Tag Archives: Gluten Free

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

StadiumIn my little part of the world, warm weather and Spring finally made an appearance this week after a long, long winter. The temperatures were only in the 60s but it was as if the entire community had just been released from months of solitary confinement. Everyone was outside. Kids were on their bikes, joggers were glad to be off of their treadmills and those people out walking their dogs looked a little happier than when they had to perform this task in negative wind chills. Cam also pointed out that it even “smelled” like Spring. I’m not entirely sure what this smell is but I completely understood what he was talking about. It is a precursor or future, glorious sunsets and great things to come in the next few months.

In our house, many of these great things will take place around a baseball and/or softball diamond. Cam didn’t make his middle school baseball team (though we are so proud of the efforts that he made) but he is still on an advanced-level travel team along with a number of his friends. His practices will get into full swing (no pun intended) in April. I’m also the head coach of my daughter’s softball team and we just had our league’s player draft last weekend. Our practices start up in April as well. On top of that, we’ll go to a couple of games for our minor league baseball team at their beautiful Downtown stadium and we’ll travel to catch a game or two in person of my lovable, albeit hapless, Cubbies.

Games this year are going to present a new challenge for us. We are going to need to be more conscientious at these stadiums much like we are when we go out for regular meals. We can take the the advice of the famous song and buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack (both are safe for us) but that’s about it at the traditional concession stand. Now, I’m not expecting much on a local level where my kids play. These are volunteer-run concession booths and we’ll just bring our own hot dogs to enjoy them on an Udi’s bun between games. When it comes to the professional stadiums though, my expectations do go up a bit. New stadiums have realized that the fan experience should include a wide variety of high quality food choices. Crab cakes are being served in Baltimore, a meatloaf “cupcake” is served in Detroit and even Rocky Mountain Oysters are served at the games in Colorado. At the parks, the chances of Cam finding something safe to eat are a bit of a mixed bag. Our local minor league stadium is state-of-the-art with open views and great vantage points of the game but the gluten free menu is lacking. Actually, it is non-existent. I don’t remember ever seeing any gluten free options in the multiple visits to the stadium last year. Looking on the team website, it doesn’t look like anything has changed for the upcoming season. For a Celiac, this venue is a plan ahead and bring your own snacks ballpark experience. Fortunately, most major league baseball stadiums now have dedicated gluten free concession stands to go along with their standard and higher quality offerings. For a complete list of stadiums that are gluten free (as of the beginning of last year) see fellow blogger Taylor’s great post at Gluten Away  http://glutenaway.blogspot.com/search?q=stadium).

The Major League Baseball stadiums are providing us nice options and allowing Cam (and other gluten sensitive customers) to feel “included” within their friendly confines. But what about other sports? Why is it taking so long for these venues to embrace the fact that gluten free is a necessary way of life for a growing section of the population? About 1/4 of the NFL stadiums are on board and approximate 1/2 of the current NBA arenas have offerings. Our local NHL team doesn’t have a gluten free concession area. Our college football stadium, which seats 105,000 people eight times a year, is antiquated when it comes to it’s food offerings. Think about the money lost at these venues. Consider that 1 in 133 people are diagnosed Celiac and let’s assume that as a consumer they would purchase $15 of food and drink at a game. The hockey stadium seats 18,500 people so, statistically, 139 of these people could be diagnosed Celiac. If these consumers were given the opportunity to buy food & drink, that’s an additional $2,085 in concession sales per game that is not being realized. At 40 games a season, the arena is missing out on $83,400. Using this same formula, the college football stadium is losing $94,800 in business over the course of the eight game season. And this is only factoring in people who have officially been diagnosed. Add in the number of people with gluten-intolerance and/or gluten sensitivity and there is a lot of money being left on the table. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on the food and beverage policies that these, and other stadiums, have in place. I’m sure that it would cost some money to make at least one of their concession areas 100% dedicated to gluten-free offerings and they are probably hindered a bit by what they can purchase from the companies where they get their concessions. But if other stadiums around the country already have these in place, shouldn’t it be an investment to look into?

