Like many of you, we had a long cold winter, and sometime in January I decided that a trip to Orlando was just what I needed, even if it was a few months away. It gave me hope of warmth. I think my friend Shirley was feeling the same way because she readily agreed to join me.
So last week, Shirley and I boarded a plane for Orlando and headed to the Gluten-Free Living conference and Blogger U. And what a great time we had!
Blogger U took place on Friday with sessions from a variety of bloggers (like Amie, Amy, and Jules) on a variety of topics. I actually found it a bit difficult to meet and connect with new bloggers, but I did meet a few new ones (like Sarah and Anna) and connected with a few I had met before (like Johnna and Andrea).
The rest of the conference took place on Saturday and Sunday with a vendor hall, a variety of sessions, and a keynote speech from Dr. Fasano. All the ones I attended were informative and interesting.
I’ve had the privilege of hearing Dr. Fasano speak numerous times over the more than 13 years since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and it’s always been educational and helpful. This time was no different. Dr. Fasano is not only an expert on celiac disease, he’s an entertaining speaker and a very kind and friendly person. He also has a new book which I’ll tell you more about next month (May is celiac awareness month).
There were times in the early years of my diagnosis when I just wanted to cry while hearing him speak. He explained what was going on inside my body when I accidentally ingested gluten and why I was having such terrible mental reactions. It was a comfort to know that someone understood, because all my friends and family thought it was pretty crazy. Of course, over the years, theories have changed, but I always knew that Dr. Fasano was there, working hard to learn more about celiac disease and get people diagnosed.
Also present at the conference were the great people from Gluten-Free Living magazine. Having written for them a couple of times in the past year, I had already had contact with the editor, Amy Ratner, but we had never met in person. That was a delight. I also met the publisher, Susan Fitzgerald, and I was absolutely thrilled to spend a little time talking with the former editor and founder of the magazine, Ann Whelan.
I have to spend a moment talking about Gluten-Free Living magazine. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000, there was very little information and only a few (mostly poor tasting) gluten-free products available. I relied on Bette Hagman cookbooks and my Gluten-Free Living magazine subscription to figure out how to live gluten free. The magazine was in black and white and didn’t contain any recipes, but it was packed with information that I devoured as soon as the magazine arrived.
Back then, we didn’t have the food allergen labeling law, and I carried in my purse a long list of ingredients that did or might contain gluten. I avoided all modified food starch and citric acid (along with many other things) unless I called the manufacturer and verified that the product was gluten free. I thought stamps (which we had to lick back then) might contain gluten, and the list goes on.
Gluten-Free Living Magazine began investigating into many of those ingredients and ideas. They researched and talked to manufacturers of ingredients (not just the food brands, but the people who make ingredients like citric acid, modified food starch, and caramel color). The magazine explained where there were risks of gluten and where there weren’t. They taught us that distilled vinegar is gluten free and we only needed to avoid malt vinegar. And the list goes on.
Both Dr. Fasano and Gluten-Free Living magazine had a profound impact on my early years with celiac disease, so meeting them, talking to them, and even hanging out at the pool with them after events were over Saturday night, was simply too cool!
But of course, I loved the time spent with my friends too. And the next time you’re in Orlando, be sure to visit Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant. They have gluten-free fish and chips and onion rings (yes, they’re prepared in a dedicated fryer). Actually, most of their menu is gluten free. It’s also a fun place with entertaining Irish dancers.
There’s a lot more that could be said about the conference, but I guess you’ll just have to attend the next one yourself. I thought it was definitely worthwhile. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!