The Stories We Tell (or: Legalities in Labeling)

eat at your own peril

In what is not an uncommon experience for food allergy gumshoes (I was going to say Food Allergy sleuths, but that is the title of my friend Jessica’s fantastic blog and I don’t want to encroach on her territory!), I was told just last month that if I had any questions about the safety of a food item, I should just not purchase it.  Last year the version from a restaurant was “we don’t know what is in our food, you shouldn’t risk it.”  To hear from a seller of shaved ice that I could not see the labels for his syrups and that I should not purchase anything was puzzling because water and sugary syrup is not a bad market for sweet sellers.  You’d think they’d want to include more people.

But I don’t mind being told that someone doesn’t want my custom, it is just that the blame often lies with over lawyering.  It also comes up when discussion gets to stock epinephrine (access and administration).  Now, that gets under my skin a little bit.  Seems to me I need to clear the air on this one for myself and my sister/brother attorneys, as I promise that the knee jerk reaction people have (to think lawyers are stirring the pot or being polemic) is not entirely true.  I believe that litigation and the adversary system can hone and focus practical issues in an ever changing world of challenges to health, happiness, and safety.

In law school I took a products liability course and if you ever want to fear just about every activity or item known to modern man, it is a great class to take.  (The professor was the fantastic Pavel Wonsowicz (now at UCLA) and I mention that because he was brilliant and hilarious.)  At any rate, there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to public perception of tort (a civil wrong as opposed to a criminal one) law as I learned even at that stage in school because I know all too well some of the stereotypical cases used to imply that we are a litigious country.

I’ll mention, for example, the “McDonald’s coffee case” (Liebeck v. McDonald’s).  In short, the public heard in snippets about the perception that a woman received a big payday because she spilled coffee on herself after obtaining it at a fast food drive-thru.  The disturbing untold element is that the Plaintiff’s case looked at what the company knew about how hot they intentionally made their coffee and the foreseeability of harm to customers or that they arguably ignored warnings in the form of hundreds of prior complaints about scalding coffee.  Does, for example, their claimed desire to have coffee stay hotter longer as drive-thru customers make their way to their destination tip the scales when compared with the increased risk of third degree burns like those suffered by the octogenarian Ms. Liebeck?

When you start breaking down your assumptions about motivation and responsibility, you start to understand the struggle between the letter of the law and the spirit.  We can know instinctively that people should be careful with a cup of hot coffee but as a society where does defaulting to personal responsibility end?  Can/should corporate entities be allowed to enjoy protection from liability, profit from consumers, and then not be responsible themselves for the strategic decisions made in product delivery and development?

Swinging back to the food disclosure issue, if a customer with food allergies were to eat at a restaurant without informing the staff of their disease and experienced a reaction, generally we could say that a reasonable restaurateur would not anticipate that their patron could have a reaction.  Even so, could we argue in the face of the epidemic of food allergies that a restaurant should be on notice in a general sense and therefore make affirmative disclosures about the contents of their food?  And while I’m asking questions, what would be so bad about disclosure of ingredients to shift the burden of deciding whether to consume an item onto the consumer?  Refusing service is not the only way to protect against liability, after all.  In the labeling context, the manufacturer that labels with a default “may contain milk” warning, for example, is refusing to serve the milk allergic customers in the same way the restaurant that tells me I should not risk purchasing their food for my child.

The decision to exclude in this case is most likely an economic one.  A great read is Jonathan B. Roses’ 2011 Food and Drug Law Journal article entitled “Food Allergen Law and the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004: Falling Short of True Protection for Allergy Sufferers.” (You can download the full pdf here.)  Roses writes:

Because of the expense of analysis required to determine if trace amounts of allergens are present in foods, or the risk of contamination in a food production or processing facility, manufacturers have a substantial cost-savings incentive to simply place precautionary warnings on all their products, ensuring protection against potential allergy litigation.

Volume 66 No. 2, pg 229.

Oddly enough, the manufacturer or food service entity may be concerned with monetary risks but I submit that it might be even cheaper to engage in safe food handling and appropriate disclosure because the benefits would reach beyond just avoiding being sued by someone secondary to an allergic event.  A little prevention and mindful safety could prevent food poisoning, even.

