Monthly Archives: June 2014

Man’s Best Friend?

There are some things out there that I just don’t understand. Everyone has an example of these in your life; something that is fascinating and gets a lot of publicity from what seems like the majority of the population but is not necessarily your cup of tea. For me, it’s the whole Khardashian phenomenon. Why is it that I have to know something about the Khardashians every time I look at a “pop culture” section of a newspaper or a front cover of a magazine when standing in line at the grocery store? If you want to see an example of overkill, take a look at Google when you search for Khardashian (something I stumbled upon when I had to confirm the spelling of their name). I had only typed in a portion of what I was going to when the following results popped up: “Khardashian Kollection (yes, spelled with a “k)”, “Khardashian Kids”, “Kardashian News” and “Khardashian Wedding”. Do people really want to know this much about a TV family who provides no intellectual stimulation whatsoever? I guess so given the amount of publicity but, again, I don’t get it.

There are certain aspects of the gluten free community that also cause me to step back and say “I just don’t get it”.  In terms of our family’s longevity in the industry and our familiarity with certain topics, we are still considered “newbies”. I realize that there is research behind some products that maybe I don’t quite understand. One of those products that was recently brought to my attention is gluten free dog food. When my mother-in-law mentioned to me that she had seen gluten free dog food at the store, my first response was a disbelieving, “Really?!?” I questioned how you could know if your dog has a gluten intolerance? What are the symptoms that your dog can exhibit and what can you do to have him/her tested? Before brushing it off as another “I don’t get it” moment, I decided to do some research and found that ten percent of all allergy cases in dogs are food related. Much like in humans, the signs of a food allergy in dogs can present itself in the form of many different symptoms such as ear infections, gastrointestinal issues and even chronic licking of the feet. Dogs can also suffer from food intolerance but I could not find anything that told me how the differences were determined between these and a food allergy. I did discover that there is currently no testing that can help you distinguish what your dog is specifically allergic to and “solutions” are only determined by trial and error diets. So, can you be 100% certain that your dog suffers specifically from gluten intolerance? I don’t think you can.

Mandatory Cute Dog Picture

Mandatory Cute Dog Picture

Which leads me to the question, “Is man’s best friend helping or hurting the legitimacy of the gluten free movement?” As a community, we are still reeling from the media poking fun at our cause and the negative publicity that seems to gravitate towards us like a magnet. Can someone putting their dog on a “gluten free” diet be viewed as just “trendy” and/or “pretentious”? Despite the fact that food allergies in animals are legitimate, I think it can. I think to the uneducated, seeing a gluten free dog food on the shelf is going to be the moment that pushes some naysayers over the edge. It will be the moment that “trend diets” have gone too far. But then I flip the script. I think about how many people love their dogs. For many owners, dogs are their children, can act as a sibling, and are a best friend. No one wants to see a loved one in pain. If a dog has a condition that is only helped by a specific diet, wouldn’t their owners and family members become empathetic to all similar intolerance sufferers? In households where no human has a gluten sensitivity, can their dogs help with the family understanding and awareness of something that affects millions outside of their homes? Again, I think it can. So while my opinion is split and both sides of this argument can be debated, I’m definitely understanding of one thing. A bond between a pet and their family is fiercely strong. If awareness through this bond helps my family directly, or indirectly, I not only “get it”; I welcome it.

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Return to Red Robin

First, I want to extend an apology to my readers. Many of you may have felt that I recently dropped off the face of the earth seeing that I haven’t put a blog out in over a week. This absence comes after me being so diligent in providing 2-3 new posts per week during the months prior. Thank you for caring and my apologies for the delay. I really don’t have any excuses as to why I have not been writing except that during the summer with the kids at home, the schedules and the free time available for me to write has changed. What used to be time spent being creative and advocating the gluten free and Celiac lifestyle through blogging has now been replaced and taken over by transporting children to camps and unscheduled trips to the pool. I know. Many of you are saying, “Oh, boo hoo, Celiac Teen Dad. You have to take care of your kids and you have to go to the pool.” Trust me. I had the same thoughts for 15 straight years and I’m not complaining about having the ability to spend time with the kids now while they still want me around. I’m just saying that it’s an abrupt change that I’ve needed to adjust to. Again, a pretty flimsy excuse for not sitting down and busting out 600 words for the sake of my son’s health. But, I think that I’ve got it under control.  It took me two and a half weeks but I’ve found a groove where I can work on what I need to and also spend quality time with the children. I’ve learned to juggle writing with fishing trips. I’ve become “better than average” when it comes to balancing my work in advocating with my pleasure of parenting. Lucky for me, the opportunity to combine work and play presented itself last week.

