There are simply not enough words to express the immense gratitude we feel towards Jenny Sprague and Homa Woodrum for planning and executing the phenomenal Food Allergy Bloggers Conference. I came across a quote by Melody Beattie that sums it up better than I ever could as these ladies not only united food allergy bloggers of every kind but provided them a chance to learn, socialize and truly appreciate each other.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
We arrived in Vegas on Thursday to check things out and had fun family time on the Vegas strip prior to the conference. Late Friday afternoon, I bid farewell to my children and husband so I could prepare for the dinner arranged by the wonderful Caroline of Grateful Foodie. Having dinner at Don Vito’s with this smaller group of bloggers made me incredibly anxious due to possibly not knowing anyone in person. Fortunately, the lovely Selena of Amazing and Atopic had agreed to meet me there as we had chatted quite a bit via social media. My anxiety could have easily kept me in my room had it not been for her genuine kindness. When I walked into the restaurant, I immediately recognized Cheryl Viirand the founder of Freedible because we had met in person during BlogHer Food in Austin. Her smile was infectious. Sitting next to her was a man who was destined to become our lifelong friend, Ritesh Patel. I have never met someone so sincere and compassionate. As soon as I was seated, the conversation flowed as naturally among the people at the table as it would during a high school reunion.
Chef Keith Norman came to greet us and answer questions regarding the menu he had created for us. He was reassuring and confident given that a single, simple mistake could send someone to the ER or worse. As someone who enjoys dining out, Chef Norman is the type of person who puts you at ease instead of making you want to run for the door because they lack information regarding the food you are about to consume.
On Saturday morning, we had planned to meet in the lobby to head over to the FARE Walk. As you may have read in my previous post, my kids and I were more than excited about participating. If you know me at all, you won’t be shocked to discover that we missed the entire event due to not one but two unfortunate issues. According to their web page, the FARE walk has raised over $93,000.
The much-anticipated conference began on Sunday and it was immediately obvious that despite what brought each individual blogger to Las Vegas, we were all united for a cause. The majority of bloggers, attendees and presenters that I spoke with had someone with allergies to at least one of the Top 8 food allergens in their household, several live gluten free due to celiac disease and there were so many more food related health issues that I can’t name them all.
Speaking of food, Chef Keith Norman of the South Point Hotel devised an allergy friendly menu to be served during the conference and also for the entire hotel/casino. This meant that no matter which of their many restaurants we popped into for a bite, we could easily find options that were free of all of the top 8 allergens. Each server I questioned had answers. Sounds surreal, huh? IT HAPPENED.
There were a plethora of educational sessions spread out over Sunday and Monday. Although many bloggers enjoyed the dual track of sessions, I often felt torn between learning about how to improve my blog and learning how to become a better advocate. Due to various reasons beyond my control, I did miss many of the sessions I had planned to attend. As aforementioned, if I plan to do something, chances are life will put a stick in the spokes of my bicycle. (I accept that with a smile)
Unfortunately for me, one of the presentations I missed was Nitty Gritty – Make it Pretty by Mary Fran Wiley of Franny Cakes. However, Mary Fran has graciously allowed for this session to be viewed and downloaded from her website here. From what I’ve heard this was quite an informative session about cleaning up your blog and making it beautiful. Bloggers were raving about it. While I was quite sad to miss it, I will say that I am so blessed to know this lady. She is absolutely inspiring. If you haven’t already, check out her motivating Chronic Positivity Project.
Imagine my joy when I was able to attend the Art of Recipe Development with presenters Colette Martin, Kelly Rudnicki and Cybele Pascal. All of these women are absolutely incredible and accomplished in the area of recipe development. For example, Colette Martin has written Learning to Bake Allergen Free based on her own experience with her son’s allergies to wheat, milk, soy, egg, peanuts and her family’s journey with eosinophilic esophagitis (EE).
During this presentation, I was once again reminded the importance of writing down your ingredients so you can recreate your recipe with the same outcome every single time. The way I cook, I rarely measure (the correct way) and though my food is almost always edible – it doesn’t always look or taste the way I envision it. One of the suggestions to remedy that is to keep a log of what you are doing, adding, subtracting or in other words, write down any changes you make to the recipe. Another great point was to change only one thing at a time when adjusting a recipe. These may seem like simple points but again, I don’t write things down when I’m cooking and often try to recreate the same dish with very different results. While I will most likely never write a cookbook, I would be delighted to share some of my successes.
The session I most enjoyed was about 504 plans. For resources and other information regarding food allergy advocacy, please visit Green Laurel Documents. Another fantastic resource for parents is the online community called Kids with Food Allergies (KFA). KFA also offers online webinars to help guide you on your journey to become a stronger advocate for your child. After the session, I learned more about Jan Hanson and the services offered through EFFA (Education for Food Allergies). If you are struggling to get what you need from your child’s school system, I urge you to look at these websites and reach out for help.
I left this lecture feeling more confident that what I know about 504’s and IEP’s is correct. I’m now armed with more resources for the future. As a mom, I can’t begin to express the importance of knowing your student’s rights when it comes to food allergies. In our case, gluten and dairy play a ginormous role in school attendance and the ability to concentrate in the classroom. What a struggle it was when our child needed to have an IEP in place. If I can ever help another parent avoid the anguish our family went through, I will do whatever I can.
The closing panel of the conference was appropriately called Filling the Gaps. As I looked around the room in amazement, the message was very clear. Despite our individual food issues we all need to work together in order to ensure that safe legislation continues to be passed pertaining to food allergies and continue to raise awareness.
Special thanks to the Sponsors and Vendors at the FARE walk and conference. Your helped ensure this event would be outstanding. Just a few of my favorites are Allermates, Lauren’s Hope, Attune Foods and Enjoy Life.
Although it’s not possible to list every amazing blogger and/or advocate that I was able to meet in person, I do want to mention a few that are truly fabulous. Check out these blogs especially if you are avoiding gluten due to either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity:
Celiac and the Beast – Don’t forget to check out Erica’s new book when you visit her blog
Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW – If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you want to read this blog
Keeley McQuire – Need some inspiration for that lunch box? This lady is beyond creative.
If you want to see more about this conference or what is happening in the world of food allergens, look for the #FABlogCon hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. Not only will you obtain loads of information about living with food allergies and/or celiac disease, you’ll see the fun that we had while learning and socializing. Follow the #FABlogCon hashtag on Twitter & Instagram and help keep it going until the next conference in 2014.