They Just Don’t Get It: Girl Scout Encampment

Recently my Girl Scout troop (I am an assistant leader of a mixed troop with girls age 8 to 18) went to encampment. Now our troop has girls and parents with special dietary needs. We have a mom with a severe peanut allergy and a girl in another troop with a tree nut allergy. We also have people who cannot tolerate gluten, one of which has Celiac Disease. We also have one of our volunteers who, for health reasons, is on a low carb diet.

Note: peanuts are not grown on trees and are not in the same family as other nuts, they are actually legumes. Someone with a peanut allergy is more likely to also be allergic to beans than to other nuts.

Our troop leader spoke extensively with the head cook before the encampment explaining the various diet restrictions. The encampment was supposed to be nut free (that means peanuts and tree nuts) and there were to be gluten-free options at every meal. While everything was peanut free, some items had nuts as an ingredient. One menu item had cashews listed first on the ingredient list. The lunch and dinner menus were heavy on the carbs. One meal was pasta with meat sauce. There was no alternative to the pasta, so our girls and volunteers who couldn’t eat the pasta only had meat sauce as an option.

Our leader always plans ahead. She had a variety of gluten-free, and peanut and nut free foods with her to supplement what the cooks prepared, so no one went hungry. (We did have an incident with something that was supposed to be peanut free, but I’ll save that for a future post.)

After encampment our leader contacted Girl Scout headquarters. The person in charge of the encampment staff was very understanding and concerned. She asked a very important question: Did the cooks just not get it or did they not care? We believe they just didn’t get it. We have been assured that the training programs for the cooks will be reviewed. The director was going to personally review the training to help remedy the problem for future encampments. She also appreciated the feedback. If our troop hadn’t said anything then nothing would change.

It is important if you have special dietary needs that you speak up and be prepared to educate people. Many people do not have food allergies and do not understand what we have to go through to eat safe. They also don’t understand the consequences we face if we accidentally eat something we shouldn’t. They don’t put us in danger because they don’t care, they do it because they just don’t get it.

Be patient. Be polite. But be firm. When you see food preparation staff making these kinds of mistakes take the time to educate them. Yelling at them, insulting them or trying to get them fired doesn’t win them over to our cause. We need them to get it. We need them to learn that while it may be a pain in the butt to have to serve someone with food restrictions, it is a bigger pain in the butt to have to live with the restrictions.

Making Healthy Decisions

I went to the San Diego County Fair with friends yesterday.  I was weak and I am now feeling the after effects. Due to medical conditions I am on a low fat diet.  For those of you not familiar with SDCF the big advertising points is the everything with bacon (chocolate covered bacon, bacon kabobs, they even had bacon flavored root beer this year), battered and deep fried stuff (oreos, ice cream, bacon of course, donuts, etc. – the Twinkies were missing this year), and they even had Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joes.

I don’t know about you but my arteries are hardening just writing all that stuff. They had a few, and I stress the word “few,” healthy options.  They have corn on the cob grilled in the husks and roasted artichokes, but by far, the selection of food options are not healthy.  For that reason I brought food with me.  I had plenty of fruit.  I cut up a pear, some strawberries and watermelon, and had some apple slices.  I also brought some cheese slices and deli turkey meat.

I was good for lunch, I ate fruit and my turkey and cheese.  I wasn’t too bad for dinner, I had more fruit, an all beef hotdog (the lowest fat protein option I could find that I wasn’t allergic to) and a few nibbles from my friends turkey leg (I avoided the skin, but it was still higher in fat than I would have thought).  I had never had Dippin Dots so I decided to try some. I couldn’t decide which flavor so I had Chocolate and Java Delight. Of course I just got the same size my friend got, large (which is actually their middle size, Mega is their biggest). The other snack I had were the Cinnamon-Sugar coated mini donuts. This is one of those things I look forward to each year.

My mistake wasn’t eating any one thing.  Each thing I ate was something I could handle.  My mistake was having them all in one day. If I had skipped the Dippin Dots (or at least gotten the small), ate less of my mini donuts (I had eight and usually I have six, four would have been enough) and not nibbled the turkey leg I would have been fine.

The hard part about living with food restrictions is watching everyone else freely eating all those things you can’t, but want to. It doesn’t matter. I need to take responsibility for my health and make good decisions.  Am I going to beat myself up for not being strong? No! Will I make bad decisions again? Probably.  But that’s ok.  I did better than I did just a few years ago.  At one time I would have eaten so much bad stuff I would have been sick for days. And I would have whined about not being able to eat whatever I want.  Now, I accept that I have limitations.  I can eat what I want, but within reason.  I have to make decisions, smart decisions.  Do I want Dippin Dots or do I want mini donuts?  Next year I will stick with my mini donuts. I will get half a dozen, and be content to eat three or four.

Keeping a Food Diary

You might wonder how I know to avoid all the foods I avoid. By keeping a food diary.

I learned about food allergies in my teens. I had a severe reaction to clams causing my throat and tongue to swell. The doctor suggested I avoid all shell fish, since most people who are allergic to one type of shell fish are allergic to other types as well. This is a cross reactivity food allergy. I later discovered that while I am allergic to mollusks (clams, oysters, scallops, etc.), I could eat lobster and shrimp.

I was fortunate to see a doctor who was thorough and asked about all of my symptoms, not just the ones that landed me in urgent care. The doctor explained that I was allergic to clams (an immune system reaction), but that the other symptoms we discussed were not likely allergic reactions. A food allergy is an abnormal response to food triggered by your immune system. A food intolerance is NOT triggered by your immune system.

A battery of tests revealed that I had a few allergies, but not nearly enough to explain the symptoms I frequently had. These included hives, itching in my ears and throat, headaches, blisters in my mouth, gas, intestinal cramps, blurred vision, asthma and chest pains. The doctor asked me to keep a detailed diary of everything I ate, came into contact with and my symptoms. I recorded dates, times and amounts.

I returned to the doctor after a month. We went over the diary and discovered I had several food intolerances. Over the years I have used the food diary to help me identify all the foods that give me problems.