#easytoASK

Gaining multiple allergies at the age of 14 did a lot to knock my confidence at a time when I should have been building it, I have always been quite sociable and have found making friends easy, but once my diet had become incredibly restricted and largely unmanageable – due to how sensitive my body had become – I began to feel quite isolated. I was struggling to maintain a positive attendance rate at school which left me feeling like I was missing out not just on my education, but also on socialising with my school friends. Thankfully I have always been very independent and worked hard on maintaining my education which meant I left high-school with really good GCSE’s, resulting in me having to start all over again in college. It’s difficult to cement friendships in an environment I cannot always attend, whether that be due to illness or the constant hospital appointments, again I felt very isolated and although I have a really good friendship group I would worry constantly when I was ill in my first year that I would somehow end up excluded from the group due to my absence. I was wrong to worry however, as I made some wonderful friends that have remained with me.

Socialising with allergies in itself is quite difficult, as going out requires a lot of research. Going out for food with friends isn’t as easy as just putting on a nice outfit and leaving the door, restaurants and their menus have to be extensively researched and compared with others in the surrounding area so the best option can be found.  When I was younger this would make me feel particularly awkward, and sometimes still does, when in a friendship group you’re the only one with dietary requirements (and they’re quite broad), I can wrongly feel like a bit of a burden to those I’m going for a meal with.  Due to the amount of research it can take to find somewhere to eat it can be easy to just get into the habit of visiting the same eateries, but recently I’ve been making an active effort to visit new places, not only so I can feel more confident eating out but also to make going out for food a bit more interesting, especially as I do actually enjoy visiting new places and trying new food. Going out for drinks is similar, the alcohol menu for cocktail bars has to be researched along the way or at the table before ordering. As I have both a potato and a gluten allergy, vodka is the alcohol that is particularly awkward for this and I generally have to ask the person behind the bar about the alcohols if the menu isn’t very detailed.

Going on mini-breaks away or holidays is also something that can appear quite daunting. Over the summer I went to Edinburgh and although I did a lot of research as to where I could eat before I got there, the first night did feel a little challenging when it came to actually deciding where was best for me to eat. However, once I’d realised how easy it was to talk to the servers in the restaurants, cafe’s and bars I found myself feeling a lot more at ease when it came to going out for food.

The idea of asking those working in a bar, restaurant or cafe about the ingredients in the food they serve used to scare me and still does sometimes put me on edge. I do know however that it’s much better to prioritise my health and ask as many questions as I need to, rather than risking eating a meal I’m not entirely sure is safe for me. As a young person though the pressures of socialising with new people or in new environments, such as in University, can result in risk being taken as a means of trying to fit in. I find it particularly awkward to have to run through my allergies with new people I meet every time, as although its nice that people generally find it interesting, it’s a very repetitive conversation for me that tends to put me under the spotlight…

This lack of confidence in young people relating to their allergies was noted by the Food Standards Agency who have launched a campaign entitled “easy to ASK”, which aims to empower young people to ask food businesses about the food and drinks they serve to ensure they make safe choices. This campaign and the survey taken by the FSA in partnership with AllergyUK and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, is also an important reminder to businesses to ask customers about any potential dietary requirements and to keep their allergen information easily accessible and up to date. This campaign’s importance has been particularly highlighted by the recent mass news coverage of allergens and the awful consequences that negligence in regards to allergens can have. Only 14% of those asked in the survey reported feeling extremely confident when asking for allergen information when dining out, and although over the years my confidence has grown, I admire those that responded to the survey with such confidence and appreciate the efforts of the Food Standards Agency to improve the confidence of young people suffering with allergies or intolerances as a whole.

It’s important to prioritise your health at all times anyway, but as someone with allergies it’s important to ensure you are never left feeling uneasy or in the dark about what you’re eating. If at any time you feel like the food you are going to eat isn’t completely safe it is always much better to ask, whether that be asking for an allergen menu as you walk into the restaurant or checking again with a member of staff before you eat your meal that your food is definitely safe for you and your allergy/s. Gaining my allergies at what appears to be a slightly surprising age to most people was a strange thing to adapt to, I’d lived a whole 14 years being able to eat whatever I wanted to and suddenly I found that I had to be extra careful about what I ingested. Going through school, college and now University with my allergies and taking a pack lunch with me wherever I go, I know that when I want to socialise and go out for food with friends or on a night out, it is always easy to ask those serving me about the ingredients in their products.

