Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Monday, April 04, 2011

#FAANConf

What a wonderful day in Baltimore at the FAAN Food Allergy Conference this weekend. (If you’re on Twitter, the hashtag for the conference series is #FAANConf as well as the title of this post.)

I signed Allergic Girl books. Here they are for sale on FAAN's table:


I met so many food allergy moms, dads and kids. Some of you said: “I’ve read your blog for years!” or “We found your blog when traveling to NYC and ate safely at such and such restaurant” or “I just bought three copies for friends and family.” And some of you said you who had read the book and loved it and found the hope that is there waiting for you within its pages. Thank you!

I finally met, in person, dynamo and fellow allergic girl Gwen Smith, editor of Allergic Living magazine:


And I saw a preview of the new Allergic Living magazine US edition with a dining out safely feature by yours truly among all of your favorite features, info & columnists:

(Have you subscribed yet?)

I had time to talk with many of my food allergy fellow Twitter’ers - Hey Tweeps!

And I hung out with fellow fabulous food allergy authors: Cybele Pascal, Elizabeth Gordon and Gina Clowes.

***

Many you have anxiety about traveling with food allergies (and asthma), so here is how all the pieces came together for me on this trip.

Travel. I went by Amtrak to Baltimore. I love the train – if there’s a dog or cat nearby I can always go to another car. I’m highly allergic and asthmatic to pets; sitting near an animal for extended periods of time will cause an allergic asthmatic reaction that may be difficult to control. So, I will always opt to move and or if I can’t move ask the conductor to move me accordingly. Alternatively, if someone is eating my allergen (like tree nuts or salmon – see below), I won’t rush to move; I need to eat my allergen to have a reaction. [Confused about the difference? Talk to your board certified allergist about the right course of action for you and your needs.]

What I packed: I packed a small rolling bag with two thirds clothes, one third non-perishable food (dried fruit, canned fruit and safe homemade granola). And a second smaller cooler with some snacks for the ride and my hotel room. As this trip was about 24 hours, I brought enough food to have all my meals in my room if necessary. Not full meals, but enough to tide me over.

On the ride: My seatmate immediately started snacking on his travel snacks: almonds. I’d need to eat almonds to have a reaction so I just kept working, ignoring the munching. However, we got to chatting (where are you going and why) and when I told him about Allergic Girl he revealed that he’s allergic to bee venom and carries an Epi-Pen. He then asked me if I’m allergic to dried fruit (I’m not) and continued to snack, now putting the almonds farthest away from me, on his other side. The kindness of some strangers.

Hotel: I stayed at the conference hotel, The Sheraton Inner Harbor. I requested a feather-free room, as I’m allergic/asthmatic to feathers, and an empty fridge. They said they would be happy to accommodate my requests. Upon check-in, I reconfirmed my requests, which were in the system and the front desk called housekeeping to ensure it was done. However, upon entering my room, there was no fridge, all feather bedding and an ugly view. With a few pleases and thanks yous, and apologies by the front desk staff, I was switched to a harbor view room with an empty clean fridge and feather-free pillows and I was told that all bedding in the hotel is feather-free:


I crawled into the bed for a quick kip only to find that I was sneezing, wheezing and itching my eyes within ten minutes. Feather bedding. I called downstairs and housekeeping came up to redo the entire bed; however the damage was already done. I was allergic and asthmatic and at a FAAN conference. I tweeted like mad (and ranted a bit) and Sheraton corporate responded very quickly to rectify the situation – the room was taken care of by management. However, it should have never happened. (PS I’m still allergic and wheezy: once started, an allergic reaction can take a few days to calm back down.)

Dining: Hotel kitchens can be a saving grace when you travel and this is where the Sheraton Inner harbor really shined. I had a long talk with Chef Chris Robinson and a walk through the kitchen where he explained all of their procedures for a group like FAAN or even individuals:


Why was I in the kitchen? I was hanging out with Cybele while she was making vegan allergen-free treats for her food demo:


Chef has some allergies himself (penicillin and a crab algae) and like many hotel chefs I’ve met, is the epitome of hospitality. Gracious, understanding, sympathetic and educated on the food allergy issues and needs, he even made me a to-go lunch for my trip home of some lovely plain chicken.

Here we are:


(I ate dinner out one night which I will detail in another post.)

Overall, it was a fantastic trip - the great, the good and the allergic. Many thanks to FAAN, and the Sheraton and I can’t wait for the next adventure!

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