Conferences and seminars are in abundance at the moment it seems. You don’t get many for the first eight months of the year, and then all of a sudden they all come along from September to December.
I love a good conference, seminar or training session. I like learning. Apparently when I was a child and Mum asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I didn’t want to grow up, I wanted to keep learning. I also like visiting new places, meeting new people and catching up with familiar faces. However I also dread these events for the reason that is lunch.
When booking my place I dutifully add my long list of allergies in the small space dedicated to “Dietary Requirements.” I then follow up with an email saying something along the lines of “Can I just double check you’ve got my requirements….if the caterers need to check anything I’m happy to have a chat….and by the way I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I do eat meat. And I’m not allergic to gluten…..” You get the picture.
Lunchtime comes and I’m never sure if I can eat the main dishes laid out for “normal people” or if I’ve got my own special plate somewhere. I’m immediately looking like a weirdo with people thinking I’m pushing into the food queue, when in reality I’m just checking. I’ve learned not to just get in the queue and hope for the best, as by the time I get to the front and realise I can’t eat anything, lunch break has almost ended and my tummy is still empty!
Some caterers get it right. I attended a session at the Hilton Bankside last year and there were loads of dishes to choose from, each with an allergen label next to it. This was great because I could blend in with the other delegates and not cause a scene.
On the opposite end of the spectrum I attended an event recently where the caterers are usually very good. I always get my own plate of food which is very nice-often some kind of salad with grilled chicken or beef. Unfortunately they got it very wrong this time. The plate was labelled with my name and the list of allergens exactly as I had stated in the booking and email follow up: dairy, egg, nuts, fish and avocado. They had provided a choice of sandwiches filled with chicken and guess what? Mayonnaise. Now, the last time I checked, mayonnaise was made with egg. Which I’m allergic to. As it says on the label stuck on the mayonnaise sandwiches!!!!
What ensued next was total embarrassment for me and the person I was talking to, who worked for the host company. They apologised a lot and I told them not to worry a lot. It was all very British!
What I dislike the most about this sort of scenario (which wasn’t the first and most definitely won’t be the last) is that discussion all becomes about me and my stupid allergies and not about the topics of the event, which in my opinion is the very reason for being there.
Next week I’m off to another seminar, so I wonder what culinary joys will await me?
If any of my readers have any tips or suggestions on how to deal with these sorts of issues I would welcome your comments!