For all the fear of litigation, Roses’ article indicates that only 6 cases from 1992 to 2000 regarding anaphylactic reactions.  Id. at 232.  This could be because of extensive settlement and the fact that the case law that is out there can be contradictory.  If a person has a rare allergy, it might not be foreseeable that the allergen would require disclosure but if the person has a common allergy, courts have found that the allergic individual should foresee that a given food item contained that allergen.  Id. at 234.  Take a minute to digest (unintentional pun!) that contradiction and you’ll see the way we chip away at concepts to create law.  A new case occurs and we look to the prior ones to see what precedent was set.  Often the case law is such a mess than there has to be legislative intervention to change the way things work faster than would be the case through the progression of court cases when they frequently end in settlement anyway.

I have been working on this post, turning over my approach in my mind over and over only to not have a satisfactory way to distill my unease into clear terms.  Brevity has never been my strong point but the benefit of a blog as a writing space is that I don’t have to write something comprehensive, I can mull and ponder and post at my own pace.  Tort litigation is not the only thing on my to do list as it intersects with food allergy, but much like the famed McDonald’s case, it is my hope that if you encounter the argument that a policy is the product of “frivolous” litigation, there is more than meets the eye.  Much like the incomplete food allergy label there’s a bigger story lurking in the wings.

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In September I’ll be speaking on a panel at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference (of which I am a co-owner) about some of the legalities that come up in blogging (we’re having an Intellectual property attorney as well as an attorney with experience dealing with online defamation cases speak on the same panel).  If you have anything you’d like us to try to cover, be sure to let me know by getting in touch.  More details are at FABlogCon.com.

Disclaimer: I’m a Nevada licensed attorney and solo-practitioner but this is in no way legal advice or intended to create an attorney client relationship.  The State Bar of Nevada does not certify any attorney as an expert.  

Stock Epinephrine in Nevada Schools and Onward to Restaurants and More

Today, thanks to a heads up from Caroline of GratefulFoodie.com, I was able to attend the Nevada Legislative Committee on Healthcare Interim Legislative Session hearing.  In Nevada, we only have legislative sessions every other year.  Last year was a great year for food allergy advocacy as Senator Debbie Smith championed Senate Bill 453 regarding Stock Epinephrine in Nevada Schools.  The bill eventually passed with unanimous votes in both branches of the state legislature.

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Getting Ready to Start

This was not my first time on the fourth floor of the Grant Sawyer Building near downtown Las Vegas but it certainly was my quickest visit as our contingent was called up right after the public comment section of the meeting.  I was able to visit a bit with representatives from Mylan (makers of the “Epi-pen” epinephrine auto injector) and their Nevada lobbyist as well as the co-leader of our local Food Allergy Parent Education Group, Susanne Stark, Senator Debbie Smith, and Chef Keith Norman of the South Point (and most recently board director at FAACT).

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Senator Smith Addressing the Committee

Senator Smith began by letting the committee know about the success in the last year with stock epinephrine in Nevada. She poignantly told of how when the bill passed we did not know when it would be needed but now we did (Andrue Casado being one of the lives saved). The work is not yet done, she cautioned, because access can extend to restaurants.  Colin Chiles of Mylan would next expand on this point by referencing other states where unique situations were covered like New York summer camps and Alaska hunting guides carrying stock epinephrine.

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Susanne Stark and Chef Keith Norman Speaking About Expanding Stock Epinephrine

Susanne followed with her account of the uses of stock epinephrine in private schools that were open to acquiring it and how in Clark County, Nevada alone there had already been 20 uses of stock epinephrine since the bill passed last summer.  Keith spoke about his experiences in food safety and the need for epinephrine in restaurants and the like.

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Kacey Larson Offering Testimony from Carson City via Video Feed

Attention turned to Kacey in Carson City, brandishing the front page of the Reno Gazette Journal featuring Andrue Casado and how his life was saved when he had his first ever anaphylactic reaction at school in Reno. After some closing remarks by Senator Smith, the committee chimed in with their words of support and personal experiences with food allergy. Senator Jones and Senator Dondero Loop had direct family connections. Senator Jones’ wife recently had an anaphylactic reaction and Senator Dondero Loop’s family member navigated food allergy at a time when epinephrine autoinjectors were not prevalent or the norm.

