Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Allergy and Free From Show 2015 - A Retrospective

Time was when I would have been writing my review practically as soon as I left the show - on the way home. I'm a bit slower about the write-up this year - partly because time has been short (there's been a lot of end-of-term stuff for 'Baby') and partly because I sort of wanted to mull it over a bit and consider how it compared to previous experiences. I'm beginning to realise (maybe I'm growing wiser as well as older) that sometimes it's good to take your time and think things through. It helps too to chew over your experience with others online.

So, this year's Allergy Show in London. How was it?


There was a lot to look at and take in. It was a bit bewildering at first, even though I knew what to expect. However, I must admit I was a bit surprised to notice animal charities vying for space this year - including a dog shelter that split the two Udi's plots! 

I was there to shop for food - not talk about dogs! Or expensive saucepans either!! I wasn't surprised to see some appliances - after all at an allergy show there's bound to be people with eczema who want better hoovers, air filters and natural ways to wash/dry their clothes. The shopping trolley stall I could forgive - after all I've often thought there must be people who turn up and suddenly discover the need for one, once they discover the gems that are on offer! 

However, for the most part I can get over these extra stalls - I know they help to subsidise the show to some extent - just so long as they don't keep out genuine free from companies and prevent them from showcasing their wares! The only thing that genuinely sticks in the throat is the quacks - the companies taking blood and promising a diagnosis and this year a stand promoting some silicone gel that claimed it would fix a bad gut.

Personally, my gut is bad enough already without adding silicone to it methinks! SO when you go to this show, you do have to keep your wits about you - in order to sort the good from the just plain barmy!

So what was good this year? 

1)  Allergy Adventures

Without a doubt, Allergy Adventures is definitely one of the show's highlights - for 'Baby' (as it's the one thing aimed at her level), for The Hub (as it saves him wondering how to keep 'Baby' busy for a bit, without getting into trouble) and for me - as it frees me up to poke around the stalls for a bit without being too distracted!

In fact, I really wanted to fly solo this year and have more of a chance to see what I'd come for, but 'Baby' just wasn't having it. The Allergy Show, and Allergy Adventures in particular, is one of the highlights of her year. She was desperate to come, just for that!

'Baby' loved it, as ever, she knows it's something special for her. And when there's a space as inviting as this for children, it's not difficult to see why!

Hailley is such a great storyteller, she draws in the adults as well!

What I find completely shocking, is that beyond having a free spot, Hailley is not remunerated - either for her 'set', art supplies or expenses, or those of her amazing volunteers. This confuses me somewhat, as it seemed (from the publicity) that Hailley was sponsored. I really hope the organisers and sponsors rethink this for next year, as it seems only fair that her costs should be covered at the very least - especially when she keeps everyone's kids happy all weekend! Happy kids equals happy shoppers, equals money changing hands!!

Hailley also had a slot in Speaker's Corner - a new spot for this year. It was a shame this wasn't better attended. Hailley was sharing about her new workshops for schools, which are now available to view online for FREE! If you are a parent, a teacher or a school governor please, please go and take a look at her website and see how you can get this into your school. Just going from our own experiences with school this year, I think allergy education for pupils, parents and teachers is absolutely vital!

2)  Dr Adam Fox 

Last year, Dr Fox was a real highlight for me, and that was when I had to pay to see him! Mind you, it was only an extra £10, and as I'd got in free, it definitely seemed worth it - especially as he is such a big cheese in the pediatric allergy world! I mean where else would Joe Public get the chance to hear such an allergy expert as he (unless you're one of his patients of course!)

This year, it was possible to hear him for free in the Schar Learning Centre. He certainly drew a crowd - there wasn't enough seats - people sat all over the floor and stood around the open sides. It was a shame there wasn't more space and that he had to compete with the Eco Egg lady, on a nearby stand - who had miked herself up, to be heard over the speakers! (GRRR! How RUDE!!)

Dr Fox certainly drew a crowd!

It was great that we were able to listen to him for free, but I do wish that it had been a bigger space and somewhere where there were less distractions. I also wish (as I did last year) that he had there were published notes for us to follow - as Dr Fox comes out with such fascinating information, at such speed, that it can be difficult to keep up!

This year, he did a great job of covering several subjects, such as eczema, advances in research regarding nut allergies and FPIES. I also found it most helpful to hear him acknowledge that there really isn't much support out there for those with a Non-Ige allergy. I have to say, if Dr Fox is there next year (and I sincerely hope he is) he would definitely be well worth a listen!

3)  Free From Food

Well yes, that is what I went for and that is what I found. This year, though, rather than searching out the newest and latest products, I found myself hunting down old favourites from previous shows and stocking up on goodies that either aren't available locally, or used to be, but have been withdrawn from the shelves of the supermarkets (GRRR!!).  

