I am not working twenty thousand hours a day now, thanks to the support of my sweetest and most wonderful love of my life. He is my partner in life, the one who encourages me and celebrates and supports who I am. I hope he feels equally supported and loved for who he is. I am so lucky and thankful. Together, we decided that I should quit my job and focus on building a better future for my son and his generation.
To start, we’ll begin the actions necessary to eventually build a restaurant that serves him and his friends where, according to a recent interview on NPR of a doctor in the depths of studying food allergies says, 1 in 13 of the kids, in the here and now, suffer from 1 or more of the 8 common food allergens. That is at least 1-3 kids per classroom across the entire nation that can’t enjoy a meal with their friends. I don’t know about the globe, but the numbers for the US are pretty stark. Here is the article/radio interview if you’re interested: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/15/177319365/the-doctor-trying-to-solve-the-mystery-of-food-allergies
Reading that, coupled with my experience in trying to live with my kid’s diet as a working adult (and failing miserably because I had a choice to stop eating gluten free and dairy free – see the previous article A Walk in My Kid’s Shoes) made me realize that the need for a restaurant for people with food allergies is very VERY high. Especially restaurants that treat the elimination of gluten and other allergens as a serious thing and not a food fad where cross-contamination is not a concern. And I want the food to taste damn good so that people who can eat anything, go because it’s good. It’s just that they no longer have to exclude people with food allergies.
What I want: good food – safe for everyone. Period. Where kids can gather together and have a birthday party and no parent has to have a special long talk with the wait staff and worry about cross-contamination in the kitchen (and embarrass their kid in the process). And where, after a nice meal, no child has to then suffer 6-8 hours of vomiting in the middle of the night (like my son recently did when we bought bacon from a butcher that also uses the same surfaces to prepare sausage with milk and wheat powders).
My dream is to build a place that has brand new kitchen equipment that never ever comes in contact with wheat, diary, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, peanuts, fish or shellfish. Where a whole class of kids can order a hamburger WITH a bun, french fries, a homemade soda and apple pie with ice cream. Or a milkshake if they want. Or maybe they want cookies or a banana split or a strawberry sundae or chicken fingers with fun dipping sauces. It’s my All American Food Dream. Imagine, families going out on the town and their allergy kid can have a hot dog and some ice cream. Simple as that.
And yes, I’m talking about this restaurant dream. I don’t care how many people know my dream or steal my idea because the more restaurants that are out there serving my son and his friends, the happier this world will be. It would be like trying to hide the idea of putting wheelchair access in my own building and not wanting wheelchair access in other buildings. I want my son to go out to eat everywhere, to try different foods, to try different chefs’ take on favorite cuisines. Why wouldn’t I want everyone I know to make a restaurant that is safe? Whether the bandwagon has started or not. I’ll be the one of the first ones on it.
Already, I’ve been questioned by people as to whether or not this is actually a good idea. But that’s normal. And understandably, allergy foods are not known for being good and tasty, which is pretty sad. All good ideas need some scrutiny and I welcome that. It is also a challenge and a warning to me: the food better be damn good from first sale to last. I also see it as a teaching opportunity to help others’ understand that food allergies are a really horrible horrible thing to live with and that I’m up to this challenge. Food allergies are exclusionary in so many ways, not just in not being able to partake but also in having to offer low-quality food. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to the outsider, but when you’re inside the food allergy circle, a whole world of living gets cut off and you’re stuck with sucky food or nothing. You can go places, but eating places you can’t go. Your class can have cupcakes but your teacher has to pat you on your back and feel sorry for you while you stand and watch your friends eat cupcakes, trying to hold in your 7 year old tears because you’re trying to be a big boy and not cry about not getting a cupcake in front of all of your friends. (Btw, I had no idea that cupcakes were being served so often until my son told me earlier today). So, yeah, I’m up to this challenge. My son’s cupcakes will be safe and better then theirs! And then all his friends will be going “Dude!! When are you going to bring those cupcakes that are way better than the crappy cupcakes from Kroger?”
I mean.. because…Right ON! Right?
I’m not even the one suffering and I’m tired of living with food allergies. I’m tired of packing a bag of the same ol’ things my son can eat. He’s tired of eating the same ol’ things. I’m tired of worrying about cross-contamination and deciding against taking him out to eat when I’d love for him to sit in an Italian restaurant and dip into a basket of breadsticks and appetizers and relish new foods with us. I’m tired of driving by Krispy Kremes and Dunkin Doughnuts and Pizzerias and Cafes and Bakeries and all sorts of fun restaurants because it’s just not worth it to try to find a safe thing off the menu or to get a foreign worker to understand the importance of disclosing whether the rice is made with butter. I’m tired of cutting off our weekend outings to go home to eat. I’m tired of saying no to him when I’d rather say yes.
So, to start… serving the kids who want to have an ice cream float with wait staff that sings happy birthday to them? It’s going to be priceless. And then when they start dating (it’s not that far off!)……those same kids who will eventually become high-school/college aged and will want to start dating without having to drop off their date early to go spend the night throwing up (because, you know how teens suffer themselves to impress a date). And then those kids will then grow up to have lunch with colleagues and co-workers and not want to call attention to their digestive disability. Giving them the world we non-food-sufferers now enjoy is going to be priceless for them. Not to mention the many, other, various situations that call for socializing over food.
As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I am a mother. That’s my son! It’s invention time.
Will there be challenges? Oh heck yes! How the hell am I going to come up with a hamburger bun that has no eggs, almond milk, corn leavener or soy flour that is way better than Udi’s? It’s not going to be easy. No offense to Udi’s, I’m glad they exist, but their give shit level, as with so many other gluten-free companies, is pretty low. Because 1. the hamburger buns are too small and 2. Six damn dollars?! for 4 tiny ass rolls? C’mon. Throw us a bone, Udi’s and help us feel a “little” normal. Like, give me 8 rolls for the money. Seriously!
Ugh, I hate the allergy food companies treat allergy sufferers like crap with the smaller portions and sizes and charge two or three times the price as conventional… with a quality that is “ok” at best.
But I digress. This is all so unfair. The solutions is needed RIGHT. THE HELL. NOW. Food companies, environmental dumpings, bad air… I don’t know… whatever it is that has effed up our food supply so bad…all these kids’ bodies see them as toxins…it is a problem that isn’t going to go away or be solved anytime in the near future.
Our kids need us. They need our help and they need to be empowered to change the world, one menu at a time. Though it would be a long shot, it would be a great social lesson: that screwing with a global food supply (GMO, pesticides, etc.) does not increase profits but eventually decreases it to nothingness by rendering a whole society unable to digest the effed-with food items. How about those future profits now, Monsanto assholes?
Yeah, so screw them. I don’t want a single speck of their effed-up wheat dust to even enter the air vents of my future restaurant.
I don’t know if GMO foods can be linked (with any certainty) to my son and his generation’s food allergies but I think it’s safe to say that experimenting with GMO foods and using a whole population as guinea pigs is a really asshole fucked up thing to do. It is unethical and the results might be disastrous. The only power we have is to adjust our diet. The scary part of this is that if all of our food gets messed with, at what point will the entire human species see all food as toxic? It’s a scary thought and my son’s generation is bearing the first brunt of it. I’m mad as hell about it. And even though I can tolerate wheat, diary, etc., I’ll eat alongside my son and not give one red cent to the ones screwing with our food.
To my kid I say, “C’mon kiddo, to HECK with those freak foods – let’s make those hamburgers and milkshakes happen – OUR way! And BETTER, too!”
I’m mad. And it’s only going to get worse. Who’s with me?