Kelly Rudnicki is the creator of the blog foodallergymama.com. The mother of five small children, Rudnicki lives in suburban Chicago and spends much of her time promoting food allergy awareness. She has also worked as a television news producer and in corporate public relations. Vegan Baking Classics is her second book. Vegan Baking Classics is a straightforward guide to everyone’s favorite baked treats in delicious, easy-to-make, and totally reliable vegan versions. This is classic comfort food, but prepared using all-vegan ingredients that are accessible to every home cook. These carefully tested recipes come out right every time, and are sure to please vegans and non-vegans alike.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to, It’s All About Food. And, we talk about food on this show and so many people never really make the connection between food and everything else that goes on in our daily lives. Food affects so many different things. Not only our personal health, certainly it has a great impact on our personal health whether we are filling our bodies with essential nutrients and foods that are going to boost our immune system versus foods that are going to make us weak and sick and etc. But also that food effects the environment we live in, the air, the water, the soil, and certainly the other animal species that we share this planet with. One of the things that I discovered when I became so focused on food is that it made me more mindful about so many other things that go on in this world. All about paying attention because there’s so many things that we take for granted, and we have two great guests on this show today about very different topics but I think it comes down to the same theme about being mindful about everything around us.
Okay, so to start with, we are going to talk to Kelly Rudnicki who has a new cookbook out Vegan Baking Classics, easy to make traditional favorites, and we are going to talk about some really great delicious treats, but first we are going to get to the most serious person of I think of how this all came about and Kelly is the creator of the blog, Food allergy mama.com. She is the mother of five small children. She lives in suburban Chicago and spends much of her time promoting food allergy awareness. She has worked as a television news producer and in corporate public relations. Vegan Baking Classics is her second book and it’s a straight forward guide to everyone’s favorite treats, delicious easy to make an totally reliable vegan versions of classic comfort food to prepare using all vegan ingredients that are acceptable to every home cook. And the carefully tested recipes that come out right every single time and are sure to please vegan and non-vegans alike.
Caryn Hartglass: Welcome Kelly.
Kelly Rudnicki: Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’ve been at your website, FoodAllergyMama.com reading some of your blogs and going through some of the challenges that you’ve been faced, and you are doing such incredible work and I’m always maybe balanced or out of balanced, I don’t know what it is, but there is just some people that amaze me with the amount of good that they do and work that they do. There’s some amount of people that are not doing those things.
Kelly Rudnicki: Thank you
Caryn Hartglass: We might get a little bit into that in a minute. Okay, so let’s just, you know I’m not a parent but I know that when ever parents start out having children, the thing people say is that they want to make sure they have 10 fingers, 10 toes, everything is healthy, and sometimes things don’t work out as we expect them to.
Kelly Rudnicki: Right, exactly. For my personal situation, for my food allergic son, he’s going to be turning 9 in about a month. He was my second child, so you know with my first I went through that whole process of feeding him everything she could tolerate everything. I really had no worries what so ever. So it was completely out of left field when my eldest son was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies. And while that actually happened, again you bring up the topic of being mindful. I recall this not really being mindful really what I gave him. I gave him what everybody told me to give him. Like oh trying this snack, trying this health snack, trying out fiber foods. The only thing I gave him was called the Gerber veggie meal, freaking out it’s made of veggies! And it’s coated with cheese powder, and you know I didn’t make the connection but I was immediately, after he ate that meal his face broke out with hives. He was extremely sick and started vomiting. I immediately called my pediatrician, and said “I don’t know what this is, my son seems to be reacting, but I have no idea what’s going on” and the advice they gave to me was get some Benadryl and you know, see how he does. And for you know, having retrospected, that wasn’t the best advice. I really should have called 911 because really when you have a food allergic reaction in a child, you know when you’re that young they can’t tell if their throat is closing up or if they’re experiencing more severe symptoms. So really you know, that just kind of shows you how even almost ten years ago, there was far less information then, than there is now.
Caryn Hartglass: So the recommendation is to get to the emergency room.
Kelly Rudnicki: Or call 911 if you can’t get there. Pick up the phone and call 911. If you have a diagnosed food allergy you should always have an epipen on you to kind of counteract that reaction. So that would be your first course of action then you pick up that phone and call 911. Don’t get in the car. And that is really you know the one thing I always try to tell parents with children that are newly diagnosed, you won’t hurt your child if you give them an epipen. If you’re kind of on the fence, like if you know a history, do I give the pen? You know if they are having problems with breathing, you give that pen, you call 911. It won’t hurt them. And that’s always the number 1 question that I get. So yeah, just in the journey from that diagnosis and not even really knowing what the food allergy was, and I love food. And you know, I loved all those foods.