From Left to Right: Senator Debbie Smith, Homa Woodrum, Keith Norman, and Susanne Stark (Courtesy of Susanne Stark)

From Left to Right: Senator Debbie Smith, Homa Woodrum, Keith Norman, and Susanne Stark (Courtesy of Susanne Stark)

We laughed at taking a “selfie” after the hearing but I think it is a great way to make sure everyone is in the photo. Thank you for sharing this photo, Susanne! I care deeply about each of these great individuals and get chills just thinking of the difference each of them is making in their work. Senator Smith for her work for Nevada, Susanne (and her co-leader Debbie Bornilla) for the parents and the community in Las Vegas as a support group leader, and Chef Keith for making so many happy and safe.

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After the hearing Susanne raised the question to Mylan’s representatives about expiration dates on epinephrine (we were advised to feel free to return Epi-Pens with shorter than one year until expiration when issued as the pharmacy can readily exchange them for “fresher” stock).

Excitingly for me, Colin informed me the Mylan headquarters in Pennsylvania are a great space as I am traveling tomorrow to Pittsburgh to see it for myself at the invitation of Mylan. I was not sure if I could/should accept the opportunity when it was offered to me a few weeks ago but I think what I learn could be useful to the work we are doing in Nevada. Granted, this will require a lot of disclosure on my part as my plane trip, transportation, hotel, and meals are being covered and that does create the appearance of bias but hopefully longtime readers will know that I value my editorial independence. I look forward to sharing my experience especially since it will be my first time away from my children overnight (well, except for the night I was in the hospital in labor with my son and my daughter was home with my mother in law).

I will miss my kids tremendously and am very nervous about all the new social situations but there’s a sliver of excitement about the trip and getting to see the other attendees at the “Mylan Summit” April 10-11. Here we go!

Vegan & Gluten Free Aubergine (Eggplant) Khoresht Recipe

Eggplant Khoresht

Deceptively simple, entirely delicious, Aubergine (Eggplant) Khoresht is one of my all time favorite meals.  I am in year three of this blog without having posted about it mainly because it gets eaten before pictures can be taken.  You have to like tomatoes.  You have to be open to the idea of eggplant (and not have an issue with nightshades since they can be known to have an impact on inflammatory conditions).

My parents made this with meat when I was a kid but it was very easy to adapt with the addition of garbanzo beans/chickpeas for protein.  Growing up we always called eggplant by the name aubergine but I’ve lapsed into calling it by its American name in my later years.  Onward!

Supplies
Cutting board
Knife
Baking sheet
Medium to Large stockpot

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Ingredients
2 cups of Water
1 cup of Vegetable Broth (homemade or a store-bought safe variety – our old standby recently added sesame oil so we switched brands)
1 large or 2 small fresh Globe Eggplant(s) – about 400-500 grams
1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced Parsley (or the equivalent of dried)
2 tsp Turmeric
1 can (130g or 1 4/5 cup) ready to use Garbanzo beans (so, already cooked)
1 33g can of Tomato Paste
1 420g can of Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (or other fire roasted variety)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Prepare the eggplant as instructed in this recipe (peeling, slicing in rounds, salting and laying on paper towels, roasting in the oven, etc.).  While waiting for the salt to take some of the bitterness out of the eggplant, heat your stock pot/saucepan on medium.  Once heated, add the olive oil.  It should shimmer a little bit, then add your diced onion and stir.  Stir and monitor until the onions have softened, about 2 or 3 minutes.  Then add your garlic and other spices and continue stirring.  I lowered the oil in this recipe to make the calorie count favorable but that means it takes a little more attention.

