Getting My Geek On: Preparing for Comic-Con

English: Panoramic photo of the people around ...

English: Panoramic photo of the people around Comic Con in 2011 as seen from a helicopter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comic-Con International starts today in San Diego and I am going. Yay! I look forward to getting my Geek On. It is four days and one evening of running around with thousands of other geeks, listening to some of the most talented and creative people in movies, TV, art, books, and, of course, comics. It is four days and one evening of getting sneak peeks at some of the awesome things being released this next year. It is four days and one evening of trying to eat healthy with limited options.

But Comic-Con is at the San Diego Convention Center, in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. For those of you not familiar with the Gaslamp Quarter, it is one of the premiere places for casual and fine dining in San Diego. Some of our best restaurants are located here, all within walking distance of the convention center.

So what is the problem? Time spent walking to and eating at the Gaslamp restaurants is time not spent at the convention. So far I only have about two one-hour slots that I don’t have something I absolutely must see. With the crowds at the convention, there simply is no way to “grab a quick bite” anywhere. I have been checking out the menus of the restaurants close by and I will have to be careful what I order. I will most likely have to make special requests (i.e. can you make that without mushrooms or Parmesan cheese?) which will also take more time. Last year I ordered a pasta dish without the mushrooms and found a mushroom in the first bite. Luckily, I found it before I ate any so I didn’t have to leave the convention.

What is my plan this year? I am packing fruit. Lots of fruit. I have unsweetened applesauce, sliced apples, strawberries, cubed watermelon, sliced nectarines, and raspberries packed in a thermal lunch bag tucked inside my World Fantasy Con bag. I will still need to find a source of protein, but with my fruit stash I should be able to survive without throwing my entire digestive system completely out of whack.

Wish me safe eating at Comic-Con.

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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.