Caryn Hartglass: But did he have some of these foods before he demonstrated a reaction or was it the first time with those foods.
Kelly Rudnicki: No, no. It’s funny you bring that up because when he was an infant, I remember he was maybe a week or two weeks old. I tried breast-feeding. It didn’t really work for me. I was trying to supplement with formula, he was having feeding issues and he got violently ill, and I gave him cow’s milk formula. People don’t tell you that cow’s milk is in formula.
Caryn Hartglass: Right
Kelly Rudnicki: But he got so severely ill that I went through a whole variety of different soy formulas and finally landed on a really expensive one.
Caryn Hartglass: They put casein in a lot of formulas, which is from cow’s milk.
Kelly Rudnicki: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: There are these mystery words that people are unsure what they are.
Kelly Rudnicki: Well that was the one thing that was hardest for me when he was first diagnosed is that I was given this list of ingredients to avoid. So that time he was allergic to eggs and dairy and peanuts, legume, beans and so I had this list of names that were kind of code words for different ingredients and really at that time there was not that food labeling law. it was not in the fact that it was going to fact in 2006. You literally had to look at the facts in the package and decide for every single ingredient to make sure that it was safe. Which quickly led me to decide to stop eating all that foods. And you know it’s process and we know now the longer the list, the worse it is.
Caryn Hartglass: Jack Lalanne – one of my favorite expressions, “If Man made it, don’t eat it.”
Kelly Rudnicki: Absolutely! I can’t even read it. You know it’s absolutely daunting so I quickly change my habits all over night. i showed up at whole foods with my list and realize, I have to cook from scratch. But that has been a blessing for my family. And did I mention I have five children now and it has been a true blessing to learn to cook. Whether it’s baked goods, or dinner, or breakfast. You know just so simply and so helpful manner. And it’s really thought my children that it’s not complicated, it’s not a big deal. We don’t ever eat anything out of a box. And they don’t miss it, they don’t want it. Even my kids without food allergies always prefer the vegan versions and the allergen free versions that I make. They can taste that happiness, that difference.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m sorry that you had to go through this and I’m sure you’re always on alert because you never want your son to consume the things he’s not suppose to, but on the other hand it got you into the kitchen, and i don’t know what it’s going to take to get Americans back into the kitchen. It’s so important to make the majority of our food from whole fresh foods.
Kelly Rudnicki: I mean absolutely. i sometimes go speak to my children’s classrooms and you know kind of talk about you know different vegetables. I was recently in a Chicago public school that was Michelle Obama for the goal campaign and teaching children of healthier options, and vegetables, and fruits surround it all. So i bought this whole array of different vegetables. These kids were fabulous; they never tasted a jicama was one.
Caryn Hartglass: mmhm.
Kelly Rudnicki: And they never have tasted it. They were eating it raw like it was candy. They loved it! And I always try to tell parents you know, “you’re over thinking this, you’re over thinking that cooking has to be a big production” and you know it’s just not.
Caryn Hartglass: I know some kids that were brought up on fruits and thought that blueberries were the most amazing treats.
Kelly Rudnicki: Exactly! You know, go to a farmer’s market. The kids love eating just directly out of those little containers. It’s the sweetest, freshest food. You teach them that now, that probably the greatest gift you can give your children is teaching them how to care and honor their body. And just really love, no just their environment but their bodies, and be mindful to what they put into it. And always think about it and it starts in an early age for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you think we’re experiencing more food allergies than before, or is it something that has always gone on. Do you have any feeling about that?
Kelly Rudnicki: Yeah we absolutely are. There has been a study that just came out about a month ago that more children are begin diagnosed more than ever with food allergies. And the reason you know, there are a couple of theories that most doctors and physicians that it is all based around this hygiene hypothesis which basically means that we have essentially changed the way our bodies react to basic things because of our over use of hand sanitizer and other products, and chemicals. And there are some scientists that have evidence backing that. And i do say that we, you know, i don’t know how old you are, but I’m 36, and when i was growing up, there were very few of these types of packages snacks. We didn’t have lunchables; we didn’t have all the freeze things, or squeezable yogurt that our kids have to make things faster and easy for the parent to give their kid.
Caryn Hartglass: and the concept too is kind of distorted.
Kelly Rudnicki: It is distorted. And its one of those things that i think are obviously, you know there has also been studies that a lot of children in third world countries have virtually no food allergies. so there is this connection between how we are preparing our food, how we’re growing it, and how also the overuse the chemicals and the preservatives in our environment. Put all of that together, our bodies have, you know, they’re over reacting. And that is the result of a food allergy. There is a connection for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: And your son, he has a whole list of things he can’t eat, even like legumes?