Why Is Raising Awareness of Allergies Important?

During the December of 2014 I bought myself a Christmas gingerbread whilst out with friends, all was good till I returned home and my Mum noticed my lips swelling and I reported that they felt as if they were tingling. My Mum took this as a challenge, trying to figure out which ingredient in the gingerbread was the attacker, until eventually she gave me some cinnamon on a teaspoon and it became my first allergy. From there on my relationship with “normal” food tumbled as I became more and more frequently ill after eating ingredients that used to be an everyday occurrence in my meals. Though I’m still being sent back and forth from one NHS department to another, my current allergies are:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Egg
  • Potato
  • Nuts
  • Maize
  • Tomato (which is actually more of an intolerance).

Trying to navigate such a restricted diet and still continue to live a life unaffected by these restrictions has been a struggle, especially as in the first couple of years a huge portion of my life was spent ill in bed. I almost had an accidental routine of 3 days in bed and 2 days in school, and as a 15 year old trying to maintain friendships, an education and my health that could be quite difficult. Especially as although I appreciate my own time, I tend to climb the walls when I lack human interaction for 3 days with someone that isn’t my Mum. When I’m feeling healthy and at my best I’m usually quite a lively and talkative person with those who know me well, but when ill I almost retract into my own shell and even if I have things I want to say, I just don’t have the energy the say to them. To the people close to me, specifically my Mum, this is a notable difference to how I am otherwise. If I’m honest it has left me feeling quite lonely, particularly in my first year of college (which was last year) when I was developing new friendships but due to my ongoing illness was again experiencing the 3 day in bed, 2 day in college routine. Thankfully this didn’t actually impact my ability to form friends, but it did leave me on those ill days feeling like it would and is if I was missing out.

For context as to how my appearance changes when I have an allergic reaction, here is what I generally look like on a healthy day:

The way in which my body reacts during an allergic reaction can differ dependant on the food, if I’ve somehow had potato I experience immediate sickness and will begin to feel my throat tighten, if I somehow intake gluten I experience extreme lethargy and swelling of the face and if egg somehow makes it into my diet I know very quickly when I get extreme stomach pain. However, regardless of the food I do experience a lot of similar symptoms such as: sickness, eczema (particularly on my hands and face), lip swelling, stomach pain etc. In fact in the picture above, you can just about see some eczema on my neck that I had for at least 1-2 months till it eventually disappeared and I then experienced another bout of eczema on the other side of my neck.

On my left hand there is an area around the bottom of my hand that is permanently discoloured in comparison to the rest of my hand, this is where eczema will first flare up if I am experiencing  a reaction. A lot of the time it almost acts as a warning, because once my eczema flares up on my left hand I know other symptoms are soon to follow. As the reaction continues eczema will then flare up on my right hand and then usually on my face too, often around my lips. The eczema appearing on my face is usually one of the most annoying traits to me, as although during the reaction it isn’t the worst, the fact I have to then deal with it once the reaction passes often really does bother me. Especially as it usually appears in the corners of my lips which can make it difficult to heal, due to the fact I can’t eat or talk without irritating it which often causes it to bleed.

Another reaction I can experience on my skin is hives. I’m lucky enough to have both a cat and a dog, both of which are hypoallergenic breeds, so of course I enjoy having a cuddle with both. However, cuddling either of them (usually when I’m already experiencing some illness, but not always) can bring me out in hives generally on my hands/arms/neck/face.

In the picture on the right you can also see the beginning of that pesky neck rash forming and the forming of rashes around my mouth.

Due to the fact I’m so prone to eczema, I used to regularly get eczema around my eye, particularly just under my eyebrow. Couple this with a reaction and the eczema around my eye tends to spread, usually I am able to contain it but a couple of years ago the eczema around my eye almost didn’t want to be contained. Around the beginning of December 2015 I had  the eczema I was frequently experiencing above my eye and attempted to follow my usual steps of getting rid of it, however when this eczema was coupled with multiple allergic reactions it just continued to spread around my eye. This became very painful and with it being the most sociable time of the year (the Christmas and New Year period) it felt like the worst time to have it and as if I was a walking disclaimer as to why my eye looked so strange. The New Year’s Eve of that year I mainly only saw the changing of the year because my Mum encouraged me to stay up, but personally I just felt too ill. Though I did generally enjoy the New Year atmosphere in the end. However, by New Years day we were in hospital due to the illness. As you can see in the picture on the left I had eczema, my eyes were swollen and it was beginning to become infected. Thankfully I don’t experience eye eczema much anymore, but when I do I’m very quick to ensure I’m rid of it so I don’t end up looking like this again. Particularly as it took a long time for my eye to heal properly, and once my eye did go back to looking how it normally does, I was left with quite a lot of bruising under my eye that took a long time to completely fade away. This whole experience knocked my self-confidence a lot, which wasn’t helped by the fact I was also attending school during this flare up.

