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.