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    Do you Have Your Gluten Free Emergency Food Bag Ready to Grab and Go?

    Tammy Rhodes
    • Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Spring 2018 Issue

    Do you Have Your Gluten Free Emergency Food Bag Ready to Grab and Go?
    Caption: Image: Tammy Rhodes

    Celiac.com 04/24/2018 - Did you know in 2017 alone, the United States had OVER TENS OF THOUSANDS of people evacuate their homes due to natural disasters such as fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis? Most evacuation sites are not equipped to feed your family the safe gluten free foods that are required to stay healthy.  Are you prepared in case of an emergency? Do you have your Gluten Free Emergency Food Bag ready to grab and go?  

    I have already lived through two natural disasters. Neither of which I ever want to experience again, but they taught me a very valuable lesson, which is why I created a Gluten Free Emergency Food Bag (see link below). Here’s my story. If you’ve ever lived in or visited the Los Angeles area, you’re probably familiar with the Santa Ana winds and how bitter sweet they are. Sweet for cleaning the air and leaving the skies a brilliant crystal blue, and bitter for the power outages and potential brush fires that might ensue.  It was one of those bitter nights where the Santa Ana winds were howling, and we had subsequently lost our power. We had to drive over an hour just to find a restaurant so we could eat dinner. I remember vividly seeing the glow of a brush fire on the upper hillside of the San Gabriel Mountains, a good distance from our neighborhood. I really didn’t think much of it, given that it seemed so far from where we lived, and I was hungry! After we ate, we headed back home to a very dark house and called it a night. 

    That’s where the story takes a dangerous turn….about 3:15am. I awoke to the TV blaring loudly, along with the lights shining brightly. Our power was back on! I proceeded to walk throughout the house turning everything off at exactly the same time our neighbor, who was told to evacuate our street, saw me through our window, assuming I knew that our hillside was ablaze with flames. Flames that were shooting 50 feet into the air. I went back to bed and fell fast asleep. The fire department was assured we had left because our house was dark and quiet again. Two hours had passed.  I suddenly awoke to screams coming from a family member yelling, “fire, fire, fire”! Flames were shooting straight up into the sky, just blocks from our house. We lived on a private drive with only one way in and one way out.  The entrance to our street was full of smoke and the fire fighters were doing their best to save our neighbors homes. We literally had enough time to grab our dogs, pile into the car, and speed to safety. As we were coming down our street, fire trucks passed us with sirens blaring, and I wondered if I would ever see my house and our possessions ever again. Where do we go? Who do we turn to? Are shelters a safe option? 

    When our daughter was almost three years old, we left the West Coast and relocated to Northern Illinois. A place where severe weather is a common occurrence. Since the age of two, I noticed that my daughter appeared gaunt, had an incredibly distended belly, along with gas, stomach pain, low weight, slow growth, unusual looking stool, and a dislike for pizza, hotdog buns, crackers, Toast, etc. The phone call from our doctor overwhelmed me.  She was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I broke down into tears sobbing. What am I going to feed my child? Gluten is everywhere.

    After being scoped at Children's Hospital of Chicago, and my daughters Celiac Disease officially confirmed, I worried about her getting all the nutrients her under nourished body so desperately needed. I already knew she had a peanut allergy from blood tests, but just assumed she would be safe with other nuts. I was so horribly wrong. After feeding her a small bite of a pistachio, which she immediately spit out, nuts would become her enemy. Her anaphylactic reaction came within minutes of taking a bite of that pistachio. She was complaining of horrible stomach cramps when the vomiting set in. She then went limp and starting welting. We called 911.

    Now we never leave home without our Epipens and our gluten free food supplies. We analyze every food label. We are hyper vigilant about cross contamination. We are constantly looking for welts and praying for no stomach pain. We are always prepared and on guard. It's just what we do now. Anything to protect our child, our love...like so many other parents out there have to do every moment of ever day!  