My final exposition of myself is this full face picture, which isn’t necessarily the worst I’ve ever looked during a reaction but it definitely gives you an idea as to the physical symptoms I experience during a reaction, as well as the sickness, lethargy, stomach pains and just general illness you would expect to accompany a reaction. In this picture you can see the swelling of my face and lips, if you look close enough you can also probably tell that my eyes watered profusely during this reaction. Though they are not particularly obvious in this picture I had rashes on my face, especially around the mouth, and some bruising is evident due to the fact this reaction and therefore the swelling lasted for quite a few days. Although I wouldn’t say this is the worst I have ever looked, when looking at this photo I almost don’t recognise myself, potentially because it looks like I’ve been beaten up and I remember how I felt, but also you can see by my overall demeanour that I just felt down and wanted to go back to bed. Bizarrely my nose also seems to look different in comparison to the “healthy” pictures I showed earlier in this post, but maybe that’s because I’ve been looking at this photo for too long..

As well as giving an example of how allergic reactions can vary, I’m also hoping that this post will highlight why the One McPeake Challenge is important. Allergic reactions can impact people in different ways and I seem to think that unless you know someone personally with an allergic reaction, then generally you probably wouldn’t consider in much detail what dealing with an allergy or multiple allergies would be like. This can make it very easy, especially in the current diet culture we are experiencing, for those within the catering industry to take some allergies with a pinch of salt. This is something I have experienced many times, here are a few examples:

  • I recently attended a well-known restaurant that served a meal that was otherwise safe for me with pesto, due to the nuts in the pesto I asked for it to be removed. They then told me it would take longer to make due to my request (which doesn’t really make sense, because I was actually requesting less food), but when my meal did arrive it still contained pesto. I mentioned to the girl serving me that I had requested for the meal to not have the pesto due to my nut allergy, and in response she did a heavy sigh and said, “Can you not just scrape it the side?”.
  • I’ve also been to another well-known restaurant and explained my allergies so I could get the best advice regarding food, including my egg allergy, and was offered gluten-free bread with my meal. I was reassured multiple times that it was perfectly safe for me, but after eating my meal I soon realised something wasn’t safe and then found out the bread contained egg.
  •  I explained all of my allergens to the waitress in another restaurant and requested a meal that was otherwise safe apart from the potatoes (it was a beef stew type meal), so of course I requested for the potatoes to be removed. My meal was then served and as I was eating it I started to feel tingling in my lips and repeatedly asked the person I was eating with whether my lips looked as if they were starting to swell. They said they didn’t think so, so I started to think I was being paranoid until I looked at my next spoonful and noticed there was a piece of pasta on it that I definitely had not agreed to being in my meal. I then quickly realised that the chef had replaced the potato in my meal with pasta, the chef and waitress were both aware of my allergies and nobody thought to check with me whether they could add normal pasta into my meal. I then felt very ill for the rest of the night.

These are only three examples out of a sadly very large range of examples I have that expose the complete negligence and/or ignorance regarding my allergies by those who I was relying upon to make sure that the food I ate was safe.  Therefore, the One McPeake Challenge is incredibly important in raising awareness of the impact foods can have on someone with allergies. The challenge itself requests that you remove one of the main 14 allergens from your diet for the first two weeks in September in order to raise awareness of the struggles a person with an allergy experiences. To take part you simply need to make a small donation, by doing this we hope to raise money for the Anaphylaxis Campaign. Though of course donating isn’t exclusive to those taking part, if you don’t want to remove an allergen but still want to help the cause please do make a donation on our MyDonate page, linked here.

This blog post presents only some of my story and experiences with having allergies, but I’m very aware that this story will be different for others and that’s why it’s important that whilst this campaign is running we share our experiences. Even if its just about one visit to a restaurant or one aspect of your reaction you want to vent about, it’s important that we raise awareness of the impact having an allergy can have on your life and if by doing that we can potentially raise some money for the Anaphylaxis Campaign, then it seems like it a win-win to me!

