“I’m Fiona and I’m “Special”……………………..By Fiona Horne

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on “I’m Fiona and I’m “Special”……………………..By Fiona Horne


Just recently I have been working alongside a UK charity to discuss training on effectively cater for those people with special dietary needs. This is a subject close to my heart since I was diagnosed with coeliac disease around seven years ago.

I have realised that the training has to be about much more than an awareness of the ingredients in a meal and prevention of cross contamination of allergens. We need to encourage a change in attitude, empathy and communication from everyone involved in delivering the meal; managers, menu planners, stock buyers, and service staff.

I have lots of stories to draw from, both positive and negative of eating out gluten free, but this one occurred just after I was diagnosed:

I was attending a large lunchtime function with my colleague, coincidentally a nut allergy sufferer.  The function room was packed, around twenty big round tables, beautifully set.  As requested we had informed the function organiser of our dietary requirements weeks in advance so were feeling confident that we would well catered for.

As we chatted, it soon became apparent that all the people on our table had special dietary needs;  three coeliacs, a nut allergy sufferer, several with lactose intolerants and two vegetarians had been strategically positioned in the corner of the room by the kitchen door.  Accepting that we were all “special” we had a bit of a joke and began to look forward to our meals as the other tables around us were served with beautiful  crayfish and mango salad starters, yum!

Being an old hand at this, my colleague started to manage my expectations, “don’t get excited” he said “it will be melon to start, fruit salad for pudding”.  With the rest of the room quietly tucking in, at last our waitress approached with three plates delicately balanced, then shock horror! .. she shouted from the top of her voice “who’s the coeliac?!”.

As the whole room looked around to find out who the coeliac was, I timidly put my hand in the air and she slammed my starter in front of me, yes, you’ve guessed it, a lovely slice of melon.

As the meal continued and as a collective, we realised that we had all been given the same meal, which had every allergen known to man extracted from it just to be on the safe side. This could only be described as “bland”. As the rest of the room stuffed in the remainders of their sumptuous deserts, we were pushing the remainder of our fruit salads around the bowl, wondering what effect all this fruit and veg was going to have on us!

Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful that we had all been fed “safely”. Will any of us ever return to eat at this particular venue? …..probably not.

Here are a couple of particularly good websites with excellent information for catering for special diets