Add the roasted eggplant once ready and stir to coat with the onions and spices.  Finally, add the tomato paste and roasted tomatoes as well as salt and pepper, water, and broth.  Stir and increase the heat until the mixture is bubbling and reduce to a simmer.  You’ll want to let it simmer with a lit off kilter until the mixture reduces to more of a chunky stew texture instead of something soupy.  I would say this takes about an hour on medium heat, stirring occasionally.  You can taste for salt and pepper throughout this time as well but don’t over do it early on since you are reducing the mixture a little bit.  The eggplant will break up as it cooks so that is why there’s no need to cut it into anything smaller than rounds during the roasting stage.  Enjoy!

Serve warm over brown or white rice.  I love it with coconut yogurt on the side as well as tomato onion salad.

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Also shared on the EpiFamily.Com Recipe Roundup.

The No Biggie Bunch (Review and Indiegogo Campaign)

"No Biggie!"

My food allergy dollars allocate in priority to:

1) Injectable epinephrine
2) Safe chocolate
3) Safe food

Now all they need to make is an epinephrine auto-injector case with a spot for emergency chocolate and snacks, right?  My daughter would totally be on board with it if it was pink, blue, and purple. What I mean to get at, in my signature roundabout way, is that the first place I go when I need food allergy related reading material is my local library (and even inter-library loan) before buying books (or usually in lieu of buying them). So I have to admit that I was aware of the No Biggie Bunch series of books for quite some time before I ever investigated further because our local library did not have any copies. We were missing out on a neat quartet of smart, well illustrated, and accurate food allergy reads for the younger set.

No Biggie Nutrition Facts

I met Heather Mehra, co-creator of the No Biggie Bunch books (with Kerry McManama and Michael Kline), and her husband at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference last November and they are some of my favorite people because of their authentic exuberance for kid lit, awareness, and their family. I flipped through one of the books for the first time when I visited with Heather and the quality of the series was readily apparent. I excitedly purchased two books for my children and when they shipped to me I was generously gifted the other two books in the series as well, all signed (thank you so much again Heather)!

No Biggie Bunch books

The No Biggie Bunch should be in libraries and a new Indiegogo campaign aims to make that happen. Contributions fund distribution costs associated with putting the series in libraries across all 50 states. In the first week of the campaign, for example, $30 covers one set of four books for a library as well as two books for a school library dear to the contributor’s heart. Six books (retailing for $14.99 apiece normally) disseminated with sound and approachable food allergy discussion for just $30 is a great deal and I wanted to use it as the nudge I needed to get around to writing about the series here.

Peanut Free Tea for Three

This was the first of the series that I read and I had to get it for my daughter.  Three friends gather to have a tea party and are totally supportive of one another’s food allergy circumstances.  They bring their own safe food, something very familiar in our family, and have a wonderful time.  A main topic in this one is cross contamination with jelly because a knife may have had peanut butter on it during a prior use.  The book also models collaborative imaginary play.

Trade or Treat Halloween

The No Biggie Bunch each have single allergies, as well as one member that has no food allergies.  This really works for kids with multiple allergies because they can identify with more than one character in the books.  In “Trade or Treat Halloween” the kids are able to enjoy trick or treating with the knowledge that they’ll trade their haul for safe options.  Last year we had our first trick or treat outing and my kids handled it very well.  Greta, allergic to wheat, is excited in this story because she trades all her candy for stickers to decorate her room.


Dairy Free Dino-Licious Dig

There are no adults in the No Biggie Bunch books so the situations and dialogue are very accessible to elementary school and pre-school children.  Davis can’t share Natalie’s cheesy crackers when she offers them on a playdate because of his dairy allergy but both Natalie and Davis handle things in an upbeat way.  Davis’ “No Biggie Bag” has just the safe snack he needs and the two can continue with their adventure.  The attitude toward food allergy is very factual but supportive.  I see the children in my daughter’s class being very understanding on a regular basis.  Like Natalie, they want to share but know they need to keep their classmate safe.


Sports-tastic Birthday Party Book

We’ve covered tea parties, Halloween, and the run of the mill playdate. . .I saved the hardest scenario for last – the birthday party.  Scotty’s birthday cake is safe for some but not all of his friends but they are prepared with safe treats of their own.  As a mother I feel a pang of sadness when I read this book because of course we want our children included in those activities that others take for granted but to my children this book reflects the reality of birthday parties for them.  We plan and prepare and shop and bake so we can celebrate with their friends so that the focus of the day is not on the sugar rush (though that is an added benefit) but on having a great time together.