If you would like to keep up with the campaign or just find out more about what Allergen Accreditation does, then you can find us across all social media platforms:

Instagram – @allergenawareuk
Facebook – JACS
Twitter – @JACS /@AllergenAwareUK

If after reading this post you would like to find more out about the campaign there is a post on my blog explaining the whole challenge, alternatively you could email jacs@allergenaccreditation.co.uk if you would like to get in contact or share your story. You could also share your story by contacting the twitter account above or my own personal account @SophieNixon17.  Thank you for reading this post.

I Love Purely

In the March of this year I attended the Free From Food Awards, it was a really exciting event at which my Mum won Free From Hero of 2018, making the trip from Manchester to London definitely worth it! However, this event also allowed me to meet many different people and find out all about their work within the allergen community or their allergen friendly product. This is particularly important to me as I am always on the look out for new products that fit my dietary requirements, which is something a lot of products often fall just short of…

Whilst at the Awards event I met Stefania Pellegrino and Mark O’Sullivan the founders of Purely, a plantain chip brand which offers a healthy alternative to potato chips and many other snacks. As I have a potato allergy I am always seeking out potato alternatives (which aren’t as common as I’d like..) so I was already aware of Purely and have been a fan of their naturally salted chips for a long time, yet somehow I seemed to have missed that there were other available flavours. After speaking to the founders of Purely (who are incredibly nice!) I decided I had to try the other flavours, fortunately for me Purely themselves sent me some samples to try and I couldn’t let it go undocumented.

 In general plantain chips make for both an incredibly healthy and tasty snack  as they contain calcium, iron, Vitamins A, B, C and D whilst also being rich in minerals. However in regards to Purely plantain chips in particular, I shall review each pack of chips in order of my preference:

  1. Nice and Spicy

As soon as these arrived at my door I had a feeling they would be my favourite, and I was right! These chips have a light spicy covering that although evidently present in each chip, isn’t at all overpowering and in fact a whole bag of them is easily finished. Although it’s currently summer, I imagine that these chilli crisps would be perfect for winter due to how warming they are in your mouth.

Ingredients: Plantains, sunflower oil, natural spices & salt.

2. Naturally Salted

If spicy or garlic plantain chips sound like a too exotic introduction to plantains, then the naturally salted option is the one for you! These chips are lightly seasoned with salt and are the most naturally flavoured making them a great snack with either a meal or for when you’re on the go. Out of the Purely range these are the chips I was already aware of as I have had them as a handy snack in my bag for a while now. When I could eat potato crisps ready salted were my favourite, but now that I’m allergic to potato I have relied on these naturally salted chips to provide me with that crisp-like snack and they’ve never let me down.

Ingredients: Plantains, sunflower oil, salt.

3. Wild Garlic

If I’m honest I didn’t really think I would be much of a fan of these chips, even as I opened my bag of chips I could smell the garlic flavouring and became even more suspicious than before. But evidently the phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” comes into play here because even though these chips have the most overpowering flavour, I really do recommend them! As strange as it may sound, it was almost like eating a tiny garlic bread with every chip and it was something I found surprisingly enjoyable.

Ingredients: Plantains, sunflower oil, natural spices & salt.

Each of bag chips are also:

  • Vegan
  • Gluten Free
  • High in Potassium
  • Contain 0g of Trans Fat
  •  Non GMO
  • All Natural

 Overall I’m a big fan of the whole Purely range, even those I didn’t expect to end up loving and highly recommend them as a snack alternative. Two of the samples even made it on my spa holiday, protected by my hotel room’s meerkat…

If you want to grab yourself a bag of Purely Plantain Chips you can look on Purely’s website to see where near you stocks these chips, or simply order from their website by clicking here.

I’d like to thank Purely for sending me a box of samples, and hope you enjoyed reading this review.

One McPeake Challenge

In order to raise awareness of the daily struggles an individual experiences, Allergen Accreditation is about to launch a campaign that  Jacqui McPeake (the Free From Hero of 2018) successfully ran on a smaller scale within Manchester Metropolitan University when she was Head of Catering.

