I always wanted to be a food critic. OK maybe not really, but I do love food, so I thought I’d give a unique perspective to the SharePoint Conference 2011 with my take on the food that was served, specifically on the food that was in the specialty diets section.
Interestingly enough, my tweet that garnered the most attention while at the conference was one about food…to be specific – bacon – one of my all-time favorites!
Like I said, I love food and I love to eat. When I was diagnosed with food allergies a couple years ago after years of chronic health issues, it was hard because all of a sudden there were so many foods that I could no longer eat. Anything with gluten (wheat), dairy, or eggs was off limits. In case you didn’t realize, dairy and gluten are in nearly ALL processed and prepared foods, so it’s been challenging to say the least to find food I can safely eat.
So I was hopeful yet hesitant when I signed up for the conference, as one of the questions they asked pertained to any special diets I was on or any food allergies I had. This was encouraging, however I didn’t know exactly what to expect once I got to the conference. Would food that was safe for me to eat be specially labeled? Would it be segregated from the “normal” food? Should I bring my own food just in case (which I frequently do when traveling)? And most importantly, would I get sick if I didn’t bring my own food?
I say I was hopeful because I know California is MUCH more progressive health-wise than Iowa. The majority of people in Iowa don’t even know what gluten is. I pretty much know when I go to a restaurant and the server or chef has never heard of gluten, that I’m likely going to get sick if I eat their food. And even if they’ve heard of it, many don’t realize that just trace amounts can make a person ill and don’t understand how easy it is for food to become cross-contaminated. So I always pack food wherever I go.
I did pack enough food for my flights and evening meals, but I simply did not have room to pack enough for every meal at the conference so I thought I’d just take my chances. If I wasn’t satisfied with the selection I’d just find a health food store and buy food once I got there.
I was pleasantly surprised that they had a specialty food section that was completely segregated from the rest of the food. They had aisles labeled gluten free/diabetic, vegan (which meant dairy and egg-free for me), kosher, and halal. Even at the Disneyland party, everything was clearly marked as well.
The food that I was able to eat tasted delicious. Many people mistakenly believe that gluten free means bland or taste-free. This is not necessarily the case; you may need to get creative with different spice combinations, but you can create some delicious cuisine without using wheat or dairy. They offered substitutes for many of the dishes in the regular food lines and as I said everything tasted great.
My only complaint would be that it was a little difficult for people with multiple allergies to know exactly what they could eat without asking for assistance. I was able to do a little detective work; for example they had breads and pastries in the gluten free line but none in the vegan line. So I assumed that they must have contained milk and/or eggs, so I stayed away from those. And at almost every meal I had to ask someone if something in the gluten free line was dairy free and vice versa with the vegan line. If they could have labeled each dish with any of the 8 most common food allergens that they contained, it would have been much easier for people like myself with multiple allergies.
All in all, however, it was great to be able to come home from SPC11 without getting sick! My hat’s off to Microsoft and to the company that catered the event for thinking of us people with special dietary requirements – way to go!