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Gluten and Allergen Free Wellness Event 2016

Kathy Thornburg

A huge crowd gathered at the Gluten and Allergen Free Wellness Event last weekend to sample new products, learn more about several food companies, listen to speakers, and talk to others with similar needs and food restrictions.

This was the first time to bring my husband and children along to an event like this, and they really enjoyed the experience (although our 2-year-old showed us it was time to say our goodbyes by laying in protest in the middle of a crowded aisle....sigh....children. Gotta love 'em.)

So in looking back on the event, here are the things that made the biggest impression.

PAK (Parents of Allergic Kids) had a booth for kids to color and do activities. This was a great way to break up the day with our little ones and a nice opportunity to connect with a great support group in our area. I always appreciate the times when my son can meet other kids (and adults) with food allergies. I look forward to joining in on this group's future events, and if you live in Charlotte (or in a surrounding town), I hope you will too!

In my experience, most events that are marketed to both the gluten free consumers and those with food allergies tend to focus primarily on gluten free companies and not as much on food allergies. Food samples are everywhere, and although it's understandable that there will be foods some individuals can't eat because of their particular needs, it would be helpful to have clear signs at each booth listing product ingredients. At least one booth was passing out samples of an item with peanuts in it, which makes those of us attending with severely nut allergic family members a bit nervous. For an event to market itself as "allergen free", I think items need to be more clearly marked, and I would prefer they not allow vendors to provide nut samples. Of course, people living with food allergies know that no event, person, or product can ever be 100% trusted to be safe. We have learned the importance of asking the right questions before taking a bite.

So here were some of our favorite booths of the day (check out their websites using the hyperlinks below)...

Cabot Cheese- We tried their lactose free cheese, and it was a big hit with our family. The ladies running this booth were very friendly, and they gave my kids temporary tattoos....so of course they are winners in our book.

Enjoy Life Foods- Of course, we can't go to an event without visiting them. When we see bowls filled with bags of Plentil chips, our eyes light up with joy.

Norm's Farms- We learned a lot about elderberries and took home some wellness syrup to try. The syrup is absolutely fantastic and makes a delightful hot tea to end your day. I look forward to finding other ways to use this syrup in the kitchen. The way Rodger talks about his work on the farm and the passion he has for his product makes me wish I could go to the farm myself and see how it's done!

The Produce Box- If living in the Charlotte, NC area, The Produce Box sounds like a great way to get local fruits and veggies delivered right to your door every week. You can choose from a variety of different boxes and get the menus emailed to you each week before your next box arrives. I did see peanuts on one of the sample lists and have asked for more information about how these are handled in their packaging facility. I will edit this post once I receive a response for those who may be interested.

EDIT TO POST...

After talking with The Produce Box, it is clear that it is not a good fit for the food allergies in our family. They reuse boxes and sometimes have nuts and baked good items all packaged in the same facility. Here is their response, "The Produce Box doesn't have a policy in place to use separate boxes for members with allergies/sensitivities. You could choose to order a box that did not contain an item that your son is allergic to, but we can't guarantee that there wouldn't be residue in any box since they are recycled back to us each week from members and we have no way of tracking those boxes. Our menu often has bakery and specialty items containing nuts and we also offer peanuts and pecans on occasion. These items are put in the same box as the produce when delivered to our members."

Veggie Fries- Yummy, top 8 free, vegan, gluten free, and full of veggies. These were great, but I regret sharing my sample with my kids. Should have grabbed more than one!

I am glad to have been included in the blogger team for this year's event in Charlotte and look forward to seeing what they have in store for next year. It was a fun experience to have my family come along and to be involved in the process of getting to know where we get some of the foods we eat and trying out brands that were new to us.

Did you attend this year's event? What was your favorite booth, and what would you like to see change for next year?