My parents still live in the house that I was raised in and, fortunately for all of us, it is only about 25 minutes away from where my family lives now. Last week, since our schedules all happened to coincide, the kids and I arranged to go to lunch with them. My folks are very cognizant of Cam’s condition and what “sets him off” but they still deferred the choice of where we should eat to me. I immediately knew where we were going. There was a restaurant that we had visited just once since Cam was diagnosed and I wanted to go back to it again. That day presented us the perfect opportunity to return to Red Robin.

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Red Robin is consistently chosen as one of the top allergy friendly chain restaurants in the United States. It has been touted by allergy web sites, bloggers, parents, etc. The one time that we had gone to Red Robin since Cam was diagnosed was an awesome experience. We were given a menu binder with the choices that he could have and, most importantly, he didn’t experience any symptoms of being “glutened” after eating there. Recently, based on this one visit and the reviews that I had read during my own research, I recommended Red Robin to friends of ours who were looking for a safe place to eat for their children who, unfortunately, have a variety of food allergies. But after providing this recommendation, I questioned myself for giving “expert” information after only one personal visit. What if we were just fortunate enough to go to a location that happened to be having a good day? How can I recommend a chain restaurant for gluten intolerance when I had only been to a single store? I knew that we had to go back and provide our own, honest review.

I was going to write this review in the style of “Pros vs. Cons” but after our experience during this visit and our past trip to Red Robin, the blog would have read like a commercial for the restaurant. The positives of our meal far outweighed the negatives (in fact, the negatives almost seem nit-picky). The Red Robin chain obviously knows what it is doing when it comes to catering to the needs of specific diets and food allergies. I had my worries when we arrived though. When mentioning Cam’s Celiac and the need for a gluten free menu, the hostess seemed taken aback. We were all seated and we patiently waited for the hostess to bring us something similar to the binder that we had received at the other location during our previous visit. I watched her criss-cross the restaurant a couple of times before she finally approached one of the managers, who happened to be sitting in a booth behind us running receipts and sales numbers. After receiving her instructions, the hostess came back with this.

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If you want to win over a 13 year old boy’s heart at a restaurant (or anywhere for that matter) hand him an iPad. If you want to win over his dad, have that iPad contain ingredient information and pull up safe menu items based on interactive feedback. It was quite impressive. And the chances to be impressed kept on coming. From the option to get a gluten free bun, to our waitresses understanding that Cam’s fries would need to be made in a dedicated fryer, to watching her immediately convey this information to the kitchen staff, Red Robin has obviously done their homework when it comes to staff training and food allergens. My only other concern during our meal was when another manager brought the food to our table. He was not our regular server nor was he the manager who was made aware of our dietary needs when we asked for the special menu. From our experiences when eating at restaurants, the gluten free plate is usually served to us first or separate from the other entrees altogether. There are often gloves used during this process to avoid the possible cross-contamination. Neither happened when this manager brought out our food. He was not wearing gloves and he did touch two other plates, both which contained flour buns, before using those same hands to serve Cam’s. When things like this happen, my dad radar goes off. Cam also noticed what had happened but he put any fears aside and ate his meal. I’m happy to say that he had no ill-effects later that day. Again, it’s nit-picky and maybe (hopefully) that manager washed his hands prior to serving us but the action raised our eyebrows.