To participate in this challenge Allergen Accreditation requests that an individual removes one of the main 14 allergens from their diet during the first two weeks in September, by doing this we hope to encourage a broader understanding of the difficulties that a life with allergies presents. We particularly aim to improve the understanding of those working within the catering industry, as we are aware of  how a broader understanding of allergens within the catering industry can improve the experiences of those with an allergy, and potentially improve their confidence in regards to going out for food. In order to participate in this challenge we simply request that you donate via our MyDonate page, where all money raised will go to the Anaphylaxis Campaign which provides valuable support and information regarding serious allergies. We suggest a minimum donation of £5 for an individual entry  and £50 for a team entry, though anything more would be greatly appreciated.

In order to gain an insight into participants experiences during the 2 week challenge we encourage you to feedback your views and experiences via the email that will be provided at the bottom of this post. Please be assured your personal details will remain anonymous. If email isn’t your preference, we would also love it if you contacted us via our social media, such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook with your experiences using #OneMcPeakeChallenge. The team at Allergen Accreditation will then use the information to provide tweets, blogs and Instagram posts to raise allergen awareness across the industry and in social media channels.

Upon registering to participate in the challenge, there are a few activities we request you attempt during the 2 weeks in order to broaden both your and our understanding of the daily challenges experienced by those with an allergy:

  • Remove one of the key 14 allergens for a 2 week period.
  • Visit local supermarkets and smaller shops to purchase appropriate foods suitable for your chosen allergen. Feedback your experience to the email address provided or tweet your experience on Twitter using the #Onemcpeakechallenge
  • Dine out at least once and feedback your experience good/bad to the email address provided.
  • If you managed to order a takeaway, what was your experience?
  • Feedback any difficulties you experience e.g. taking a packed lunch to work, finding snacks to eat, eating with family members.
  • Feedback reactions of family, colleagues etc.
  • If working in the industry, feedback the response from your colleagues.
  • Feedback any learning from the challenge.
  • What did you learn from the experience if anything ?
  • Will you do anything differently as a result of #Onemcpeakechallenge ?

However, please remember that your own health is important and if you have an underlying health condition or if you begin to feel unwell during the 2 week challenge, you are advised to return immediately to your usual diet. If you are concerned please visit your GP.

I hope you consider participating in our challenge and would like to thank you in advance on behalf of Allergen Accreditation and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, it would also be incredibly helpful if you could aid us in promoting this challenge.

 

To contact us with your experiences during the challenge or any other enquires please email:

jacs@allergenaccreditation.co.uk

Alternatively, for enquiries alone you can also contact:

office@allergenaccreditation.co.uk

Peckish Rice Crackers

At Food Matters Live 2017, I met some representatives for Peckish who very kindly provided me with some of their products to try and review. As a person who is allergic to both gluten and potato, crisps and crackers aren’t products I usually have the luxury of trying, so I was excited by the prospect of having a new on the go snack.

Peckish rice crackers are somewhere in between a crisp and a cracker, they are light and airy and don’t have the typical cracker trait of being dehydrating. They are a great alternative to crisps if you are unable to have them or choose not to, being the closest I have found in both flavour and texture. They are available in all supermarkets and can be easily found on social media.

They gave me three different flavours of their rice crackers to try and I shall review them in order of my preference:

1) Sea Salt and Vinegar

When I could have crisps, salt and vinegar was one of my favourite flavours (with the slightly duller option of ready salted being my first choice), automatically this gave these rice crackers the advantage. After not being able to have any similarly flavoured snack for years, this packet was a welcomed treat. Although they have quite a strong salt and vinegar flavour, they also have the aftertaste of a rice cracker which although is light and tasty, reminds you that you have chosen the healthier snack.

Ingredients:
Rice Flour (85%), Rice Bran Oil (10%), Maltodextrin, Sea Salt (1.7%), Vinegar Powder (1.1%), Flavour Enhancers (E627, E631), Antioxidant (E307)

Allergy Information:
Free From: Gluten
May Contain: Milk, Soya

2) Tangy Barbecue

Barbecue is a flavour I would usually avoid, unless it involves fajitas, when it comes to snacks I usually find barbecue to be too strong a flavour for me. However, these crackers have a light barbecue flavour and make for a delicious lunchtime extra. There is a light coating of flavour dusted on top of the crackers, which can result in barbecue dusted fingers, so there’s no denying you’ve been snacking in your spare time.