    Then, my second brush with a natural disaster happened, without any notice, leaving us once again scrambling to find a safe place to shelter. It was a warm and muggy summer morning, and my husband was away on a business trip leaving my young daughter and me to enjoy our summer day. Our Severe Weather Alert Radio was going off, again, as I continued getting our daughter ready for gymnastics.  Having gotten used to the (what seemed to be daily) “Severe Thunderstorm warning,” I didn’t pay much attention to it. I continued downstairs with my daughter and our dog, when I caught a glimpse out the window of an incredibly black looking cloud. By the time I got downstairs, I saw the cover to our grill literally shoot straight up into the air. Because we didn’t have a fenced in yard, I quickly ran outside and chased the cover, when subsequently, I saw my neighbor’s lawn furniture blow pass me. I quickly realized I made a big mistake going outside. As I ran back inside, I heard debris hitting the front of our home.  Our dog was the first one to the basement door! As we sat huddled in the dark corner of our basement, I was once again thinking where are we going to go if our house is destroyed. I was not prepared, and I should have been. I should have learned my lesson the first time. Once the storm passed, we quickly realized we were without power and most of our trees were destroyed. We were lucky that our house had minimal damage, but that wasn’t true for most of the area surrounding us.  We were without power for five days. We lost most of our food - our gluten free food.

    That is when I knew we had to be prepared. No more winging it. We couldn’t take a chance like that ever again. We were “lucky” one too many times. We were very fortunate that we did not lose our home to the Los Angeles wildfire, and only had minimal damage from the severe storm which hit our home in Illinois.
      
    In 2017 alone, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) had 137 natural disasters declared within the United States. According to FEMA, around 50% of the United States population isn’t prepared for a natural disaster. These disasters can happen anywhere, anytime and some without notice. It’s hard enough being a parent, let alone being a parent of a gluten free family member. Now, add a natural disaster on top of that. Are you prepared?

    You can find my Gluten Free Emergency Food Bags and other useful products at www.allergynavigator.com.  

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    I agree that it's a disappointing article.  Instead of offering helpful advice, it makes the case for why an emergency supply is needed and then directs you to her site to shop for the products.  I understand the need to have sponsors to help support celiac.com, but I think this really blurs the lines between sharing advice and sponsored content.  When sponsored content isn't identified as such, it brings into question the objectivity of what is offered across the celiac.com website.  I had expected this article to be helpful, not a sales pitch.

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    Unless you insist on being the gluten-free gourmet, or you have special needs (like feeding a toddler for a month) it is not hard to have a gluten-free bugout bag. Plain white rice is gluten free. Ask the Viet Cong, one twenty pound sack can feed one soldier for a whole month. One family of four for a whole week. Cheap and shelf stable, available even in many disaster shelters. Not complete nutrition and not exciting, but really easy and cheap DISASTER FOOD.

     It is also easy to throw some gluten-free non-dairy protein shakes and food bars into a bag, so there's always a higher quality (even if it isn't tasty) couple of meals in a bag, in the house or car.

     There really are many choices. We used to take hard cheese (edam and gouda balls still commonly found in supermarkets) or peanut butter and jelly (yes, nut allergy issue) and hard salami to go camping. These things are still out there, they still work. I don't need to put together a pricey bag of gluten-free freeze dried meals for a disaster, I'm willing to settle on "This will feed me" if I'm stuck in a shelter for a week. If I'm stuck for a day or two...the protein bars and shakes will do the same thing, no cooking no fire required.

    It is only a problem if you have to have gourmet food.

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  • About Me

    Tammy Rhodes is the owner of Allergy Navigator, which is a company that designs personalized apparel and products which helps families navigate Celiac Disease and food allergies.  These products include allergy alert tags, bibs, charger plates, home signs and apparel. After her daughter was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and food allergies at the age of 3, Tammy left her career in corporate recruiting to follow her passion of helping children stay safe since they are too young to advocate for their own health and safety.  She is now actively involved in the nonprofit Centerview Food Allergy Management, which provides allergy friendly and gluten free events for kids, as well as, the Beyond Celiac Kansas City 5K Walk and Run. Additional information can be found at www.allergynavigator.com.

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