Friday, September 26, 2014

FABlogCon 2014

Cheesy arrival at Vegas airport! 
How Jenny and Homa pulled off an entire 'free of the top 8 allergens' weekend with FABlogCon 2014 is beyond me. Well, ok, not actually. They were lucky enough to find South Point Hotel and Casino in Vegas whose food safety manager is truly one of a kind. Keith Norman is a happy, friendly chef who will go through the utmost care to make sure you can eat safely without a reaction.

I talked to him briefly about the stringent precautions he takes for people with single food allergies or people with multiple food allergies.

Chef Keith: Food Allergy Aware
His managers in all twelve restaurants are knowledgeable about food allergies, however he recommends those with anaphylaxis to peanut or soy to stay away from the hotel's buffets due to cross-contamination as well as the Asian restaurant, but even then, you still have a plethora of choices you can make. For this particular conference, he got especially creative, putting together things most people never thought about, such as a quinoa/chocolate dish. Personally, I couldn't stop going back for a mushroom tapenade-looking dish that was at the salad table the first night and I promised I would stalk him for the recipe, which he gladly obliged. He is hugely accommodating and was willing to prepare a special dish for those who couldn't eat certain things on the tables. The second day, I was allergic to the snow peas (I have a moderate to severe pea/lentil allergy) in many of the soy-free Chinese dishes at the tables, so his team was sweet enough to prepare a plate of the same dish without peas.

They were very careful with all the food, but if you are severely sensitive to gluten like I am, the possibility of being 'glutened' by eating meats is very high, since we can only eat animals fed primarily gluten-free or grass-fed diets or we will have a reaction. I did have gluten reactions the 2nd and 3rd day, which I'm guessing is from the beef or the unbelievably tender, rare prime rib (one of the best I've ever experienced in my lifetime) I had from their steakhouse the 2nd night in Coronado Café. I also did have a mild allergic reaction, but it wasn't from the food; it was due to my own negligence of taking a Zantac without even thinking to recheck the ingredients (which many of you soy allergy sufferers know is an absolute no-no due to the soy derivative, magnesium stearate) and using the hand soap in the restrooms (I know, I should have known; definitely bring your own if you have soy allergy). So hand eczema, along with the smoke inhalation from being in the Café next to the casino for 40 minutes (cigarettes usually contain one or more of the following: soy protein/vegetable protein/soy lecithin/soybean oil) and hives started appearing in waves up and down my arms so I had to leave mom to go to the room before the check came.

Oil Painting of my grandma and I by Maya Trimner
My oil painting of grandma and I titled, "Eskimo Kisses"
But before this all happened, I watched Robyn O'Brien speak every bit from the heart and felt a tugging in my chest. Immediately, tears were streaming down my face; looking around the room and at others at my table, I wasn't the only one. She spoke of the battles we face as advocates either for ourselves or our children. Her choices of words brought me to a moment of clarity...that I was exactly where I belonged and sitting there in the audience with flashes of my childhood going through my head. I cried, not just because of her words, but for that little girl I remember, covered in oozing, bloody, open cuts and scratches and slathered in creams and saran wrap. I never wanted another child or person to suffer the way I did; yet, so many do, every day. Hopefully through events like these, we can strengthen our community bonds while increasing awareness and providing support.

Saturday we had our panel, Tell Then Kiss: Intimacy and Food Allergies with Dr. David Stukus, Kristin Kauke, Heidi Bayer, Kyle Dine and myself.