Kelly Rudnicki: you know legumes and peas are a part of the peanut family
Caryn Hartglass: oh, okay.
Kelly Rudnicki: and 5 percent of the kids with severe peanut allergy, very severe, have this legume and pea allergy and i was shocked by it. And its funny i didn’t even know the connection. My son actually tried a pea, and he was so excited because he really enjoyed the pea, he was three years old and he started having his throat close up, it was the scariest thing I have ever seen over a pea!
Caryn Hartglass: But those are not all beans, the pea, which ones are those?
Kelly Rudnicki: The peas are the legumes vegetables, but they’re in the family. But he is also allergic to lentils and chickpeas and anything in the bean family.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, but not soy.
Kelly Rudnicki: Not soy, and that’s interesting because there is a small percentage of kids who can’t tolerate the soybeans, and soy products but not that legume. It’s so odd that he for some reason can tolerate the soy.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, then he can’t have nuts, but he can have some seeds.
Kelly Rudnicki: He can have seeds, yeah. He can’t have any nuts.
Caryn Hartglass: He’s fortunate he can’t have those things.
Kelly Rudnicki: Yeah. Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: And also fortunate he’s not allergic to wheat.
Kelly Rudnicki: Right, exactly. Although he tends to not eat a lot of it. Only because, you know I have four boys, and i just find that there are a lot of refined and processed sugar in what products. But i find it best to keep that to a minimum and just make the bulk of what we eat, fresh vegetables, fruits, and protein. And that really, that balanced a good thing for them, especially because they are very active kids. They’re always outside playing sports. And so i find, with my daughter, she’s actually had a lot of crackers, and she starts feeling sluggish. And she would have that high and low. She would crash if she ate a lot of those carbs. So we really try to be careful with how much of that, we get to that. We really focus. They grab you know a carrot stick or an apple out of the fridge. And one of the tricks i do when they get home from school and they’re really hungry, instead of reaching for the pantry, I would always have a plate of fresh fruit or vegetables on the table. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s already done for. So then they can’t really say no to it. They would say no i want pretzels, or something else, and i would say no just try it first, they grab a handful of grapes and go out the door and go back and play. And that worked. And that’s the difference; it’s all about shifting your perspective, i think. And how we are feeding our children. Make it available for them that are our job as parents I think. To teach them and make it available.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s true for all kids. Your kids doesn’t have to have food allergy to be that planned, organized, and on top of everything.
Kelly Rudnicki: I think that’s an excellent point to make because a lot of times, the question i get is, “oh that must be so terrible, what do you eat?” you know, i really don’t look at it that way. Yeah, we can’t eat out as much, but i don’t even want to. It’s really one of those things we really value our time in the table together as a family. We have dinner every single night, all seven of us.
Caryn Hartglass: that’s such a good thing; I’m underlying what you just said.
Kelly Rudnicki: yeah, i mean it is. We talk about the time constricts parents face and i absolutely understand that aspect of it. Two of my kids who are in travel sports we’re always shuffling the activities. However i always make that a priority because it’s kind of like we get up in the morning, we make exercise a priority, that cup of coffee a priority. You make that dinner a priority. We can all make adjustments. But you are teaching your children the value of sitting down, enjoying that meal, and talking to one another. I have found that most of the important conversations i have had with my kids have been at the dinner table, the lunch table, or the breakfast table.
Caryn Hartglass: absolutely. You know just thinking, this idea has been put in my mind, what idea has been the most significant thing for our society to move forward. A lot of people say that it’s the Internet, but this article i read says it was the laundry machine. And how the laundry machine has really got us ahead because we had so much time. Especially for women and people say that they are juggling so many things and they don’t have time. I just think what if we didn’t have a laundry machine, just put it all on perspective; you’ve got plenty of time to make the right things a priority.
Kelly Rudnicki: it’s so true. You know a few times where my laundry machine has broken. But it’s again, you adjust, you shift your perspective. It’s important, i think to not be so rigid, you know. For instance in a particularly crazy afternoon i got to get somebody, somewhere. And we have maybe a 20-minute till dinner we make lettuce tomato sandwich, something that is easy and fast but still value the time together. It doesn’t have to be a big production, you just have to shift your perspective you know, i value this time, you know together as a family. And you will make time for it.
Caryn Hartglass: my version of fast food is run into a grocery store to the produce aisle, grab a banana, apple, a bag of lettuce, and whatever else you like and run out and eat it.
