It has been quite a week! Between school runs, homework and tonsillitis I found myself with the opportunity to speak out about the challenges we face when eating out with our children who have Coeliac Disease. An opportunity to address a celebrity chef whom I greatly admire and respect, Jamie Oliver, in The Daily Telegraph.
For those of you who don't know Coeliac Disease is an auto immune disease which causes an immune response that damages the gut. I won't get to too technical but basically the villi, (little finger like protrusions) in the gut swell up, causing a range of symptoms and preventing food being absorbed properly. Our kids both get awful stomach pains, constipation, headaches, fatigue and muscle aches just from eating a grain of Gluten. That's the thing you see, with Coeliac Disease you can't have "just a little bit" and be OK, you cannot eat any Gluten which means no cross contamination - so different toasters, chopping boards, cooking utensils - you get my point! Coeliac Disease is also a lifelong condition so my kids will have this for rest of their lives! Any pizza and beer nights when older will need to be gluten free.
I am the first to admit that I am a lazy mum, I choose convenience over labour. I choose play, chatting, and days out over cooking and cleaning. The time I have with my kids is so fleeting that I chose to be in the moment with them enjoying them, watching them grow and listening to the latest about Lego Ninjago and Frozen. So this diagnosis has hit me hard. They were diagnosed in September and I have spent the time since then scrambling to get a hold on the day to day challenges they/we now face. Dealing with the emotional impact it has had on the kids and helping them come to terms with life long sentence biology has handed them. My five-year-old daughter, has taken it OK, she's just young enough to not realise. My son, who is seven, however has really struggled as he is not able to eat his favourite foods anymore. As a mum this has been hard. How do you begin to explain this to your children?
One of the biggest challenges we have faced is eating out. Whist I do enjoy cooking, eating out has been something we have always done as a family. We would decide to stay out for dinner without thinking twice. Let me talk you through what eating out is now like. My husband or I will phone ahead, tell them the kids have Coeliac Disease and ask if they have gluten free choices on the menu, they say yes, we tell the kids, then off we go. Inevitably we arrive to find that whilst they do gluten free for adults they don't for children. We then have to spend time finding out what can be made into children's meals. We were once asked if we would just order an adult main meal and share it between them! This is not nice for the kids.
This is where Jamie Oliver comes in. We were shopping in Cardiff and the kids asked to go to Jamie's Italian as we hadn't been since diagnosis and we used to go all the time. We phoned before we agreed to go and were assured that yes they cater for Coeliac Disease. So you can imagine the utter disappointment when they didn't cater for the kids. The waiter had to go back and forth to the kitchen and then dinner was served with a helping of "we can't guarantee it's gluten free." At this point we probably should have walked out but stayed and took the chance; hind sight is a wonderful thing.
Jamie's Italian have written to me since the article, they have apologised and assured me that staff have all been recently trained. They have also stated that my letter has made available to Jamie. However Jamie himself has remained silent. I get it, I really do, by engaging me he makes it a bigger story and he wants it to just go away. Here's the thing - I would also like to ignore my children's Coeliac Disease and for it to just go away - but it won't. Just like the other parents out there who have kids with Coeliac disease or food allergies, this is something we face day to day. Jamie could really make a difference in these kids' lives by setting an example to other chefs and including an allergy menu for his customers that are children, let's be honest if they already do it for adults it's not going to be that much work to do it for kids. This may seem like a small thing for you Jamie but it would make a massive impact on a lot of people's lives.