The Food Allergy and Celiac Convention at WDW!

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Imagine you’re 13 years old, and suddenly find out that you can’t eat gluten any more…for the rest of your life. “What’s gluten?” you ask. Basically, it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Because of cross-contact during processing, it’s often found in oats, too. “What’s so bad about gluten?” you ask. If you have gluten sensitivity, a gluten allergy, or celiac disease, your body will react to it. This is really tricky for someone with celiac disease (like my teen son) because a celiac’s body can react to a very small amount of gluten. The only way to stay safe is to avoid gluten altogether.

So, back to being 13 and finding out you can no longer have “normal” bread, rolls, pasta, cookies, cake, doughnuts…basically anything with flour. What would 13-year-old you do? In my son’s case, he handled it like a trooper. I’m incredibly proud of him. Part of what helped his attitude was the Food Allergy and Celiac Convention.

Upon receiving his diagnosis, I immediately started doing online research. One of my first stops was Gluten-free and Dairy-free at WDW. This is a fantastic resource for those with celiac disease or food allergies who are contemplating a trip to Disney World. While on this site, I learned of the first annual Food Allergy and Celiac Convention to be held at none other than Coronado Springs at – you guessed it – Walt Disney World! This seemed like the perfect way to help my son deal with his new diagnosis – and it did indeed help. If he had a moment of “why can’t I just eat like a normal person?” all he had to do was think about his impending trip to Disney. Looking forward to the trip helped him through any feelings of discouragement.

And once we actually got to the convention, wow! It was much larger than we expected. There were tons of vendors, many offering samples of gluten-free foods. This was a fantastic opportunity to try lots of new things all in one place. Before we even made it to all of the vendors, we were getting full!

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There was also a speaker stage. We particularly enjoyed keynote speaker Gary Jones, Culinary Dietary Specialist for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He is key in creating safe meal experiences for those with dietary restrictions. The statistics he shared regarding the increase in special dietary requests were eye-opening. In a way, this is also encouraging. With food allergies and celiac disease on the rise, hopefully more restaurants will start accommodating dietary restrictions. Walt Disney World already has a fabulous special-diet protocol in place. I’ll share our first-hand experience with this in future posts.

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In addition to the speaker stage, there was a demonstration stage. This is where we watched Disney chefs (and other fabulous culinary masters) create celiac- and allergy-friendly dishes. We weren’t able to sample their food (this is the question I’m most frequently asked about the convention), but we did pick up some wonderful tips for the kitchen!

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Not only did we find lots of great new products and learn some very helpful hints, but the supportive atmosphere of the convention was, in my opinion, a huge part of its success. Where else can a celiac go and be surrounded by people just like him? For my son, it was a chance to feel normal for a day. And I loved the positive message that the event organizers Laurie Sadowski and Sarah Norris put forth: Celebrate Awareness. The day was all about celebrating the increasing awareness of celiac disease and food allergies, and there was definitely a festive vibe in the air.

I hear that the second annual FACC is in the works – yay!

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About HFBrainerd

Published novelist and Disney World fanatic. Thanks for coming along on this wild ride!
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