Kelly; absolutely, and it’s try, you know we do have a large family and s even going out to eat, if we didn’t have food allergy we still won’t, because it’s so expensive, it’s a pain. You know one of the kids is going to act up. The job is never worth it. So you know we have taken road trips where we pack up the cooler and we bring our picnic sandwiches and it is always the better option. And it is just teaching your kids these value, the value of what they put in their mouth, what they put in their body, and making time to prepare the food themselves and we really do try to tell our children to think about what they’re going to choose at school on luck time.
Caryn Hartglass: you know in ways you’re fortunate. Because i think one day it’s going to be called child abuse, there are so many processed foods that parents just pick up and don’t think about, and just feed their children. Ultimately, maybe not right away, but in several decades, it’s going to take its toll, and we are certainly seeing it with obesity, with child obesity, child diabetes now, people dying from heart disease and all kinds of chronic deceases now. Most of them are reversible and preventable and caused by the crap in our food and it must be frightening for you to go to a restaurant, and even if you tell the server what you can and can not eat, there are so many things they throw in the foods, you have no idea what’s in the food.
Kelly Rudnicki: that too. And there is such little knowledge still, especially in young restaurant staff in kitchens about the severity of food allergy. For instant, the question i commonly get asked, i have to say this to somebody, we have a dairy allergy, which includes yogurt and cheese thinking it’s just the cows milk that you would drink or can your child take a lactated, is that okay, or can your child have egg beaters, is that okay, and you get these questions and what it really reminds me is people just don’t understand what’s in their food. Or what’s more importantly restaurant staff don’t think anything of it putting an extra table spoof of butter to their tomato sauce. It’s seemingly innocent, suppose to be made with fresh ingredients, there’s no way. Or they throw in some Parmesan cheese to give it more flavors. To me, we absolutely can’t trust eating out and there is just a few of places we ever really visit. But again we don’t feel deprived by that. It’s one of these things we adjust. You know we’ve gone on vacation to Disneyland in California to Arizona. We always make sure that we stay in a place that has a kitchen. You know a condo. Which is actually less expensive in the long run anyways. And we prepare all our foods.
Caryn Hartglass: you know i love it that way. You know, i don’t have any allergies. I think i might have a problem with wheat, I believe it gives me headaches. But, I’ve been a vegan for a long time. So I’ve been conscious with what’s in my food mostly as an ethical choice and i really enjoy these vacations going to these condos where you have these kitchens and can make your own food. So many people complain about gaining so much weight on vacation. And you know, that doesn’t have to happen.
Kelly Rudnicki: no, it absolutely doesn’t. And it’s one of those things where you take the focus off the food and you take the time together. That’s what really matters the most, is your memories now. What restaurant are we going to go, or what hot dog are we going to eat? You know, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about being together. You know, it’s funny, one of the things i have been so passionate about, I’m sure read it on my blog, is the whole excess of food in classroom.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah i was just going to bring that up, I’m glad you did.
Kelly Rudnicki: Yeah! You know, it’s been a touchy thing. You know, you have a lot of push back from parents who are reversed to from change in their children’s classrooms. They really feel like it’s a part of childhood to bring cupcakes to the classroom for every single party, or every single birthday.
Caryn Hartglass: And they don’t seem to care that the teacher has to deal with all these sugar highs after the party.
Kelly Rudnicki: And that’s like at the base, a part of it absolutely. You know, you’re taking time out of instructional time. Clean up, serve, and deal with craziness. Most teachers would tell you, they don’t even want that. Furthermore, there’s a whole liability issue of serving food to children in classroom today because obviously there are more food allergies, it’s on the rise, and we don’t know what’s in our products that we bring in. and most of the time, it’s parents picking up a package of cupcakes in the local grocery store, and that’s what it is, you know? And for me, i always try to approach it like, Okay my son has food allergies, but i don’t want to make it just about that. I want to make it about how else can we celebrate these special occasions that are a part of childhood. It’s one of those things, you know, we celebrate a birthday at least once or twice a month in a child’s classroom. You know, one of my children’s teachers, in second grade, did this thing, it’s called a sparkle gram, and for each child’s birthday she had a classmate of that student write something special about them, or something nice about them, put it in a packaged box, wrap it in paper then give it to them, and that’s how they celebrate it. To me that was so telling because it really… a birthday is celebrating who we are, what we become, what we appreciate about ourselves, not about that cupcake with food bye number 8, you know form jewel. It’s all about celebrating that person and to teach these kids that it’s not all about that stuff. It’s more about celebrating who they are, what their friends think of them. That meant more to my son, than any cupcake, and he still has them. These are sweet messages that say, I think you’re a great soccer player, or you’re always really nice, and you always share your pencils with me. You know, it’s really sweet messages. But the messages are there, the let’s move away from that, lets move away from all the excess food in the classroom.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know if it’s an American thing, or outside of the United States. But there are so many people who feel that freedom is very important. And freedom is like we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want. We don’t people taking that away from us, and I don’t think that in many ways, people are free. People are brainwashed and they are manipulated by marketing, television, and there are products they go off like robots that pick up children and adults. They’re market to buy, and that’s not an educated free choice, and yet people would fight for that.
