TV dinners, and complete meals that could be poured from a box.
You had to be stupid (or paranoid) not to jump on the processed food bandwagon at that time. Why, food producers were handing women the keys to freedom from slaving away in the kitchen, while being mobilized to serve tasty food quickly for everything from a birthday party to an unannounced after-work cocktail soiree. These convenience foods made people happy. It made women look not only good, but competent. Products leaped off the shelves, and food producers happily hired chemistry geeks to create more food products to anticipate demand.
We were hooked. Cereals with high sugar content made children squeal with delight and finish their bowls in order to get seconds. A hot, four-course dinner came after thirty minutes of heating in the oven, not several hours of cooking from a tired but conscientious mother.
The food products were engineered to be convenient, tasty, and calorie-packed. These very foods, including that Supermoist chocolate cake and Nissin Food’s popular Top Ramen and Instant Noodles, ended up killing me, one bite at a time. My love affair with grabbing an instant meal on-the-go, of throwing water in a styrofoam cup, or whipping up biscuits and pancakes from a cardboard box, was irrevocably broken the way one’s heart is stolen across multiple acts of betrayal.
I got hurt. I fell, and I didn’t get up again for many years, trapped in a nightmarish cycle of illnesses. Well, I guess I did finally get up. I dragged myself over to the toilet, day by day, losing weight and looking worse as the days went by. My lungs became a magnet for repeated upper respiratory infections, from common colds to pneumonia; my stomach stopped anticipating tasty foods because the pleasure was always short lived. Post Celiac Disease diagnosis and discovering all my severe food allergies and intolerances, I turned to real food for help. When I removed the last of the convenience foods and processed foods from my diet, my health dramatically returned.
Recently, a woman who listened to my passionate arguments in support of eating real food to heal the body delivered a fantastically frank and honest rebuttal. She simply said, “Unless people are as sick as you were on food, they won’t buy it. It’s just too hard [to eat that way]”. As a parent responsible for putting food on the table for more than herself, cooking and eating real food instead of convenience foods purchased at the grocery store or served to you at a restaurant sounds impractical and unrealistic.
In many respects, she is absolutely correct. I completely understand why people would turn to processed foods in hopes that some of these products — any of them, for that matter — would help make life easier. And guess what? Even people with newly diagnosed autoimmune disease often turn to these convenience foods too. Why? Because the adage is true, desperate people do desperate things. And there is a horrible desperation about being sick, fatigued, and hopeless. Without a drop of energy to spare, wouldn’t you too just stuff that gluten free piece of bread in your mouth, praying that it will stay down, stay in, and give you some strength for another day?
Looking back at her statement, I think this is when I began thinking about one of my real battles with helping people today. People do want to get better, they do want to stop eating crap, and they are ever so trapped inside a sugar-coated, sticky world called, “Betty Crocker Syndrome” (BCS). We simply trade our dollars for convenience, and if it appears to work, we continue to do this, until it doesn’t work.
Today’s biggest food producers have all paid attention to new consumer trends. There are truly more people concerned about the amounts of fat, salt, and sugars found in their food. The FDA has recently added new rules for labeling that require transparency about the amount of added sugar found in a serving of processed food. More and more people indicate that they are reading labels, although it isn’t always clear if the buyer is rejecting a product outright by what they read on the label, or simply adjusting their serving size.
By now, I know you are aware Betty Crocker Syndrome isn’t a real disorder. It’s just a name I’ve applied to a dramatic change in the way we think about food, which happened in the last century yet has a profound effect on the way we think about food today.
Busy young professionals are taught that cooking at home from scratch is either an extravagance one does for celebrations, or something you purchase from a meal kit that gets delivered to your door after you’ve locked in your monthly subscription. For some, the idea of being able to eat all the nutrients you need in a shake which you need only add water is a modern breakthrough.
However, it’s a breakthrough until it isn’t.
I don’t think anyone would label the reliance on eating processed and industrialized food as a syndrome unless there was an undesirable consequence that the eater accepts, even to the detriment of his or her health. A syndrome, for example, is considered one when there is something dysfunctional about the behavior of a person in regards to either a norm, or in relationship to behaviors that would be in a person’s interest, yet the person cannot seem to break out of pattern of behavior without significant effort.
This is what I encounter with those trapped in the Betty Crocker Syndrome. They recognize something is wrong with their health, such as troublesome GI symptoms, weight gain, problems with fatigue, sleeplessness, fogginess, and even changes in their blood lab tests that indicate disease and poor health. And they may choose to answer to those health indicators with another cup of caffeine, a packet of supplements, a packaged health food bar, or yet a different shake formulation.