I was particularly after:

i) Cocoa Libre - amazing free from chocolate and a product I've already reviewed here.  'Baby' loves it too! It's not something I can currently get locally. Suffice to say, I stocked up!

ii) Mrs Crimble's Pancake Mix - this might sound unexciting to you, but it has become a breakfast staple in our house! 'Baby' aint that much a fan of cereal and pancakes are a great alternative. No longer sold by our Sainsbury's or Tesco (Boo Hiss!!) I had to take advantage of their offer to buy five boxes for £5.00. Otherwise, I now have to buy this mix in larger amounts from Amazon.

iii) Eskal Ice Cream Cones - I always buy these at the Show, at show price, but this year I also found these, which look great for parties!

I was ecstatic to find these, 'cos although you can get plain-looking dairy free ice cream cones, finding them in interesting shapes is a mite harder. 'Baby' loved the look of these too and couldn't wait to try them out! I also went back for their chocolate after dinner wafers, which I discovered last year (you know, the ones that resemble cigars). I can't tell you how good they are. 'Baby' loves having these instead of a chocolate flake in her dairy free ice cream.

iv) Venice Bakery Pizza Bases - these are honestly the best gluten free pizza bases I've tasted! They're also egg free, soya free, nut free and corn free too! These weren't new to us, but a definite must for stocking up on - especially as 'Baby' now loves pizza and keeps on asking for it! 

Pizza perfection? 'Baby' thought so!

As it happened, you could buy a whole pizza for £8.00, so we did, and 'Baby' loved it so much, that she ate almost a whole one all by herself! Well that was her lunch sorted and one very, very happy kiddo! Only the day before she had been at a party and been begging and pleading me for pizza that she knew very well wasn't dairy free at all, because she wanted it so much. And here she was, a day later, living her dream!

The only thing I found perhaps misleading was that it was served with Vegusto cheese. Now I have nothing against Vegusto cheese (especially now it is made with almonds and not cashews, so I can eat it), but last year, Vencice Bakery served their pizza with Mozzarisella (soon to be available in a supermarket near you, with any luck), which, being made with rice was nut free, just like the pizza base. I do hope no-one was caught out by that this year!

v) Ms. Cupcake - the Vegan baker. She has a shop in Brixton and is a regular at the show. Fortunately for me, she is aware of the number of gluten free visitors to the show and everything on her stand was gluten free. A goodly number of her offerings were also soya free, including my favourite from last year, the Nanaimo bar! This year I bought the raspberry-flavoured one. It was a bit battered by the time I got it home, but it still tasted gooood!

Most yummy!

The recipe for these is actually in her cookbook, which I have, but I still haven't got 'round to making them for myself! This is partly because I lack decent gluten, dairy and soya free biscuits!

vi) Barkat - another great gluten free favourite of mine. I love their digestive biscuits. These are made with soya lecithin (which is okay for me) and without oats (which I sometimes have problems with, so I limit my intake), so Barkat's really are the only digestive biscuits for me! The woman on the stand couldn't believe I wanted so many packets, but then I can't get them anywhere locally!!

vii) Lovemore O'Choccos - gluten and dairy free 'oreos', to you and me! These were popular at the show, and had nearly all gone by the time I got there. They were priced at £1 a packet, so I'm not surprised they went down so well - they usually cost a lot more at Waitrose! I've noticed both Udi's and DS Gluten Free also make some, but Lovemore's are the only ones that are dairy free AND made with soya lecithin (rather than soya flour/protein). Lovemore also make Jammy Wheels (made with soya), which I buy for for 'Baby'. I reviewed them here. Their Double Chocolate Cookies also go down very well, in our house - wish I'd bought more!

New products, I loved:

i) Koko dairy free margarine - a new product from the makers of Koko Coconut Milk, this is a product I'd heard of, but had yet to try! I loved the sample, but was disappointed that they ran out of stock before I had a chance to buy!

New tub on the block!

It is meant to be stocked at Waitrose, but my local has yet to stock it. I have asked Waitrose to roll it out to more stores, so here's hoping!! I'm hoping to try it in cakes and icing, to see if it holds better than Pure Sunflower (our usual spread), which seems to split in buttercream.

ii) Violife - this is our regular go-to dairy free cheese - partly because we can get it so easily, from our nearest Tesco and partly because it is a pretty good sub for cheese - as dairy free subs go! 'Baby' has just got into it and we now get through quite a lot! 

The Violife stand was located in the Vegan section of the show.

This year they were showcasing their new Parmesan-type cheese. I must say I liked it a lot, but was disappointed that they hadn't brought any stock for customers to buy. Also they served a very nice soft cheese on a cracker that wasn't gluten free, which made it tricky for me to sample. Given that they are a gluten free product and many of the show's visitors are gluten free, this seemed counter-intuitive!

iii) Isabel's Free From Mixes - Isabel's mixes are all gluten free and a growing number are now dairy free as well. We love her gluten free Yorkshire batter mix, which you can usually find in Asda. What I loved this year, was her new packaging which highlights which mixes are also dairy free - really helpful for those of us who are avoiding both dairy and gluten. It would be great if more Free From manufacturers would highlight things in this way!