Kelly Rudnicki: And that’s a good point because often the pushback that I have gotten over the years, is fighting for the right to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into the classroom. Or treats, cookies and cake, and all that stuff that is lethal to my son. It could literally kill him. So i was always questioning, you know the fact, debating over my son’s life and their right to being in treats. There was a disconnect there. It has gotten better over the years, where I’m fortunate that my son is surrounded by great friends who’s parents go out of their way to make him feel included, and always ask. It was only in the beginning, you know in the first few years like preschool. It was really hard because there was no understanding that these foods can kill him, and they didn’t really care if that was going to hurt him. They were going to bring in their treats anyways. I think over the years, there have been so much more awareness. And we’re talking about it more; there are more articles and studies. I think there has been an increase in awareness on life threatening issues these kids have to deal with. Aside from that, there’s a whole bowling aspect like making a child feel uncomfortable because of the fact that their body is different from theirs and they can’t eat the same things that they can. So there’s this whole other element that children as they get older, and go into older grades, that have to feel this. So that’s one thing that has been a challenge over the years, but I do think that you know my son’s friends in particular, really value what he has to deal with. And are always asking for ingredients. And in some weird way, they’re teaching them how to look at ingredients, and saying “yeah that fruit rollup probably isn’t the best.” or you know, let’s just grab an apple. And I have could that when he goes to other friend’s houses, or play dates, their moms always put out fresh veggies and fruits, and it’s so great
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I was just going to ask about that because sometimes if a caring friend or parent wants to prepare something for you, it might be touchy sometimes, i can imagine because they don’t know everything that you know. So they might want to do something nice, but how do you handle that?
Kelly Rudnicki: Well, it is touchy. I think you know, generally speaking, you know there’s always this issue that no product is really safe unless it comes form my home. We really are nut free, and truly very free. So that is something that I know, I could fall back on. But when he goes to friend’s houses, and goes to sleepovers, you know we have no issues. He’s been to tones of birthday parties. It all comes down to eating the least process foods and generally comes down to fresh vegetables and fruit. And really eating things that are you know, things that are very healthy anyways. And parents are always doing their best to accommodate him. It just helps to become more aware.
Caryn Hartglass: You know well we all have our part to play, and I’m glad you’re out there doing what you’re doing. Sometimes I think. Oh you know I don’t need to do this anymore because people know what’s going on. But so many people still don’t. And we just have a few more minutes, and I just want to talk about certainly that fruits and vegetables are the most important thing we should all be eating fresh, or organic, locally grown when possible. That’s so important, but you know we are entitled to a treat. And the thing is, I think that our society has over treated ourselves so a treat is not even a treat anymore. If we can get back to the simple whole fresh fruits and vegetables, for the most part, and then when we want a treat, and your Vegan Baking Classics has all these wonderful cakes and breads, cookies, waffles, and they’re simple and easy. The instructions are easy to follow. And I say people should pick up and make these recipes.
Kelly Rudnicki: And I appreciate that, and the thing that I love about the recipes is that they are old school, they are, and you can’t mess them up. You know, a lot of things i use as egg replacers are like water. Really basic things, you don’t have to go far and wide for different ingredients. It’s pretty much everything that you have in your house, you know would be an ingredient in that book. So thank you, I appreciate that.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, people should definitely check out your website, Foodallergymama.com. And even if you don’t have any allergies, and your kids don’t have any allergies, it’s certainly worth reading some of your blog just to get in tuned. You know, when we go on a plane and we take our peanuts, you have to think about the other people that are exposed to those things for it could really be life threatening.
Kelly Rudnicki: Absolutely! Thank you, I appreciate that.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so I wish you well, and all of your children and your family, and here’s to lots of delicious meals to come
Kelly Rudnicki: Thanks so much, have a great day.
Caryn Hartglass: thank you Kelly. And I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. We are going to take a short break, and we’ll be right back with our next guest Juliet West. Thanks for listening.
Transcribed by Jo Villanueve, 8/4/2013