To me, Betty Crocker Syndrome is exactly that — a syndrome — because once you become reliant on it, it’s hard to break free, even when you know something isn’t working for you regarding the food you eat and/or your relationship to that food.
All I want to share about Betty Crocker Syndrome is that it is real, it is here, and there are many of us trapped into thinking that conveniences in modern food technology have always improved our lives.
But in my next post, I’ll explore with you my thoughts about why I think it’s time that we heal ourselves from BCS, and get back to eating real food. Not just for the people with autoimmune disease. I mean, everyone. I’ll be revisiting Betty Crocker’s Supermoist Dark Chocolate Cake Mix, Top Ramen, and other convenience foods as part of a discussion around healing ourselves from the seduction of fast-food eating in the home (including your take out pizza and even your “faster food” meal subscriptions). When Momofuku Ando created a noodle dish you could eat by just adding hot water, he was just trying to make money and feed people in post-war Japan. He had no idea how his food changed the way we eat over 70 years later. And it’s time that we revisit exactly what that revolutionary idea did in relation to Betty Crocker Syndrome. If we understand what happened in the past, we have a better chance to change our future.
To my beloved Hungry Minions, I am still committed to making food fun again, even at the end of this oh so serious post. In my freezer, I’ve finished off Batch 1 of my protein-enhanced Chocolate Coconut Mint Ice Pops, and they are incredibly easy to create. I personally devoured three-quarters of a gluten-free pizza I baked myself from scratch, all in preparation for about twelve hours of triathlon training in preparation for Ironman Mont-Tremblant in less than sixty days. I have little time or bandwidth to prepare and cook anything too complex, so I am committed to keeping my recipes that I share with you as easy as possible, while keeping them clean, nutrient-dense, and fun, fun, fun.
For those of us where food”cheats” leave us nothing but physically devastated, you’ve come to the right place and the right conversation.
“Oh my gawd! You have so many food allergies! What on earth do you eat? I feel so sorry for you.”
For the last two years, this is what I hear from the servers and chefs of restaurants as they write down my prohibitory list of food allergies and intolerances. About two weeks ago, a different response to those words flowed from my tongue.
Why do you feel sorry for me? I don’t.
It fell out of my mouth so quickly, I even surprised myself.
In the summer of 1990, I traveled to Beijing and spent two months studying Chinese language as an ABC (American Born Chinese), and traveling around a country I had never visited before, except through the stories of my mother as a little girl in Shanghai.
While many things were not strange and new, such as the sound of Mandarin language, and the smells of Chinese food as it hits a heavily-oiled wok, one experience that stands out to me is how the Chinese prepared for meals on a day-to-day basis.
Most families in the city are composed of a mother, father, and one child, with grandparents also living in a small apartment. Even smaller is the cooking area, as families tended to eat at their local neighborhood’s shared kitchen, an cantina of sorts. Each person received a ration of food for these common meals, and anything you wanted that was extra had to be cooked fresh and eaten immediately. Families with either more wealth, or foreigners, had a refrigerator and freezer, but most did not.
Additionally, the Chinese have a long-standing tradition of accessing local open-air markets open at all hours of the day and night for people to buy food. We don’t even call them farmer’s markets, although that’s what you would call them in America. They are just markets that aren’t in a building and air-conditioned. We value fresh produce, fresh fish and meats, and hot food over items that you store in a larder or put away in a plastic tub. Even in Taiwan, people still value eating freshly prepared meals daily and deep into the evening. It’s not unheard of to see families eating dinner after 9 pm.
You can imagine what this kind of set up does to the Sensitive Celiac.
Sugar (bah bah bah bah–bah bah), uh, Honey Honey bah bah bah bah — bah bah), you are my Candy Girl, and you got me wanting you.
I couldn’t help singing this song by the Archies under my breath as I walked into the ballroom of the Seattle Sheraton Hotel, where the 2015 International Food Bloggers Conference 2015 was just about to have its morning keynote address. Breakfast had already been laid out, and I timed my arrival at about fifteen minutes before the keynote, so I could take a voyeuristic peek at what was served after I had already breakfasted myself at home. This is my usual practice: to not arrive hungry. It is how I roll.
What is it like to be the self-described “Sensible Celiac” behind MyAllergyAdvocate, a website that will be dedicated to the autoimmune disease and food allergy community, and to enter room after room, food and wine receptions, and special breakout sessions… and not be able to eat? Almost all processed gluten-free food does not work for me, and after countless times of getting sick (from mild GI distress to hospitalization), I am healthy and safe when I limit my eating out ventures to what I can carry with me in a bento box.
How do I do attend a conference like this and enjoy myself, you ask? Well, you find the sweet spot. And then, you bring it home and share it with others.