And then there were these new mixes of hers - I couldn't let a gluten free and dairy free doughnut mix pass me by - especially as 'Baby' is desperate to have a doughnut (thanks @gfreeb for pointing out these). I loved the look of these chocolate puds as well. The Hub and I don't usually 'do' pud, but having been introduced to dessert at school, 'Baby' is beginning to expect them, now!

iv) Nana dairy free ice cream - this little gem was tucked away beside the dog charity! It's an 'ice cream' made almost entirely from fruit which has yet to be launched! We bought a small tub of the chocolate flavour and ate it between us. 

Marketed as 'guilt free' we loved that it was 'dairy free'!

The ingredients for this one: Apple, Banana, Avocado, Sunflower Oil, Cacao, Dates. HOWEVER... I saw too late that it was made in a facility which handles nuts and dairy'! Bah! I wish products wouldn't market themselves as 'dairy free' unless they completely are (but that's a whole other story) as it is sooooo misleading! 

Fortunately, 'Baby' didn't eat that much of it and the tummy ache she had later seemed to fairly mild, considering (it might not even have been the Nana - difficult to tell from just one sample). For this reason, although it was delicious, I would be unlikely to buy it for 'Baby' again (as I wouldn't want to take the risk), which was a shame, as it apparently contained one of your 'Five-a-day'. 

v) Jollyum - a dairy free ice cream made with soya. I didn't actually sample this at the Show, as we found it in a local garden centre not so long ago! I stole a quick lick of a small pot which I bought for 'Baby' (it was all I thought I could get away with, without suffering as a result). Must say it seemed quite tasty!

vi) Sweet Mandarin OK Sauce - I've been desperate to find a Chinese sauce that is gluten free and soya free as well. Looks like I've found one! I already love their Sweet and Sour Sauce and Barbeque Sauce (great with chicken, I stocked up on these at the Show), so now I have one for stir fries too! Will have to let you know how I get on with it.

Sadly missing from The Allergy and Free From Show this year:

i) Glamour Puds - the stand was there, but empty! I was really sad to see this, as they were a highlight for me last year.

ii) Hotch Potch - mini gluten free Scotch eggs. I missed out on these last year and this year they weren't there!

iii) Focaccia Per Tutti - gluten free focaccia, and a Free From Award Winner. They sold out before I got there last year and were not there this year! Oops! I stand corrected! Alex Gazzola (@HealthJourno on Twitter) tells me they have re-branded as 'Anni's Country Kitchen' and were there, so I just missed them! :(

iv) Vegusto dairy free cheese - had it's own stand last year and was only represented by Venice Bakery this year.

v) Mozzarisella - dairy free mozzarella cheese. Last year served up on Venice Bakery Pizzas, sadly missing this year. Reviewed here.

A few final things:

Although all-in-all it was a great show, and there has undoubtedly been improvements over the years, there were a few sticking points for me:

i) On the whole it felt more spacious this year. There were still a few cramped corners, where, when things got busy, it became a bit tight. I was very glad we no longer needed our pushchair. I don't think there was quite the same sudden mad crush of punters that there were last year, which helped somewhat. Mind you there were several other notable events in the UK that weekend, so maybe that kept some of the tourists away!

ii) Some stands ran through their stock quite quickly - by midday Saturday, which was only halfway through the show!

iii) Some stands weren't really thinking about their customers. I was astonished to hear about an egg free mix whose samples were made up with egg! Then there was an American Muffin stand that had a box on display that clearly stated gluten free and dairy free, but whose individually packaged muffins (with exactly the same name) were made with milk!! Unfortunately, the stall holder could not see the problem with this!!

iv) I warned folks to dress light -  because Olympia was a bit like a large greenhouse, and I was right! it definitely got hot in there and more so as the afternoon progressed. No fans, no air-conditioning!

v) With it being so hot, I should have drank more. I didn't because for most of the day, as there were such long queues for the Ladies - so much so, that at a particularly busy point, people were queuing up the stairs! I saw only a few disabled toilets, but these were also the only baby change rooms as far as I could tell - not great for a family event. This isn't something the Allergy Show itself can perhaps solve, but something the visitor needs to know! 

vi) The Free From Cafe didn't feel quite so Free From friendly this year. The dairy free milk was kept behind the counter and cow's milk was kept in glass bottles near the sugar and stirrers. I was worried about spillages, as they didn't look that safe. Also although the allergen menu was available, it wasn't easy to spot with other people in the queue blocking it from sight. I would have preferred food packages individually labelled - as they were last year. 

I took this picture later in the day, when things were quieter!

Another thing I found was that the salad I had this year was definitely smaller, but was still quite pricey! And the staff were not that open to being asked questions about the food - despite signs inviting the customer to ask about allergens!

On the plus side, other cafes within Olympia stocked dairy free milk and gluten free sandwiches too! However, it's always much harder for people with several allergies to find food that is suitable.

Spot the dairy free milk!

So there we have it according to me - The Allergy Show and Free From Show 2015 - the good, the not quite so good, and the barmy. Definitely more good than barmy, so...

Will I be back, next year? I certainly hope so!

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