Many Edmontonians are calling on city festival organizers to make allergen-free food and other special dietary needs available and more clearly advertised, especially those at food-based festivals.
Metro examined three food-based festivals: Capital Ex, Heritage Festival and Taste of Edmonton to see how clearly food that contains allergens (such as gluten) or that is vegetarian or vegan friendly is marked.
Eating at festivals and fairs can be a challenge to health conscious patrons, but even more difficult for those with dietary restrictions. Abisaac Saraga, who writes the blog GlutenFreeEdmonton.com with wife Amanda, says it’s difficult to plan ahead if there is no nutritional information available online.
“I am hoping in coming years the festivals that have food pavilions begin to recognize the opportunity by not necessarily accommodating the gluten-free diet (although that would be awesome), but at the very least indicating on their menus or food stations, which items are gluten-free,” he said.
When looking online, we found that Taste of Edmonton had the mostly clearly-marked information on their website, while the Heritage Festival menu only seemed to state if something was vegetarian. Metro couldn’t find a full menu on the Capital Ex website.
Jennifer Sheehan, communications coordinator for Northlands, said that it’s up to vendors to display if products are gluten-free or vegetarian-friendly, and that Northlands hopes to expand food options in the future.
“We’re always looking for new options when it comes to food and try to accommodate everyone’s dietary restrictions. When we talk to vendors, we work with them to make sure they can offer a variety, which includes working with allergies, gluten-free, or any other dietary restrictions.”
Like Northlands, Heritage Festival also said it’s up to vendors to state if their products are allergen-free or meet special dietary restrictions.
“We feel that every (vendor) has their own responsibilities. By all means, ask the people who are serving the food,” said executive director Jack Little.
But that’s not always the easiest solution, said Saraga.
“It is up to my wife to fend for herself: take the risk to go to one of these festivals and come to terms that she may not be able to have food there, or if she does, then go through a series of questions at these very busy food stations to ensure she does not eat anything containing gluten. Which sometimes just doesn’t work out because the people working at the station are typically just temp serving staff, and not cooks that prepared the food and know the ingredients.”
Lori Simon, who is an gluten-free advocate, would like to see at least one vendor that dedicates its menu to being gluten-free.
“A dedicated gluten-free vendor can help to ensure that there is no cross-contamination and an experienced food vendor will know what gluten-free products to use,” she said.
“There is always the issue of cross-contamination: a vendor touching a gluten hamburger with their bare hands or using the same knife to cut it and then using it on a gluten free bun renders the finished food product unable to eat.”
Celiac disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 Canadians.