Friday, June 15, 2012

Allergy Alert

Judging from the excellent turnout at the recent ISES Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter meeting, food allergies are a hot topic. The speaker was Tracy Stuckrath from Thrive Meetings and Events, a company she formed to educate the hospitality industry on how to successfully accommodate special dietary needs at events.

The ISES meeting was held at a new club called the Pourhouse in downtown Minneapolis, and Chef Richard worked with Stuckrath to serve each of the seven tables either a gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or  pescetarian (fish only) meal. Seafood-loving me was lucky to get the shrimp, but the other dishes looked pretty appealing as well. The point was to demonstrate that special meals need not be tasteless or unattractive, and it worked.

The ISES members I chatted with all agreed that they are getting an increasing number of requests for special meals. It makes sense: Stuckrath says that there are nearly 15 million people with food allergies in the U.S. and the number is on the rise.

Why? There’s some speculation that our immune systems aren’t as robust as they were 50 years ago, but I suspect a better reason is that increased awareness of allergies is leading to more diagnosed cases. You can’t go to a restaurant or a grocery story without seeing gluten-free and vegetarian dishes and ingredients, and I suspect it will become even more common.

The lesson for planners is to pay serious attention to the issue. Talk to your caterers and chefs; make sure they know how to handle special requirements. Ask your attendees before the event if they have any specific dietary requirements. Follow up and let them know their request will be honored. And learn as much as you can about these allergies and what to do if one of your attendees has a reaction. In other words, be prepared.