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Meal Plans


behind the


scenes


Michelle Russell Editor in Chief mrussell@pcma.org


Curtain Call More than three years ago, we intro- duced “Other Duties as Assigned,” a fun series that appears on the last page of every issue. The idea was suggested by Kirsten Olean, CMP, CAE, director of meetings for the Association of American Medical Colleges, who kicked the series off with a story about how she had to clean a toilet seat in the green room after a bunch of students — and right before Cokie Roberts — used it. (“Crap, Cokie Roberts is coming!” became a recurring inside joke for we editors.) Sadly, the series has run its course. But we were pretty sure that Kirsten would have another anec- dote up her sleeve to cap it off, and she did not disappoint (p. 112).


Nothing could be a more basic attendee need than food and beverage. Yet meeting that need has become a lot more complicated.


I


had just gotten back to my office from a business lunch — I’d had a mildly spicy dish of shrimp and rice at a great Mexican restaurant — when I started feeling a little funny. A colleague


noticed red splotches appearing on my skin, and that I was having trouble breathing. She helped me to the eleva- tor and over to our company nurse’s office. Once the nurse took my blood pressure, she called the paramedics. It’s been more than 25 years since I


was wheeled out of my Midtown Man- hattan office building on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to the emergency room, but I can remember every detail like it happened yesterday. My allergic reaction eventually subsided by itself


— I was fine. But that single episode con- vinced me to steer clear of shellfish. Food allergies are scary. Even if the


culprit ingredient has triggered only a mild allergic reaction in the past, there’s always the potential for the reac- tion to become life-threatening. Luckily, I haven’t found it too dif-


ficult to figure out where the shellfish might be lurking in the food I’m served at events. I’ve had it easy compared to others who must avoid more ubiquitous ingredients. I know this because I’ve been traveling to meetings for the past five years with Senior Editor Barbara Palmer, who must follow a strict gluten- free diet for health reasons. I’ve learned from Barbara that gluten can be found in a great many unexpected places, from salad dressing to soy sauce. I’ve seen that how a gluten-free


dietary requirement is accommodated varies widely from one venue and meet- ing to another. I’m dismayed each time I’ve seen how Barbara is made to feel


6 PCMA CONVENE JULY 2013


like a picky eater at sit-down meals dur- ing conferences, or quickly yessed by clueless wait staff when she asks if the passed hors d’oeuvres are gluten-free. And at the other end of the spectrum,


I’ve witnessed her being served gluten- free meals with a big flourish. I know that kind of blatant special attention embarrasses Barbara, even though she is always gracious, whatever her meal experience. She has been more patient than I think I could be, because the times when her dietary needs have been accommodated without muss or fuss have been few and far between. But maybe her patience is beginning


to pay off. As she writes in this month’s CMP Series (p. 51), the meetings indus- try is growing more sensitive to special dietary needs. That’s because there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of requests among attendees for special


— particularly gluten-free — meals. The care and feeding of attendees


who can’t just eat what everyone else is having is no easy feat. Barbara’s in- depth article — which could only have been written by someone in the know


— will help meeting planners and their food-service counterparts rise to the challenge. There may be a lot more “fin- icky eaters” coming to your events, but paying attention to their needs really is, at least for some, a matter of life and death.


. PCMA.ORG


PHOTOGRAPH BY JACOB SLATON


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