Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Our very allergic little boy

Wheaty goodies

We knew Logan might be prone to allergies because both Mark and I have them, so we purposely waited until he was 6 months old to wean him onto solids. Unfortunately he still turned out wheat and egg allergic (I blogged about it last year) and we've been excluding them from his diet ever since.

Last week his allergies were reviewed and the skin test for wheat came back negative, so yesterday we went in for a wheat challenge. It sounds exciting but basically involves sitting in front of the telly while nurses feed you bits of Weetabix and occasionally check your obs (I know it's more technical than that but Logan's an easy patient!). Last time he was tested he reacted right at the end of the day, so I didn't get my hopes up, but after an afternoon of cereal he still hadn't reacted so now we're slowly introducing wheat into his diet. Hurray!

It's brought up a few issues for me. Firstly, I'd never realised how many wheat products also contain egg, or sometimes contain egg. It was only when I went shopping for wheaty goodies today that I realised the number of things we'll still have to exclude (cakes, obviously, but also some pasta, bread, breadcrumbed meat and pastry). Luckily Penguins and pizza are ok!

It's also made me realise how little some caterers understand about allergies. Last night we went to Giraffe for a celebratory tea, thinking of all the new food on the menu that Logan could choose from. Unfortunately, they class egg as a dairy product when it comes to allergy labelling - clearly wrong on so many levels, even Logan knows eggs don't come from cows - so there was almost nothing on the menu we could identify as definitely egg-free. In the end we went for Logan's usual - grilled chicken burger without the bun. Exciting.

They also don't break down the menu by ingredient (it's the same for companies like Burger King), which makes it difficult to tailor a meal to a child with an allergy. In Giraffe, we know that the burger meat is 100% beef, so he's always been fine as long as he doesn't have the bread. According to the allergy guide though, the kids' burger meal contains wheat. If you don't think to ask, or if the staff don't know, you're going to go hungry.

At least Giraffe's children's menu has a few items that Logan can eat. Most kids' menus rely heavily on wheat - chicken nuggets, fish fingers, pasta, pizza - so we're usually restricted to places that serve jacket potatoes.

So far the egg is proving more difficult than the wheat. A lot of cafes and restaurants in London are aware of wheat allergies - Carluccio's, which just opened in Muswell Hill, has a gluten free menu, and lots of cafes include a gluten free cake on the menu. But it's proving difficult to find out which foods contain egg. The waiter at Carluccio's looked at me like I was mad when I asked if the pasta had egg in, but a lot of fresh pasta is made with it. The staff at Chorak swore down that you couldn't make bread without egg, but none of the bread on sale at Sainsbury's contains it. If you can't rely on the staff to know, then you're stuck ordering the same thing over and over, or avoiding restaurants altogether because you can't trust that your child won't have an allergic episode.

I know there's a lot of cynicism of food 'allergies' these days, because it's a bit faddy to be intolerant to wheat and dairy, but lots of children (and adults) do suffer a genuine food allergy. I don't expect everything on the menu to be suitable - I'm vegetarian, I'm used to having one or two choices when I eat out - but I do wish caterers would be more aware of providing for those with allergies, and of providing clear, useful information about the allergens their products contain.

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