Ingredients:
Rice Flour (85%), Rice Bran Oil (10%), Salt, Barbecue Seasoning (3%) (Soy Sauce Powder (Maltodextrin, Soya Bean Oil, Salt), Ginger Powder, Acid (E330), Flavour Enhancers (E627, E631)), Antioxidant (E307)

Allergy Information:
Free From: Gluten
Contains: Soya
May Contain: Milk

3) Sour Cream and Chive

Sour cream is another flavour that I would generally avoid, but again Peckish has created delicious rice crackers out of a flavour I wouldn’t usually appreciate. These crackers are the lightest in flavour, with the flavour of the rice cracker also being the least prominent, instead the aftertaste is of sour cream and chive, this may make this flavour the most preferable to those who want to avoid the rice cracker taste.

Due to the flavouring of these crackers however, milk is a featuring ingredient, as I do have issues with milk and can only tolerate a small amount every now and then, these crackers wouldn’t be my first choice.

Ingredients:
Rice Flour (85%), Rice Bran Oil (10%), Sour Cream and Chive Flavouring (Cheese Powder (1.5%) (Cheddar Cheese (Milk), Salt), Onion Powder (1.5%), Sugar, Flavour Enhancers (E627, E631), Acid (E270), Salt), Antioxidant (E307)

Allergy Information:
Free From: Gluten
Contains: Milk
May Contain: Soya

I really enjoyed tasting these products and shall now be on the look out to buy some more, I think Peckish makes wonderful free from and vegan (excluding the sour cream and chive flavour) rice crackers. I love discovering new allergy friendly products, as sometimes meals can get repetitive and as much as I love finding sweet products, I do struggle to find savoury snacks I can eat and enjoy. As a result of this, I am a big fan of Peckish’s creations and although they are products that could be overlooked if you have an abundance of savoury snacks, I believe they aren’t spoken about enough.

Food Matters Live 2017

Food Matters Live is an annual event that takes place at London Excel, this year I was lucky enough to be invited as a result of being a judge for the Free From Eating Out Awards in September. The event lasts for 3 days, however I only attended the one day, the day the results of the Awards were announced.

Once there I collected my pass, and began to wander around the various stalls at the event.

The first stall I came across that peaked my interest, was by a brand called “treat”, they produce bread roll and vegan flatbread mixes. These mixes appealed to me as although the bread roll mix contains egg, meaning I could not have it, both of them do not contain potato or maize starch. This is something I have a particular issue with as gluten free products often use these starches as a substitute. This is also something I ended up discussing and educating a lot of people on throughout the day.

       

Another brand that took interest in my issues with potato and maize starch is a brand called Angels & Cookies, this brand creates cookie dough free of all 14 allergens, but does however use maize starch. After speaking to the founder, Karen Capetta, she provided me with a business card and requested I email her so we can discuss making a cookie dough that would be suitable for me. This brand aims to allow those suffering with food allergies to be able to indulge without making sacrifices, and based on our discussion I think they’re doing a wonderful job.

At 2 o’clock I attended a seminar which was opened by Simon Wright who is chair of the Gluten Free Industry Association. He educated those of us in the seminar about the GFIA stating that brands such as Dr Schar, Warburtons and BFree are members. Following Mr Wright was Carly B, a gluten free blogger who analysed the various types  of free from eaters and their priorities. Closing the seminar was a representative for Mr Kipling, this talk I found particularly interesting as although I know the usual Mr Kipling cakes are heavenly, I’ve never been drawn to the gluten free versions. Her talk was very interesting and highlighted the worth of the Free From market from a producers point of view, with it estimated to be worth £673m in the UK by 2020! During her talk the issue of who is consuming the goods was also discussed, with people who are doing it to benefit their lifestyle being in larger numbers than those who medically have to change their diet.

Earlier in the day the representative for Mr Kipling had actually provided me with a box of Mr Kipling gluten free brownies, to try once I had gotten home. I did this, and found them to be incredibly tasty, though slightly confusing. The brownies are packaged with two in one small tray, which is good for travelling and to carry around as a handy snack. However when I picked one up it felt hard on the outside, so I was dubious to bite into it, but once I did I discovered it to secretly be a delicious, crumbly and surprisingly not drying brownie that I will now be seeking out in the shops.

Before heading to the Free From Eating Out Awards presentation, I managed to visit the Freedom Confectionary stall. I discovered this brand at The Allergy & Free From show in Liverpool last year. Since then I have been obsessed with their marshmallows, but not always able to get them. I left the stall incredibly happy when I was given some free bags of mallows to make up for the fact they weren’t at the Free From show this year.

