A few days ago, I took my eldest (5 years 11 months) and my youngest (three weeks) across the city to London Olympia for the Allergy and Free From show.
I am not going to play it cool. I was ridiculously excited about going. My toddler (1 year 8 months) suffers from eczema as well as a wide range of allergies (wheat, cow’s milk protein, eggs, tree nuts and seeds) and it can be tricky to feed her when we are out and about. I found out about the Allergy Show a few months ago and the thought we would be able to find dozens of brands dedicated to allergies and exclusion diets under one roof was making me giddy.
The hall was spacious, bright and colourful. It was nothing like the boring shows I got dragged to as a child in dull, grey warehouses that were either freezing cold or stuffy. As soon as we went in, we found the Allergy UK stand and I was booked in an hour later for a private conversation with Maureen Jenkins, the Director of Clinical Services for the charity.
In the meantime, Crevette was drawn towards Allergy Adventures, which was providing a free craft workshop for children. Everyone helping Hailey in the bright yellow area was chatty, friendly and had more enthusiasm than Mister Maker! Crevette would have stayed there all day on the comfortable bean bags if I had let him. He had a brilliant time making a paper plate cupcake and as he was being entertained, I leafed through Hailey’s children books and we bought the ‘egg-free’ one for Jumpy.
Shortly afterwards, we met with the bubbly Vicki, otherwise known as the Free From Fairy. She had organised for like-minded people blogging or tweeting about allergies and coeliac disease to get together at the café. I wish we could have stayed there for longer, but we had to go back to Allergy UK for our appointment.
Maureen is one in a million; a truly inspiring woman. She is a proactive campaigner who goes out of her way to help people living with allergies. She is determined to spread the word about allergies, educate people, and get more allergy dieticians out there. After listening to Jumpy’s story, she gave me advice on food I could give her, mentioned a new adrenaline auto injector we could ask Jumpy’s paediatrician to prescribe when hers is out of date. She also advised reading Tanya Wright’s books. She even gave me a one ingredient ‘ice cream’ I could make in minutes. For the length of our conversation, Maureen shared her seat with Crevette and she had a little cuddle with Wriggly. When we left after chatting for over an hour, I felt lighter. More dedicated people like Maureen are needed to guide and reassure parents when they have just found out their little ones have life-threatening allergies.
After a great start to the day, I have to admit I was rather disheartened by the fact most food stands had nothing to offer for multiple allergy sufferers. A minority of the exhibitors were catering for my toddler’s range of allergies and overall, it was more of a ‘gluten free’ show than a ‘free from’ show as far as the food was concerned.
Had my little girl been with me, I am not entirely sure I would have managed to find lunch for her. We are not alone with this predicament and I read a couple of posts with similar feelings on the Intolerant Gourmand and Carrots and Maple Syrup’s blogs.
Nonetheless, a number of the familiar brands we use and buy regularly were there: DS-gluten free, WaterWipes, Plamil Foods, TIANA, Alpro UK, Koko Dairy Free, HayMax, Sainsbury’s freefrom and Tesco Free From range.
I did not buy that much as I had two of my children with me, had to go home by public transport and some of the products I had my eyes on were either bulky or needed to be kept in the fridge.
Here is a little list of new brands I discovered, sampled and fell in love with: Pip Organic, COYO, the Coconut Collaborative, debbie&andrew’s, incognito anti-mosquito, PERK!ER Foods, Goody Good Stuff, Pudology and Smooze UK.
We ran out of time, but these are the stands I would have liked to get to: ilumi, Allergy Lifestyle, Angelic Gluten Free, Freedom Mallows, Fun Foods 4 All, GoodnessDirect, Smart Eats & Treats, Vitamix Europe and Vegusto UK. Tell me what you think if you have tried any of their products.
I wish these had been there: as I wrote at length before, we are huge fans of Lazy Day Foods at home and I would have loved to see them there, as well as Sticky Mix which I discovered through Twitter recently but have not tried yet.
Am I going to the Allergy Show again next year? Yes, yes, 10 times yes!
Have you got a favourite ‘free from’ product? If so, leave a comment to let me know as I always struggle to find nice-tasting ‘free from’ food my little girl can have.