"No Biggie!"

“Along with my princess crown I packed my own jelly in my No Biggie Bag.”

The illustrations by Michael Kline are bright and cheerful and the characterizations are forward thinking – the friends have varied cultural backgrounds and diverse interests but love getting together.  I hope you’ll consider supporting the Indiegogo campaign to get these books into more libraries!

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The books are really focused on models of good habits when managing food allergies, so for books that cover allergic reactions I’d recommend The Princess and the Peanut: An Allergic Fairytale and The Bugabees: Friends With Food Allergies to round out your library collection.  

I am a volunteer contributing reviewer of books, music, and movies over at VegBooks.org if you’d like to check my recent posts there: Philip Reid Saves the Statue of FreedomThe Lego Movie (2014)In a Heartbeat (CD), Patty’s Secret, Bronto, Friend of Ceratops, Violet Mackrel’s Natural Habitat, and Monster on the Hill.

Shared Equipment & Facilities and Food Allergy

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I used to only contact a company when issues arose with a product – that is, in my pre-food allergy family days.  Now I reach out to research ingredients and also to praise staff members that go above and beyond the call (at a restaurant we once had a vegetarian server that had a family member with food allergies she was awesome – I was compelled to e-mail the company about her and review the experience at Allergy Eats).  Sometimes it takes a few discussions to explain my question (when I called a fast food chain to see about the ingredients in their bread the response to “does it contain oats?” was met at first with “you mean gluten, right?”) but the effort is worth it.

This month’s Food Allergy Buzz Blog Carnival theme is cross contamination, that is, that foods that don’t have an allergenic ingredient by design may contain that ingredient by virtue of being in the same factory or on shared equipment.  For a restaurant you can see how easy it would be to just throw one customer’s order onto the griddle with another’s (imagine making a batch of regular pancakes and then pouring out gluten free pancake batter onto the same surface immediately thereafter).  A factory may not be so different if one flavor or variety is made and then another variant is sent through (for example, a potato chip production line could have sour cream and onion chips on the same equipment as plain chips).

Some companies voluntarily disclose shared equipment or facility warnings but for families with allergies that are not in the United States’ “top 8″ (wheat, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, milk and egg) the statements are not entirely helpful.  Further, the statements themselves are not regulated because of their voluntary nature.  Say a label proclaims the absence of an allergen but is silent about another.  Could you safely assume that the non-mention means the item is safe for your family?  Not always.

My directly relevant example is a product currently sold at our local Southern Nevada Costco.  It is called “Eat Pastry” and is a vegan, gluten free cookie dough in a tub.  You just scoop and bake, easy right?  I was thrilled to stumble upon it and the label seemed to check out.  I like supporting allergy friendly products at Costco, plus, it was cookie dough!

What I did know, however, was that a large portion of chocolate is by its nature cross contaminated with nuts (for allergy friendly chocolate, look no further than Enjoy Life, by the way) whether or not it is disclosed, so I went to the company website and found this in their frequently asked questions:

Q. I see that you use nut extracts in the Chocolate Chunk and Chocoholic Chunk cookie dough flavors. What type of extract do you use?

A. We use a trace amount of pure almond extract in these two flavors. Because the amount is so small, it is not listed as an actual ‘ingredient.’

Oh no, I thought.  They were referring to two wheat based varieties but I didn’t like that they were deciding not to list a nut extract because they decided an amount was “small.”  So I e-mailed the company:

To Whom it May Concern:

I bought your cookie dough at costco today and then I saw on your website about undisclosed almond extract – is that something that applies to this particular variety?  My daughter has life threatening food allergies, I appreciate all your disclosures on your packaging about being gluten free, egg free, etc. but I was nervous when I saw the FAQ on your website.  Please advise as to whether this product contains undisclosed nuts or nut derivatives.  Also, are there nuts in your facility?  