The awards show was wonderful, with many brands earning bronze, silver and gold awards for their free from successes. Not only was it great to see so many brands working so hard to be a welcoming free from business, but it also allowed me to discover potential restaurants/cafes I could visit in the future. The awards for the category I judged for were also announced, it was really nice to see and meet the creators behind the products I had judged, with those marvellous doughnuts mentioned in my previous post winning a gold award. To find the full list of winners click here. The overall winner was Mommi, which is a Japanese-Latin Raw Bar and Grill in London. I’d never heard of Mommi before but if ever I find myself in search of food nearby, I will definitely check them out.

Although the day was long, travelling to London from Manchester and returning the same day, it was an enjoyable one. I learnt a lot from this day, meeting lots of inspirational people and discovering many brands and company’s doing amazing work. This was my first Food Matters Live event, and hopefully not my last.

Judging The Free From Eating Out Awards 2017

Waking up at 4:30am on any other day would seem like a nightmare, but on a day when I get to be a part of the Free From Eating Out Awards as hosted by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, it seemed more like it was part of a dream. As a result of my mother’s, Jacqui McPeake’s, work and my own personal list of confusing allergies I was presented with the wonderful opportunity to be on the judging panel for the Free From Eating Out Awards 2017 Category 9, Foods Manufactured for Food Service. I was met at London Euston by Julian Edwards from Allergy Accreditation (see here), who not only guided me through London and to Michelle’s beautiful house, but also – with Michelle – offered me the chance to be a part of this incredibly talented panel.

Once at Michelle’s house the first product tested was a dairy alternative to a milk designed for coffee, this was an intriguing opening product as it wasn’t something I necessarily expected but made for a great ice breaker and a lovely morning coffee. Especially after my early start. As someone with a dairy allergy I have tried a great number of milks from coconut to almond, hemp and soy, the list goes on. I am more than used to soy milk and the kind of coffee it produces, and this first product created a creamy coffee that enhanced the flavour of the coffee in a way soy never has done for me before.

The products that followed after this were the savoury products of this category, which was an interesting section for me. Out of the products available for testing I could only test just under half, and there were only a few that I could confidently try. This made me incredibly aware of how repetitive some of the use of ingredients were, in particular the use of maize and potato starch, two ingredients I struggle with. This however in no way undermines the products involved in this category, as there were some products that I could not try but looked tempting. A product I tried that  remained memorable to me in particular was a simple one, a meat glaze. This product interested me as I am all too familiar with being presented a plain meat meal whenever I have eaten out. The product was presented to us on chicken and the added glaze was a welcomed and enjoyable change. Although this product may not be one most people would be excited about, it thrilled me.

The next products to be tasted and judged were the dessert products, the products I naturally was most looking forward to. This section although contained some similar ingredients, was thankfully a much more edible section for me. Without a doubt the product that stole the show for me personally was a doughnut batter mix, desserts tend to excite me anyway as they aren’t something I’m frequently offered, but this particular dessert was everything I didn’t know I wanted. They were light, fluffy and the tasting left me wanting more. Another product that pleased me was a brownie mix, which although there are many of, it can be questioned how many truly exquisite ones there are. A brownie is a classic dessert and one frequently offered to someone with an allergy (that’s if a fruit salad isn’t available), but I have had many an average or sometimes even a below-average brownie. A brownie mix that easily allows you to make your own brownies on demand, that taste incredible – I can assure you! – are a very handy item. I’ve had many a free from brownie and the brownies this mix produced are if not the best, one of the best I have ever tried.
Finally, to round off the dessert section tasting and the day, we tried some chocolate bars. Of course nowadays you can find your standard plain dairy free chocolate bars in many supermarkets, I know I have a few Tesco and ASDA favourites, but I thought these would be of a particular interest to those with a dairy allergy who either miss their old favourites or wish they could try them. These chocolate bars however are not for those with a nut allergy as the ones we tested contained nuts, and mimicked the flavours of some other (dairy filled) popular chocolate bars available.

Shortly after the final judging and discussion about the desserts tasted, I had to head back to London Euston for my train home. This day, though one unexpected, opened up a world to me I didn’t realise I could fall into but am thrilled I have. It was wonderful to meet so many people also interested in the world of allergies and to find out about the work they have done. It was also fascinating to see and effectively analyse the list of ingredients used in the products, and consider any alternatives. I learnt a lot from the day and am now looking forward to the awards being announced.