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Can you eat safely at conferences?

Do conference venues stack up to the challenge of providing allergy-free meals for their guests?

I go to a lot of conferences as part of my day job. It used to be so easy in the pre-gluten-free days. Even though I already knew about a few of my intolerances (egg yolk, caffeine and a few other easily avoidable bits and pieces), eating was still reasonably easy. No such thing, however, once I was no longer eating gluten.

The best of the conference venues label their offerings clearly as ‘contains gluten’. Some have a separate table for the intolerant, vegetarians or picky eaters. The worst make no effort at all and don’t even label their food, so it’s impossible to know whether food is safe or not.

I have reviewed any number of these conference meal efforts on my blog and I always send them a copy of the review. Not a single one of these places – often very big name hotels, and very flash conference venues – have ever responded to my emails.

Here are my main issues with these conference venues:

  • Labelling. Aside from a couple of excellent examples, they are very poor with their labelling.
  • No imagination. The hotels which provide a separate table for people with food allergies typically offer salads, fruit and not much more.
  • Morning and afternoon teas. In most places, these are at best fruit, if there is a gluten-free option at all. More often, scones, cakes and cheese and crackers are the norm.

So what do I want to see, and what is it that I recommend to every single venue where I attend a conference?

  • Label, label, label. Even if you can’t provide us with something we can eat, please TELL us that we can’t!
  • Remember that even if we’re gluten-free, that doesn’t mean that we are also vegetarian. Many of us like meat as well. Please don’t just offer us salads.
  • Be inventive. Think of things that don’t contain gluten, especially for morning and afternoon teas. Some idea could be an orange almond cake, or meringues. For the lunches, how hard can it be to offer fish, beef or chicken cooked in a way which doesn’t include wheat? Of course you can offer a lasagne, or a pasta salad, but you could also offer a curry with rice, or baked fish with potatoes. It’s not that hard, folks!
  • Don’t expect the conference organiser to request gluten-free options. You should be offering it, because it is YOUR JOB. Many conferences and seminars are organised by people who are doing this as well as their day jobs. Organising conferences and events is your day job, and you should have a standard gluten-free offering as part of your normal package.

Even with the best of the venues around, there is a long way to go. Help me to help them improve by passing on your feedback as well. And please do share your experiences – both good and bad – at conferences. And in the meantime, it might be a good idea if you’re attending a conference to take along a packed lunch, just in case.

Weight-loss feedback

I promised I’d keep you all up-to-date with how my weight-loss efforts are going. I am still deeply resenting having to watch my food intake all the time. That aside, I have lost 4.9kg over the past five weeks. My eating patterns are becoming better and most of all, I am eating (and drinking) less. Thus far, it’s been positive. I just need to keep adjusting my attitude so that I welcome the daily scrutiny of my food intake!

Is there anyone else joining me on this adventure? If so, do share what you’re doing and how you’re going as well!


For those wanting more information on coeliac disease, check out the NZ Coeliac Society website www.coeliac.org.nz.

This blog is the opinion and experiences of its author and should not be taken as medical or dietetic advice. Healthy Food Guide has not verified the content and cannot endorse any advice given. Healthy Food Guide recommends seeking professional health advice for specific complaints or symptoms.

Date modified: 22 February 2021
First published: Jun 2013


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