Thank you,
Homa Woodrum”

A day later came this friendly reply, from the CEO no less:

“Hi Homa, Thanks for your email. We do not use nut extract in our gluten free chocolate chip cookie dough (that is used in our regular chocolate chip cookie dough, which is not gluten free). We do however handle peanuts in our facility. We make our own peanut butter and make a peanut butter cookie dough, but we produce all peanut butter products on designated days to prevent cross contamination. We also thoroughly clean and sanitize all shared equipment and work areas between each production run so that allergens are kept separate.
We do not handle nuts in our facility, only the almond extract. 

I hope this information helps, and that your daughter is able to enjoy the cookies!

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Best,
Jessie
Jessie Williams
Co-Founder/CEO 

I used this as an opportunity to bring up a suggested packaging change:

Thank you so much for the prompt reply – I think your packaging is adorable and your product delicious but I hope in future you consider disclosing the shared facility and equipment on your labels.  I know that is not required but when I see that a product is free from so many allergens (and rightfully proud of it) as a consumer I would assume that the absence of a peanut or tree nut statement implies that there is no concern on that front.  Of course you can’t please all people and it is especially tricky when you are dealing with so many segments (gluten free, vegan, etc.) but I just thought I’d mention it in case it is something you can consider in the future.
Thank you again and I hope you have a wonderful day!
Homa”

Ms. Williams wrote back to say that they would certainly consider my suggestion in future packaging decisions.  I was reminded of the exchange when I saw smaller versions of the Eat Pastry product at Whole Foods recently, right next to the peanut butter variety she references in her e-mail.

Eat Pastry at Whole Foods

Had I seen the product where it was side by side with the peanut butter variety I may have skipped it, so you can see how one can’t just rely on what is on the shelf to know what is in a factory.

Eat Pastry

All that said, if nuts aren’t something you’re concerned about, the dough bakes up fantastically and tastes great out of the tub as well.  It is a great example of not being able to rely on a package alone, or the inclusion of “free from” statements.

I am not as vigilant a label reader as I’d like to be!  I bought a bag of fresh spinach at Trader Joe’s earlier this year and was surprised to see a shared equipment disclosure on the package:

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So I did what any food allergy mom would do, I took to twitter with my guilty confession that I’d failed to read the label.  Sloane Miller (Allergic Girl) encouraged me to reach out to Trader Joe’s and see what was going on.  I included a link to the twitter conversation that had ensued regarding the picture along with my question so they could see it was not just one querying customer.

Hi Homa,

I thought I would drop you line in the event we continue to play phone tag.

I did some research and found out that the allergen statement on the package was placed due to the fact that the facility processes other pre packaged salads that includes products containing the allergens noted.

That said, the allergen containing products come into the facility pre packed in individual pouches.

I hope this information is helpful. Please feel free to give me a call if you have further questions. Also, my direct e-mail address is [redacted].

Thanks for shopping with us,
Nikki

I will add that for those that may think I can just keep reaching out to companies about food allergy safety on my daughter’s behalf, please consider well meaning people that do a cursory check of a product regarding safety to bring to, say, a school function.  I know that on a regular basis my daughter’s teacher will email me and say a certain item seems to check out online as nut, oat, and sesame free but she still checks with me, which I very much appreciate.

Somewhere between a company deciding whether a trace amount is too small to disclose (see above) or a company that makes a blanket warning on a single ingredient item (see above also), I think there needs to be a real discussion about labeling and disclosure not just for the benefit of food allergic families but all who wish to know what they’re eating.  Then there’s non food products, like toothpaste, that don’t have to disclose ingredients in the same way the top 8 are disclosed.

Both my examples above involve nuts but I know of a friend’s daughter who is anaphylactic to milk or another friend’s daughter who is allergic to flax (something companies really like to leave off labels), so the concept of transparency in labeling is far reaching.  I’d love to see better on package disclosures, but acknowledging that this is not always a possibility because of space, I certainly feel that websites should list full ingredients and manufacturing circumstances.  They almost certainly maintain such records internally, or at least I hope so!

