When I first began my gluten-free journey I was given two lists: one outlined foods that were considered safe while the other listed foods I could no longer eat. I remember immediately driving to Whole Foods with my mother and walking up and down the aisles feeling lost and overwhelmed. It quickly became apparent that gluten was lurking everywhere and went by several aliases. There wasn’t an awareness yet. Gluten-free substitutions were reminiscent of cardboard or sand, and those were the good options. Restaurants didn’t have gluten-free menu options or know about cross contamination. Every meal at a restaurant required a phone call in advance, and even then I still found myself sick frequently. There was a severe learning curve.
I remember my first Chicago Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Expo. Everything was safe! I walked around and sampled foods without worry. I can’t remember how many times I turned to my mom and asked, “Can you believe this is gluten free?” I left with a huge bag of samples and a happy heart. I have returned every year since.
Fast forward almost a decade since my diagnosis and knowledge of celiac and food allergies have increased considerably. We have more options than ever before. Restaurants have clearly marked menus, have separate fryers, and train staff how to avoid cross-contamination. That’s not to say that the fear is gone. Going out to eat at a new restaurant still fills the pit of my stomach with fear. I know that I’ll have to do research and ask questions. Despite the effort, it’s possible that my only option will be a glass of water.
The GFAF Expo is so important because it spreads awareness. Food allergies and intolerances are more prevalent now than ever. The danger is real and the solution is education.
Disclosure: This year I am privileged to be a part of the Chicago GFAF official blogger team, sponsored by BFree. I received free expo tickets and will receive a small commission on tickets purchased through my website. All opinions are my own.
The Chicago Gluten Free Allergen Friendly Expo takes place at the Schaumburg Convention Center from 10am-4pm on April 7th and 8th. In addition to gluten-free products, many companies have offerings that are free of other common allergens such as nuts, corn, soy, and dairy. The GFAF isn’t just for those with allergies or intolerances; it’s for anyone who has a child, family member, or friend with dietary restrictions. Tickets are available at the bottom of this post for a special discounted rate.
Why should you attend the GFAF Expo?
- Two words: free stuff. You will leave with a full tummy, a full heart, and a full bag of goodies.
- Save money. In addition to the free products you sample and take home, most companies offer coupons. A gluten-free or allergen-free lifestyle can be expensive and a bag full of coupons will take the edge off grocery shopping. You’ll find coupons ranging from $1 off to a free full-sized product. Make sure to sign up for emails to receive even more special offers.
- Community. Get ready to meet some of the sweetest people around. Everyone there has something in common. You’ll find yourself chatting it up in line and as you sample throughout the day.
- Discover new products and companies. Year after year I have discovered new companies. You may be shocked to find that several have products in your local stores that you simply haven’t noticed. You’ll also discover several new, up and coming companies that are excited to make a difference and make gluten-free life easier.
- Get a sneak peek. If you like to be ahead of the curve, the GFAF expo is for you. The expo offers you the opportunity to try products before they hit the shelves.
GFAF Expo Tips:
- Plan to spend at least 2 hours at the expo. You’ll want to talk to vendors, ask questions, and sample plenty of goodies.
- Eat something small and healthy before you arrive. There are so many sweet treats that I find it best to have a salad or smoothie before I arrive.
- Dress comfortably and leave your coat in the car. As the exhibit hall fills, it can get warm.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of standing and walking.
- Don’t be afraid to make a mid-day trip to your car. Your swag bag will fill up quickly and get heavy. I recommend making a trip to the car halfway through the day to get some fresh air and empty your bag.
- Bring cash. Several vendors have show specials and/or products for sale that aren’t yet available in stores.
- Make sure your phone is charged. I take pictures of products and companies that I want to remember. You’ll see so many products and sample so many goodies that they can be difficult to keep straight. Additionally, many companies offer discounts or free products for taking a picture or posting on social media.