Panel of four speakers for FABlogCon 2014 conference
I have to say I have never been more honored to be among such an amazing group of people and am so grateful to be able to have a platform for my voice about a topic that needs to be talked about much more often in the food allergy community. Kristin gave a run-down of the important aspects of dealing with food allergies within a relationship in order for it to be successful. Dr. Stukus spoke about the few studies that exist as well as his own experience with patients. Heidi spoke of her own experiences with her teen daughter and the difficulty of talking to teens. Kyle spoke of his own experience as an adult with food allergies and then I went into some very personal experiences and the way I handle intimacy. (If you missed my coverage of how I handle intimacy, you can read about it in my book, 'Invisible Disability' which has an entire chapter called 'Kiss of Death')

I can't tell you how many times people have told me how afraid they are to date. How allergic reactions to their significant other is a battlefield that they don't even want to embark on. The truth is, life is a battlefield and we all know the Pat Benatar song (although I'm probably showing my age as all of you under 23 are like, "who??"). My answer is to believe and trust...maybe not so much in others, but yourself. As I said in the talk above, "If you're going to play with fire, bring your epinephrine shots and meds with you in case you get burned." I feel this is the most important thing to remember, wherever your life leads you.

Saturday also brought Dr. Gupta and Dr. Li's presentation on Allergy Research; an incredibly informative and adorable (thanks to Dr. Gupta's educational music video! View it at left) presentation that touched upon the financial, emotional and psychological repercussions of food allergies on families as well as the statistics on the prevalence of food allergies among certain ethnic groups. Dr. Li talked about recent research and studies completed as well as the various treatments available and on the horizon. She went into her amazing work with using Chinese medicine to literally reduce and eliminate food allergies in people. I ended up purchasing the book written about her work called 'Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science and the Search For a Cure' by Henry Ehrlich and literally can't wait to read it, since as many of you know, I have a deep passion for alternative medicine and non-traditional therapies.

I'll be honest, I had a case of mistaken identity, because in 2007/2008, someone in an NYC hospital (don't know who or which hospital it was during the worst anaphylactic reaction of my life, which I go into detail of in my book) had saved my life. When someone saves your life like that and you don't know who they are, the ideal of the person you remember echoes in your head every time you meet someone with physical similarities. Unfortunately, I didn't find her tonight, but one day I hope to. Because I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart for keeping me alive that night. Hopefully she's out there somewhere silently, knowing somehow, the scope of what she did. And its not just her, its what so many doctors and nurses in the medical profession do every day. Its the actions so many of us take not realizing the poignant effect it has on others.

men and women in yoga class
Yoga helps reduce inflammation and ease anxiety
Sunday, I woke up just in time to catch the 'Emotional Well-Being' panel with Dr. Ruchi Gupta, Kristin Kauke and Lori Sandler. It was more for parents of children or teens with food allergies than adults or people themselves with food allergies themselves, however, I could definitely relate to some things that were said. I had the opportunity to ask Kristin just before lunch; what alternative therapy besides cognitive behavioral therapy would she suggest for those with food allergies and she said yoga. Research shows the breathing techniques and relaxation promoted by yoga help reduce stress and anxiety; two factors normally pretty darn high for those of us with food allergy inflammation.

All in all, it was a greatly successful conference and I met many food allergy moms, other adults with food allergies, people in the medical field, writers and entrepreneurs within the food allergy community I would not have met otherwise. Jenny, who put together this entire conference is one of the bravest, most amazing souls I've ever had the pleasure of getting to know over the years. She describes her struggles with her son, who has numerous severe allergies and even cancer; struggles even I never dealt with as a baby. I am so grateful for her perspective and the way she handles the challenges of EoE. The way she continues to smile and stay positive will always be an inspiration for me.

If you have a severe soy allergy and plan on attending the conference next year, I do suggest staying at a smoke-free hotel, since you will get assaulted by cigarette smoke throughout the entire hotel (I found this to be true of any casino hotel, so hotels without a casino might be a safer pun intended). The conference and seminar areas are smoke-free, so you can rest assured you will not have a problem in the actual conference presentation areas.

After the conference, mom and I moved to the Strip to take a bit of advantage of our time in Vegas, so I will write a post soon on my most recent dining experiences! Stay tuned...


  1. Great post and thanks for sharing it! See you at the Food-Allergy Bloggers Conference in Vegas this weekend!

    Jeff Sonnenburg, Affinity

    1. Thanks Jeff! It was so awesome to meet you and talk with you. I look forward to working with you soon!