Over the next six weeks, we are going to have the opportunity to attend two huge sporting events that should provide a lifetime of memories. Unfortunately, I’ve looked at each venue and haven’t found any dedicated concessions (though I have sent an e-mail to one as their web site was pretty vague concerning their food offerings). But you know what? That’s o.k. We have enough time to plan accordingly for these trips and assure that they will be remembered for the right reasons. Continued awareness and advocacy about this growing dietary need will help stadiums and venues such as these to make changes for the benefit of the Celiac customer. Hopefully, the trend continues and this happens soon as we have many more games to go to and so many more memories to make.

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Plugging Away

Saturday mornings are great. After five days of early morning alarm clock awakenings, the chance to wake up on your own terms is a real treat. During the week, your first conscious thoughts of the day probably consists of a checklist of items that you need to accomplish before even stepping outside of the house. Tasks such as getting yourself ready, waking up the children, packing lunches, making sure the kids are on the bus and then concentrating on what you have to get done generates more stress in many houses than what the normal person should have to burden. And then, you have to repeat this up to four more times as the week goes along. Ugh. On a Saturday, these tasks are noticeably and gladly absent. The kids may or may not sleep in (even better if they do), the question of “what’s for lunch” doesn’t need answered at 8:00 am and getting yourself ready for the day has no time table and could possibly even be skipped depending on your agenda. Sunday brings for some the responsibility of church and family so you do have to make yourself presentable and there’s usually a scheduled time to be somewhere. Not as stressful as during the week but not as nice as a Saturday morning. 

My former college roommate had a great story about his Saturday mornings from when he was going to grad school out at Cal-Berkeley. Every Saturday morning, he would go to the same donut shop to get a cake donut and some coffee. The shop was run by an older Asian gentleman who, whenever my friend walked in the door, greeted him with a bright smile and a broken-English exclamation of “Happy Saturday!”. Happy Saturday. Two words that have stuck with me and been a part of my vernacular every weekend for over 15 years. A perfect summary of how this day should be. Yes, some Saturdays bring chores or the requirements of doing things that we may not have the time to get to during the week. Many of us have to act as personal chauffeurs to our kids to get them to games, practices, birthday parties, etc. But since these are our children and not our bosses and since these chores are completed on our time and not associated with deadlines, I don’t think that it takes too much away from he good vibes that waking up on a Saturday morning provides. 

Yet, as I sit in my chair and type this post this Saturday morning, I have watched my wife hard at work in the kitchen for going on two straight hours. She has been busy making her own flour mixes, putting together cookie dough and prepping items for the rest of the weekend. She yells over to me items such as white rice flour and dedicated gluten free butter that needs added to our grocery list. She keeps plugging away to stay on top of the needs presented by this new lifestyle in our home. The re-invented chef concocting comfort food for our Celiac son. She loves to cook so this is not as much of a burden as it would be for me or for 95% of the general population but it is still something that needs to be done. Not doing it is not an option. Would we love to be able to say we’re going to restaurant A for lunch without worrying about cross-contamination? Yes. Would we like to be able to stop at the local bakery to pick up a pack of cookies or bread and not have to mix flours and dough on our days off at home? Absolutely. Are we there yet as a food society? No. 

I feel bad because I would love to help her more than I do but since the kitchen is her realm, I need to continue to educate and push for awareness in the food industry. We need to make it known that Celiac cases have increased dramatically in the past 50 years. People need to understand what the symptoms are since 83% of Americans who have Celiac are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. When these numbers are understood, the food and restaurant industries will be forced to make more changes to accommodate the population. As education continues, gluten free diets will no more be considered just a fad. More choices will be available for my son and for others. My wife’s “having” to plug away in the kitchen will be replaced by her “wanting” to cook. When these things happen, it will be a Happy Saturday for everyone.