What really is the most important part of this visit, though, is that Cam enjoyed himself. So many times when he goes out to eat, his choices are limited. Red Robin, through their diligence in training and educating themselves to other’s special dietary needs, has given him another “comfort” place to go to. Here’s hoping that others follow their lead. For if they do, we’ll make sure that it’s a place of many happy returns from our family.

 

 

Tough Times

I’m happy to report to all of you that my house is still standing. So far, a sinkhole has not appeared in the yard and swallowed all of our possessions. A black cloud does not seem to be following me around and each day the sun continues to rise. Without any of these dire consequences happening, we have officially made it through the first month of having a teenager in the house. You hear the stories of teenage angst and general disrespect towards authority figures brought on by a flood of raging hormones and it worries you as a parent. You ask yourself, “Is my kid going to be that way?” or “What’s my reaction going to be when he asks for a full back tattoo?” My mother used to tell my sister and I that she would move out of the house when I turned 13 and move back in when my sister turned 20. Yes, it was said in jest but when the time comes for your own child to hit the teenage years, you wonder if there was any seriousness to that statement and could it be an option for you should the world-ending scenarios come about.

Kidding aside, I think that teenagers get a bad rap. I think of all of the encounters with teenagers I have had over the past 10 years, be it babysitters, friend’s kids, store clerks or volunteer helpers and none have left me shaking my head and weeping for the future. I do feel though that the teenage years are probably the worst time for a kid to have a food allergy and/or auto-immune response such as Cam’s. Think about it. Kids who are under 10 are still generally under the wing of mom and dad when it comes to their food choices. Elementary schools go above and almost too far beyond when it comes to having allergy tables and regulations on snacks that are brought into classrooms for birthday parties, holidays, etc. This age group’s environment is mostly controlled. Past the teenage years, as an adult, you have had enough life experiences to make educated decisions regarding your food choices and your overall health. Restaurant staff and store workers will listen to you when you ask questions concerning your needs and not just give you a cold shoulder while thinking that you are a know-it-all punk trying to make their life harder. You have gained their respect by aging.

Teenagers are stuck in the middle. They are at the point where they deserve more independence but still need advice to help them navigate their way through every day life. You hope as a parent that they do the right thing but you want to keep your distance. They can be misjudged because of their age and their demographic, as a whole, is often viewed as that of a social pariah. For those on a special diet, this biased view can lead to trepidation and an overall lack of confidence when they need to start a conversation about their condition with an adult or a server that is unaware of their situation. They may lean towards making a bad decision just to avoid a confrontation that would fuel their feeling of inferiority. It can be even worse within their own friend groups. Their allergy or condition makes them feel different even if their friends show empathy. There are things that stick out to them that we, as adults, may not even see. Just this past Saturday, Cam pointed out things to me from his baseball doubleheader that my “untrained eye” didn’t catch. BBallHe talked about someone’s hot dog sitting next to his water bottle on the bench, the fruit he couldn’t eat because of the open bag of chips sitting on top of it, and the malt sodas that the other players had between games. It doesn’t bother him to tell his friends about his condition and to educate them rather than feel left out but, like I have said before, he has maturity and a grasp of his situation beyond his years. I think of those teens who may not have his resolve and how it would affect them if they were in the same situation. Would they have the nerve to ask their teammate to move their food away from theirs or be able to put up with the names and whispered comments when they turn down the offered Twizzler or soft pretzels? Some may be fine but others may make a decision that they will regret later just to avoid peer pressure.

Now, I didn’t write this in hopes that everyone who reads it will run out and hug a teenager. I didn’t sit here to devise a way to have my son included in everything for I feel that he needs to experience the small pains of not getting invited to a party and the first heartbreak of having someone make fun of you (I’m sure my wife disagrees with me). Those experiences, while painful in the present, build character for the future. So why did I write this? I did so just to say how proud I am of Cam. He strikes out and gets right back into that batter’s box the next time. He takes rejection and molds it into new avenues of friendships. He inspires me to want to make his future better. He is half of the equation as to why I am one of the luckiest Dads on the planet. The Celiac Disease and how he deals with it is just icing on my Father’s Day cake.