When I first learned that I was a Celiac, one of the first things I did was attend a gluten-free convention. These are fairly new to the typical convention circuit, but I cannot even emphasize how useful it was for me to attend one. Not only did I find a lot of other people wandering the aisles that shared my life changing ailment, but I learned about so many products! Taste testing by paying full retail price can get pretty pricey and eventually your cabinets will be full with half full bags and boxes of food that you didn't like. My friends and family are not Celiacs, so I ended up throwing a lot of food away.
At the gluten-free convention, there is taste testing at nearly every booth! Dairy-free cheese! Yes! Gluten-free crackers! Yes! Allergen-free pizza! Yes! My cupboards and refrigerator are still routinely stocked with products that I originally found at my first gluten-free convention. I have definitely narrowed down some go-to products, but I am still learning, tasting and trying. But, the convention was such a wonderful place to try many different types of foods in one place.
At many of the conventions there are opportunities for learning and education. I have attended gluten-free cooking classes, speeches on the medical intricacies of being gluten intolerant, and even advances in food manufacturing and processing to eliminate gluten. The conventions usually only last one day, so be prepared to walk a lot, and be there for many hours. Many of the booths will give out free samples to take home, as well as coupons. Make sure to grab a bag that they usually hand out upon entry to fill with samples, coupons and networking literature.
I really enjoy talking to all of the vendors that attend the gluten-free conventions. Some are small companies that are just starting out, usually to fill a need for a Celiac family member. Some are large companies that are already very well known, but that are delving into the gluten-free community. They use their time at the conventions to learn from "real people" about how to market their product, and what else is needed in the gluten and allergen-free industry.
The anchor booths are usually sponsored by local grocery stores. This provides an incredible opportunity for you to speak to them about what you would like to see in their gluten-free sections! I referenced this previously, that it is important to speak with your local grocery manager or store director to educate them on living as a Celiac, and to tell them what products you would like them to stock.
While wandering aisles and waiting in line for gluten-free pizzas to finish baking in the easy-to-transport-toaster-ovens, I also enjoyed speaking with fellow Celiacs to hear what experiences they have had living gluten-free. Many people admitted that initially they had lost a lot of weight, but were on the road to recovery. Lots of others had multiple allergies in addition to gluten, which is seemingly fairly common. We exchanged blogs we read, products we liked, and cooking ingredients that each other "HAD" to try! We'd then all get our portion of the freshly cooked gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free pizza samples, and then move onto the next booth where we would chat with fellow convention goers, or the vendors, or mosey over to the stage to watch a new cooking technique.
Find a Convention Near You
If you live in an area that hosts one, I highly recommend that you attend a gluten-free convention. It is important to educate all family members on the disease and taking the whole family to a gluten-free convention is a fun way to include everyone. If possible, bring the family to let them sample the products so that they can learn that they "aren't so bad" and that maybe they can eat gluten-free sometimes too, to make it easier on the whole family at dinner time.