Do or Do Not

Image   I am proud to admit that I am a full-blown Star Wars geek. I was four when the original movie came out (it was just Star Wars back then, not Star Wars IV or a New Hope…just Star Wars) and it was one of my first movie memories. From the story, to the creatures, to the music, it captured my imagination and I instantly became a fan. I collected the figures, had multiple Death Star games, X-wing fighters flying from my ceiling and even had a pair of Yoda Underoos (anyone else remember those?). My love for the series didn’t stop when I hit the age when I’m supposed to outgrow these things. When the original three movies were remastered and released again in the late ’90s, I was the first person in line for every remake. When I had children of my own, I felt it was my responsibility as a parent to teach them the ways of the Star Wars universe, much as my own Dad did for me. The new set of movies released in the Aughts was a perfect opportunity for them to become acclimated with the ways of the Force and for me to re-live the glory days of my youth. Even between movie releases (more are coming in December 2015), Star Wars remains a part of our lives; being the theme for Cam’s 6th birthday party and providing us the reasoning to see John Williams play the awesome soundtrack live with a full orchestra. So it is no surprise that a popular motto that our family uses comes from this galaxy far, far away.

A little background for those non-followers who may not be familiar with the wise ways of the diminutive Jedi Master, Yoda.  Yoda is a 900 year old green creature with floppy ears who took refuge on the swamp planet, Dagobah, when the Empire killed the rest of his brethren. He was introduced to us as the one who was to teach the main character, Luke, how to beat the evil Empire. Yoda had a unique way of speaking, often switching the order of his words but always providing valuable wisdom. During Luke’s training, when our hero was broken down physically and emotionally and faced with a daunting challenge, he tells his master that he will “try”. It is then that Yoda provides the phrase that is a daily way of life in our house.

“Do or do not, there is not try.”

Whether it be in education, sports or even our daily work, “I’ll try” has never been an accepted response for our family. We don’t expect perfection from our children, or from ourselves, but we expect that a full effort will be made in all that we do. A perfect example of this is happening in our lives right now. Cam is going out (not “trying” out) for his middle school baseball team this week. Admittedly, Cam has been a late bloomer when it comes to sports. He has just recently started growing into his long arms and legs so some of these boys that he is up against have more developed skill sets than he does. Despite this, he has shown constant improvement for the past three years in the elevated-level baseball league that he’s a part of and you can see his confidence grow every time he hits the field. Cam may or may not know what his chances are to make his school’s team of 12 players but neither these chances or the fact that he is a late developer have deterred him from putting forth his best effort. And that’s why we are so proud of him. He has gone out for many things (sports, student council, etc.) and has experienced both successes and set backs. Regardless the outcome, he keeps doing. There is no try.

I see several parallels in his personal battle with Celiac disease. During these first few months, we have struggled with meal choices and learned the hard way about how gluten free food doesn’t always come from a dedicated gluten free kitchen. We have done our best with adapting to what could have been potentially awkward social situations. He is going through the growing pains and learning processes much like he did when he was the boy with gangly arms and legs running the bases for the first time. And much like his development and continued signs of progress on the field, Cam is making his situation easier every day by “doing” and not “trying”. He reads the labels, recognizes what can be harmful to him and has learned how to react in social environments such as school lunches or visits to friend’s homes. He has succeeded when asked to “unlearn what he had learned” (another Yoda quote) as it pertains to the daily task that many of us take for granted…eating a regular meal.

I sometimes worry that he has been put into a situation that is too much for him. I’m worried that my baby boy, who is still only 12 years into his life, is being asked to do more than he is ready to take on. But when I see him “doing” the things that he does, putting himself out there and giving his best effort, I am reminded that God will not provide us with challenges that He feels that we can not handle. And with this thinking, I have no doubt that whatever Cam does is going to end with success. Success that we will help him achieve by “doing” whatever it is that we need to do for him to reach his goals. Because, as Yoda has taught us, “trying” is not an option.