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In other news, we have a date for this year’s Food Allergy Bloggers Conference: September 26, 27, and 28 of 2014 at the South Point in Las Vegas, Nevada! Last year’s event was fantastic (full disclosure: I am the co-founder of #FABlogCon) and we already have some awesome sponsors lined up as well as speakers. Plus, the South Point truly cares about issues like cross contamination and food safety (as well as delicious food). Hope to see you there!

Vegan Slow Cooker Red Lentil Coconut Curry Recipe

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It has been a while since I shared a recipe but this recipe, inspired by Anupy Singla’s “South Indian Lentils With Curry Leaves” from “The Indian Slow Cooker” (amazon affiliate link), is something we make just about every week.  

When my husband and I got married we received a slow cooker (amazon affiliate link) as a wedding gift and I was perplexed because as vegetarians I didn’t think we would use a slow cooker that much.  It is wonderful for beans (see my post about a refried bean recipe here) and with this recipe, the red lentils break down wonderfully for a meal on their own or served over brown or white rice.  

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I normally hesitate to list ingredients when a recipe is derived from a cookbook, opting to instead point readers to the book itself, but my variant of Ms. Singla’s recipe cuts a number of ingredients out (I didn’t have fresh curry leaves, for example) or reduces them drastically (like the coconut milk and salt – she suggested two tablespoons and I use one teaspoon!).  This makes a very generous batch so you can freeze half and serve half or have leftovers another night.

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Supplies

Knife
Cutting Board
Strainer
6 Quart Slow Cooker
Frying Pan

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Ingredients

1 Red Ripe Tomato, Quartered
3 Cups Red Lentils, Rinsed and Drained
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
7 oz Can of Diced Green Chiles
1 Teaspoon Turmeric
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
4 Teaspoons Curry Powder
1 Teaspoon Mustard Seeds
2-3 Teaspoons Canola Oil
3/4 Cup of Coconut Milk
8 Cups Water

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Directions

Heat the frying pan on medium until warm, then add the oil.  Put the mustard seeds in the pan until they start popping and add the diced onion.  Stir and add the turmeric, curry powder, and salt.  Once the onions have softened you can add them to your slow cooker.  While the onions are frying, feel free to rinse the red lentils in the strainer over the sink.  Pick through the lentils as well to make sure there are not small pebbles or the like.  Add the drained red lentils to the crock pot along with the diced chiles, tomatoes, and water.

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Stir the mixture and set the slow cooker to low for 6 hours.  Add the coconut milk and stir, then cook on high for half an hour.  No worries if you are not home to do this at the 6 hour mark, your slow cooker should switch to the warm setting until you get home and can add the coconut milk.

You can halve the recipe but if you do, keep the coconut milk the same measurement but do halve the water along with everything else.  Sometimes the curry can me thicker or more liquid depending on the liquid from the onion and tomato but it is always delicious.  Ms. Singla includes cumin, coriander, and even fresh curry leaves in her recipe but I have streamlined it a great deal for my kitchen.

The leftover coconut milk (if you use a large can) is great in smoothies.  Enjoy!

2 Years Running

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I have been running for 2 years.  Funny that I can document it so specifically because I am pretty sure I got through high school P.E. without running for any appreciable amount of time (unless it was to be first in line for pizza at lunch).  When I started with Couch to 5K I knew there was something neat about starting something and knowing that in a few weeks or months I could potentially transform aspects of myself but I’d never experienced it before.  I will never forget struggling to make it to 90 seconds of non stop running, or the time I had to repeat a week of Couch to 5K because 5 minutes of sustained running was beyond my ability.

This morning’s run was good – the air was crisp and cool and I had great company along the way.  Chatting may make me a little out of breath but it makes the miles fly by.  When I first tried running I went without music, listening to MP3s was a great addition to my experience.  Now running with other people is even better.  Keep trying other approaches if your fitness regime is not something you look forward to!  I’m 5 miles away from 100 kilometers for the month which would have baffled me two years ago when I was averaging 16 minutes per mile.

Yesterday I walked a bit with my son at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and was thinking about how I wanted to be fit for my children so I could keep up with him.  Even long walks have improved since I started running.  At any rate, it is a nice reminder that resolutions don’t have to start January 1st, my resolve to run started January 29, 2012 with almost no prior experience except avoidance.  Happy trails!