This weekend was the London Allergy + Free From Show, it was big, it was busy and it was brilliant! I thought I would do a little review and try and encourage you to venture out to the next one near you – there are details about upcoming Allergy + Free From Shows here.
I visited the show on Saturday at Kensington Olympia and enjoyed a very encouraging, inspiring day. It was huge and a little overwhelming for me, but it also reminded me of why I started free2bake.com.
It was impossible to ignore how many people are living with different health issues surrounding food, which I found bizarrely encouraging! One of the awful things about anaphylaxis is that we don’t often meet other parents of children who have gone into anaphylactic shock, and feeling alone an make anaphylaxis grow into more of a monstrous issue. I was very aware that everyone at the show was not there because of severe food allergies and anaphylaxis; there was a huge coeliac contingent, folks with crohn’s, IBS, intolerances, allergies, vegans, gastroenterological issues… BUT the scale of show, the huge body of people there, reminded me that there are masses of us who are struggling with one of the basic human necessities – food.
At the blogger meet-up at Speakers Corner it was wonderful to meet in person some of the fellow allergy mums I’d only ever communicated with online. Vicki the free-from fairy was there promoting her new whole-grain rice-free gluten-free flour. I am looking forward to giving it a go and will be posting a review when I do :). Emma from the free-from farmhouse was there too, she gave a great talk with sound advice for parents with children who’ve just been diagnosed with food allergies, you can read her presentation on her blog here. It reminded me to reconnect with the online community and her fab linky free-from fridays.
I think that being there with other bloggers, listening to parents and their stories reminded me of how and why I started free2bake.com eighteen months ago. It was born out of our weekly trips to the Allergy Clinic at the Royal Free. They loved the food that I made for Aars to eat – I always make too much so there was enough to share. Every week they asked me to write out my recipes free-from eggs, dairy, soya, nuts… which I had developed over the previous ten years, as they had parents who were new to food allergies and didn’t know how to make cakes or pancakes or biscuits or muffins… without the standard, normal ingredients. There were so many awful stories and the need was huge, so I started the blog to make recipes freely available to the hospital as a resource so that they could help the desperate parents of their patients. As I have been blogging this last few months I have continued to share my free-from recipes, developing new ones but I’ve also been focusing on the website – trying to create a helpful user-friendly recipe index… and I forgot my starting point (even though with the recipe index I was still trying to do it). TO EMPOWER OTHER PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH FOOD ALLERGIES AND ANAPHYLAXIS; ENABLING THEM TO MAKE YUMMY FREE-FROM FOOD SO THEIR CHILDREN DON’T MISS OUT. The Allergy + Free From Show really brought my starting point back into clear focus, which for me was wonderful and in itself made the day worthwhile.
I also got to meet some of the professionals that I have interacted with online over the past year, like Owen at Allergy UK. They are an incredible charity providing great support to parents and individuals with allergies as well as to schools, companies and industry with a mass of resources and their allergy aware and seal of approval schemes. It was a real treat for me to see one of my recipes – the savoury sweet potato pancakes in print in the recent spring edition of the Allergy UK Focus Magazine.
It was amazing to meet the folks from the Tesco free-from department and get a sense of all the work they are doing within the organisation to promote free-from thinking. They are working to remove allergens where possible from mainstream products as well as developing their own free-from range. I enjoyed a sample of their freshly baked egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free garlic bread which was the perfect texture and delicious. The only downside was that I felt like I had garlic breath afterwards! I recommend you take some mints or chewing gum if you’re going to one of the upcoming Allergy + Free From Shows, as the Tesco garlic bread is too good to miss! I am looking forward to seeing the fruit of their labours slowly impact what it available on Tesco’s shelves – like gluten-free sushi – YIPPEE!!
In other gluten-free product news I was also very excited by the McVities gluten-free hobnobs, original and milk chocolate 😀 I am hoping that they bring out a dark chocolate version soon too as they was always my fave!
