Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Not-so-allergy-friendly Gelato

It's taken me a week to blog about this because I'm still trying to process the experience.

In Vancouver, there's an amazing gelato place that I loved before I had kids. It's called La Casa Gelato, and they have all kinds of flavours of ice cream, from the normal chocolate and various chocolate combinations to the fruit flavours, to weird ones like curry, garlic and durian. And they let you try any number of flavours you like (they give you little spoonfuls), until you settle on what you want to order.

I haven't been back since Andrew was diagnosed with his allergies, because I figured that it wasn't safe. Well, my friend and former roommate Catherine was visiting from California last week, and wanted to visit La Casa Gelato to get some of her favourite pomelo gelato. (Yes, like I said, they have unusual flavours, and they're all yummy.)

I did the usual allergy-check when I called ahead, to make sure that there was something there that Andrew could have. Otherwise I would have brought him a treat or a chocolate bar instead.

They told me that they've got a huge selection of non-dairy ice cream, and that I just had to tell the server that he had a nut allergy, and they'd use a separate, clean scoop.

So we went there, and I read him all the flavours he could choose from -- about 25 different flavours. His eyes went wide with the selection, and inside, I was ecstatic because I figured that I could order him an ice cream cake from here for his birthday. Woo hoo!

He finally settled on the blackberry ice cream, and I got myself a papaya one, and Geoff got a mango one -- all non-dairy. Geoff's was fine, and looked tasty, and mine was great.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

After three or four licks, Andrew started grabbing at his throat, and complaining that it itched. I took the ice cream away from him, and took him to their bathroom, where he tried to throw up a few times.

I then gave the cone back to the servers, who continued to assure me that what I'd given him was non-dairy, and contained no nuts. (And to add insult to the injury, they didn't even offer me a refund on the ice cream, despite the fact that he was obviously having an allergic reaction.)

Did they not use a clean scoop, despite my request? I was too busy being delighted by the range of choices to actually watch the server get the scoop. Or is there just so much cross-contamination in their kitchen that they can't actually control for nuts or nut dust falling into other flavours?

I don't know what happened. All I can do is to advise you to avoid La Casa Gelato if you have nut allergies. (Andrew's almost outgrown his dairy allergy, so I'm pretty sure it was a nut reaction.)

Andrew was fine after a dose of antihistamine, though I did have his epipen with me just in case.

This is the first time that any restaurant or other place has served us something that caused him to have an unexpected reaction. And then, despite all evidence of his reaction, they continued to assure me that it wasn't their food that caused it.

I'm left feeling betrayed and mistrustful of all other restaurants now. And I don't like being in this place.

And Andrew was fine about the entire thing. He willingly handed over the faulty blackberry ice cream, and told me that "next time we go to the ice cream store, I won't get the sour blackberry one. It didn't make me feel good." He's only just turned 4 years old. At that age, he should be screaming in frustration that he can't have his ice cream on a hot summer day, not resigned to the fact that it contains something that's bad for him, so he won't eat it any more.

I love that he's so mature about his allergies. I love that he's able to ask "does this have dairy in it?" before he'll eat a new food. I love that, when something does contain an allergen, he will turn away from it, and not ask for it any more.

But I wish that he didn't have to do all of that, that he didn't have to ask, "mommy, what does die mean?" I want him to have a normal childhood. I want him to be able to taste any food that's out there. I don't want to have to watch for nuts and nut shells and be paranoid about everything that he comes into contact with.

But since I can't have that, then all I want is for restaurants and people who serve me food to not lie about what's in the food they've prepared for me, and be trained enough to know what the ingredients are, and how safely everything is prepared. And maybe even use a clean ice cream scoop. (See my Cobs bread experience for another bad learning experience.)


Anne D said...

I'm so sorry. It is a TERRIBLY frustrating and upsetting experience. I feel for you and understand your feelings about wanting your child to be able to stroll into an ice cream store and get a cone without having to perform the Spanish Inquisition on someone.

But, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger! And he (like my Big Guy) will be a better, more tolerant, and considerate person because of all this.

ChupieandJ'smama said...

GRRR! I'm so angry that your son had to experience this. I know that it's part of the food allergy territory, but you did your job, and they should have done theirs. All you asked for was a CLEAN SCOOPER. It's not that tough. I'm glad his reaction was solved with Benadryl and the EPI wasn't needed. I'm also glad that he handled it like a big guy. He sounds like a great kid!

RighterLady said...

I am so sorry - it's such a frightening experience when something like this happened.
I'd write a letter to management explaining your outrage. At least the blog helps pass the word so other allergic consumers will avoid this place.
Glad your son is alright- I wonder what the hell was in that ice cream?

RighterLady said...

Also - I enjoy your blog, mind if I blogroll you? Let me know if it's not ok - Thanks!