Guest Blogger Cait Green has started a Facebook page “The 40% Club” to encourage change in the food industry and to make eating out in the UK easier and more widely available. Did you know 40% of the population are milk, lactose, or gluten intolerant? – that’s a lot of people who don’t generally eat out, and a missed opportunity for eateries across the country.
Do you enjoy travelling in the UK? Nice to see different places – all the history, the changing landscapes, the vibrant towns and cities? It’s marvellous, full of excellent hotels and places to eat, with many establishments using top quality, locally sourced ingredients in an innovative way. It’s a wonderful place to explore.
Unless you have a problem and are in some way ingredient challenged. Then it’s a nightmare. You pack indigestion tablets, diarrhoea remedies and a few trusted snacks to get you through as standard issue along with your toothbrush and party clothes.
Why? This is not the dark ages, but unfortunately, the issue of dietary intolerance in its many shapes and forms is just not something that this nation does well. Perhaps those that are affected aren’t good enough at pointing out that they don’t like to be made ill by properly cooked and presented food that contains ingredients that can harm them and prefer to just grin and bear the consequences.
That’s were we are today, July 2014.
For example, if I as a cow-casein and lactose avoider head off to the airport for a domestic flight to Heathrow I’m lucky to find a no butter, no cheese, no soya sandwich even in chains like Eat with their excellent wide range. I certainly will struggle to find a suitable packet of crisps with no-buttermilk, no whey to glue the flavouring to the potato and I would doubt that a wee bun is possible. But of course I can always have a cup of black tea to wash that down with.
Even in cosmopolitan airport terminals such as T3 or T5 at Heathrow the same issues exist. Often there is no information on allergens on the menus positioned to entice customers into the franchise spaces and a majority of offerings are based on items such as burgers or pasta containing cream, cheese or dairy. If you ask about non-dairy options you often get blank stares, a need for consultation with the kitchen and then the chef will generally tell you that you can’t have 90% of the menu and won’t take the cheese out of the burger for you. I tend to elect to eat Oriental and just risk the indigestion of soya. For gluten-free eaters this is even worse.
But then you can step off a plane, having probably not been able to get your non-dairy/low lactose in-flight meal, at your destination some place like Finland and find yourself in a different world. Here all menus clearly labelled with L (lactose free) and G (gluten free) and have many delightful tasty options to choose from including dishes such as creamy tomato pasta with sausage – intelligent usage of the many fabulous free-from ingredients that exist.
Breakfast at hotels in locations such as Helsinki is a real pleasure. They expect people like me to be there and automatically offer buffet sausages as L,G and often scrambled eggs too. The highlight for me is finding that dairy free Oat-milk is generally just sitting there waiting for me to add to my cereal and tea. Heaven on a plate and in a mug.
Why doesn’t the UK think like this? With the change of regulations on 13x8 Dec 2014 all food outlets are going to have to communicate clearly the allergen information in their food – packaged and loose. This means everyone working in restaurants, cafés, street vendors, deli’s needs to know where the Top 10 allergens exist in all the food that they serve and at least be able to tell their customers clearly about it.
This is a massive step forwards, but will it help the UK to become more enticing to eat out in for the growing numbers of people who are just tired of getting sick from food that other people have prepared?
In the UK between 5 and 70% percent of the population is Lactose intolerant, between 0.1 and 0.5% have milk allergy, 1% are coeliac and between 6-7% are gluten intolerant. There are also an additional group of people who simply prefer to eat dairy-free or gluten-free or are accompanying an intolerant person. Let’s give it a round average number: 40%. That means 2 in 5 of the population have some form of problem with eating out and enjoying the food they are presented with.
Can the UK really afford not to cater for such a large swathe of the potential client base? And what about tourists? – they expect their intolerances to be catered for automatically because much of the rest of the world is already way ahead of the UK on this.
The argument about cost, I believe, is a non-starter. By clever adjustments to an average menu, reducing the number of items including cheese and cream, and including some new versions with non-dairy alternatives it is easy to cater for the largest intolerance group – lactose, without raising the cost base. Dealing with Gluten-free options is more complex and requires separate food handling, but already this is done for vegetarians, for kosher and halal meats, so it is possible. It just takes willingness and vision.
Organisations such as the Food Allergy Training Consultancy are on hand to guide food retailers through the compliance process, and the newly launched “The 40% club” https://www.facebook.com/Thefortypercentclub will be campaigning to persuade proprietors to think about how to make their menus more appealing and inclusive for all.