My top picks in terms of free-from foods which were NEW to me were:
Sweet Rebellion – a gorgeous new range of vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, refined sugar-free ice creams. The Sweet Rebellion website has their established range first (which has egg yolk in it) but their new vegan range is also there if you keep on scrolling through their range – it’s worth it :). Available from independent health stores like Infinity Foods
NOM – Naturally Organic Matters – I especially liked their cinnamon popcorn, it’s gluten-free, dairy-free & refined sugar-free made with wholegrain corn.
Rana’s Bakery – making amazingly tasty gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free bread – her ‘nearly rye bread’ with its caraway and fennel seeds in it was AWESOME! Of all the gluten-free breads I tasted at the show her’s were the best by a LOOOOOOOOONG shot! She sells dry mixes so you can easily make her lovely bread fresh at home by just adding oil and water – totally worth a go!
Make it gluten free – provided the best tasting brownies at the show and I tried a lot!! Taste is very individual and not a definitive, quantifiable thing – we all have different palates and therefore varying experiences of taste. I find that a lot of the gluten-free baked goods have a nasty after-taste. These were hands-down the yummiest brownies I tried at the show as there was no bitter or weird aftertaste.
Then there were the old faves – like CO YO, Koko, Cocoa Libre, Nkd wholefoods, Nairns, Amy’s kitchen, Pure…
I had a few real highlights and treats, one of which was at Big Juice in the afternoon when I was seriously flagging. I had a chilli shot – I watched them juice one chilli with quarter of a lime in front of me – then down in one it was AMAZING! Very hot, hot, hot – but very yummy. And it gave me that energy boost I needed – people talk about sugar rushes – I had a chilli rush. My body responded instantly and I felt re-energised and able to continue through the masses round the show. The bonus was that it wasn’t a short-lived high followed by the inevitable crash that sugar provides. It kept me going for a good couple of hours and reminded me of my love of juicing – getting all those wonderful fresh nutrients into my body, and my body’s instant response as it feels like I am drinking sunshine and goodness. So yesterday I stocked up on my organic spinach and cucumbers and I am getting back into my daily routine of juicing. YUM! My body is already thanking me and I will be experimenting and posting some juicing shots over the coming weeks – definitely.
Since Aars has been having to eat gluten in preparation for his endoscopy and the coeliacs diagnosis I have given up a little on the nutritional side of food as his body is not really absorbing anything anymore. Being at the show really highlighted to me the two pulls of the gluten-free and free-from food sector – which is a huge and growing market. There is the convenience side – where big companies are developing processed food, ready to eat and easy to use. Then there are the smaller independent organisations trying to ensure that their food has nutritional health benefits. I know that as a parent of a child who has had severe food allergies to egg, dairy, fruits, pulses, soya, vegetable … causing anaphylaxis, nutrition and making sure my son is growing at the same pace as his peers has always been a real focus for me. I am REALLY looking forward to getting back in the nutritional groove when his endoscopy is done, and returning to our more healthy gluten-free recipes with less refined sugar in them.
The refined sugars and artificial sweeteners of the food industry were under the microscope at the show too. I am seriously considering going refined-sugar and artificial sweetener free. My juiced chilli shot was so much more effective than a coke or sweetened coffee would have been… so watch this space – I am a little apprehensive of cold turkey but think it could be really good for my aging bod! If you’re interested in sugar, the NHS have a great little app (the sugar smart app) as well as a super set of facts and practical solutions about sugar for both kids and adults here.
The other stand I found intriguing was the Birch Syrup stand – they had bottles of syrup like maple syrup – which comes from silver birch trees in Estonian forests. It was shockingly sweet, and I wondered if having that in Aars diet would help him with his allergy to silver birch pollen, the same way that raw local honey helps some people with hay fever. Their website isn’t working so I cannot link up to them but if any of you have any knowledge or insights on birch syrup and silver birch pollen allergies I’d love to hear from you!
It was also amazing to meet Helen and her team who run the event, they were so passionate about it and do an incredible job.
I hope my review has inspired you to get yourself to a show, to be try out some of the new products and brands which are out there, to be encouraged and know that you are far from alone. Have a fabulous free-from week!