My family traveled to Disney World for a vacation recently. I was thrilled to discover that the Food Allergy & Celiac Convention would be taking place during our stay in Orlando. This was our first stop. My husband dropped my daughter and me off, and he and little brother went to check in and grocery shop while we had an incredible afternoon!
I had high hopes for how wonderful our stop at the convention would be and it did not disappoint.
Numerous vendors offering wonderful samples were in attendance. The convention also had a Demo Stage and a Speaker Stage. The Demo Stage highlighted many chefs and culinary professionals. The set up allowed for the audience to ask questions and get an up-close look at how the professionals work in the kitchen. The Speaker list included experts in the field of allergy-friendly food. We were unable to be there for all of the presentations, but my thoughts about the last presenter from Enjoy Life are a little later in this post.
There were too many to name all of them here, but I will highlight a few.
The understanding of food allergies with all of these companies is incredibly refreshing. We visited a couple of booths in which we weren’t familiar with their products. The vendors did a fantastic job listening to my daughter’s allergies and with searching which of their products were safe for her. My two new favorite finds were Schar and GF Harvest. Gluten isn’t on our avoidance list so I don’t usually seek these products out. It is something worth checking into however since they understand food safety! The representative at Schar was excellent and seemed a bit disappointed that she only had 1 product on hand that worked for our list. We were thrilled though because adding a new item to the list is always exciting. Their Italian breadsticks tasted delicious and were enjoyed by the entire family later in the week!
GF Harvest also only had one product on hand that was safe for us. But what a wonderful conversation I had with the family that started Gluten Free Oats, which has now grown into GF Harvest. It is incredibly impactful to be able to look the food manufacturer in the eye as he tells me about the separate nut free facility, and hear that he is confident that none of my daughter’s allergens are in their Sweet Honey Cinnamon Canyon Oats. Those connections are what create confidence in a product and a business.
Now onto some of our old favorites!
Sunbutter – my family loves sunbutter. It is a staple in our house. Even my peanut butter loving husband made the transition without complaining. I think he eats more of it than the rest of our family.
Babycakes NYC is a bakery that originated in New York and also has a location at Downtown Disney that is undergoing remodeling right now. We were glad to learn that their products are still available at some Disney locations.
Babycakes, Babycakes, Babycakes! This is what my daughter yelled as she ran to their booth – need I say more?
Last, but most certainly not least – Enjoy Life. This company is absolutely amazing.
I had the opportunity to be in the audience when Joel Warady, Chief Sales & Marketing Manager of Enjoy Life Foods, presented at the end of the day. I was a bit concerned about getting my 5 year old daughter to sit still long enough for me to listen, especially with all of the free sample excitement she had. Thankfully, the continuous supply of “purple plentils” as she calls them, kept her in her seat. (They are actually garlic parmesan plentils – they come in a purple bag. The “purple plentils” aren’t readily available at any of our local grocery stores so my daughter was especially excited to have some. And thanks to the very sweet representative working the sample table, we were able to take home an entire bag to enjoy later, along with many other treats!) Back to the presentation … Joel Warady showed us a behind the scenes video from the Enjoy Life facility. My daughter loved seeing how some of her favorite foods were made (especially those purple plentils). We saw pictures of smiling faces from all of the Enjoy Life employees. Mr. Warady shared how proud the employees are of their work, and the company’s commitment to quality and safety. He spoke about their priority to share what “free from” truly means with others in the food manufacturing and grocery business. “It’s not a brand. It’s a movement.” said Mr. Warady. He is absolutely correct.
An extra at the convention was the Supercalifragilistic Sundae Bar. What a treat this was for my daughter (especially since she is allergic to milk) and all of the others with food allergies who attended the convention. She enjoyed So Delicious coconut ice cream and many delicious toppings. The organizers knew what they were doing when they added this bonus!
As a food allergy advocate, I would like to encourage you to keep up the great work! It’s always inspiring to be in a room full of people that share your passion.
I left this convention fully inspired and incredibly grateful.
Lastly, I can’t write about those that truly “get it” without highlighting Walt Disney World. Disney genuinely wants everyone’s experience at the parks and resorts to be magical. They understand what inclusion is all about.
The food allergy training for chefs and food service personnel at Disney is second to none. When ordering a special “allergy order,” the chef or manager will come out to speak with you. They supervise the preparation of your food from start to finish. This even happens at the quick service restaurants where food allergy orders are presented on a different color tray - just to add one more visual to ensure that the food is safe. I never thought carrying a plate of chicken tenders and French fries to my child would cause me to be overcome with emotion, but believe me it did!
Thinking about planning your own Disney vacation? I have one tip that is an absolute must. Check out the Disney Chefs Rock Food Allergies Facebook Group. Founded by fellow food allergy advocate and educator, Tricia Gavankar. Here you will find everything you need to know about visiting Disney while managing food allergies so that you may enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Are you struggling to discover those that “get it?” Keep looking. They are out there. I highly recommend making connections with others that are managing food allergies as an excellent way to discover food brands and restaurants that understand how important food quality and safety is when it comes to food allergies. We would love to hear from you – what companies are you loyal to due to their understanding of food allergies?