Why Massachusetts Is the Best Place to Eat Your Ice Cream

If I had to pick my favorite place in this country to eat I would say Massachusetts. No, not because of the quality of food (though trust me they do have plenty of great food there), but because of the amazing food allergy legislation the state passed two years ago.

A few years ago Ming Tsai, chef; business owner; part time Food Network star; full time hottie and father of a food allergic son, spearheaded an initiative in his home state of Massachusetts to pass a comprehensive and common sense food allergy law that all restaurants would have to comply with.

The law gives restaurants 4 steps to do, the first 3 are mandatory and the last is voluntary:

  1. On all your menus clearly print, “If you have any food allergies please notify your server before ordering.” If you are a food allergic person this should be second nature to you anyway, but it never hurts to be reminded.
  2. In all kitchen a pre-printed poster which lists the 8 most common food allergies as well as general information on food allergies and proper food preparation.
  3. Requires the viewing of a food allergy video as part of standard food service courses. In just the same way that restaurant workers learn that you can’t cut the lettuce with the knife you just used to cut raw chicken, they learn information on segregating ingredients, washing down equipment etc.
  4. Voluntarily create a “food allergy reference book” which breaks down all the food you serve by ingredients and provides a quick and handy reference guide for kitchen staff and servers.

I visit Massachusetts a  few times a year and it is a true pleasure to dine out there. I eat at places that I would never eat at in the rest of the country! For instance, it can be quite difficult to go to an ice cream shop with food allergies because they are constantly using and reusing the same scoop which mixes ingredients from tub to tub leading to cross contamination, but getting ice cream in Massachusetts is a food allergic persons dream. I just walk up to a window, hand the high school kid worker my food allergy card, which list my allergies, and they say “No problem,” check the ingredients get a clean scoop and a fresh tub and within two minutes I’m enjoying my ice cream.

Coffee Oreo. Quite possibly the greatest ice cream flavor ever invented!

Do you have any idea how awesome that is? Probably not if you don’t have food allergies, but trust me; it’s really freaking awesome. It’s not just ice cream shops either, I’ve had great experiences in all the restaurants I’ve dined at in Massachusetts in the last year has been just that pleasant and easy!

So thank you Massachusetts! You’ve made dining a pleasure for people who can often find it stressful. Here’s hoping that one day soon New York, New Jersey and the rest of the country follow suit.

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I Know Things Now

I used to wear a size 16. For the past five years I’ve worn a size 4 or 6.

A lot of my friends look back wistfully at their high school years and think, “Oh I wish I was still that skinny,” but I never had a skinny period, I was always big. By the time I was 26 I was resigned to the fact that I was always going to be fat. I was living in Boston at the time with a roommate who was certifiabley insane, but rail skinny. The injustice of it all was that she ate like a pig, smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and occasionally snorted coke (though thankfully never in our apartment). I didn’t have the best eating habits, but at least I cared a bit about what went in to my mouth; I eschewed cigarettes, drank in moderation and have always steered far clear of drugs. My roommate may have looked smaller on the outside, but I knew with certainty that I was healthier on the inside.

This revelation sparked an interest in me to start learning about what foods really made someone healthy on the inside. I read up on “superfoods,” the virtues of eating mostly organically and the importance of eating regular meals and it made sense.

“Well,” I thought, “I’ll be fat for the rest of my life, but at least I’ll be healthier,” and so I began incorporating the things I’d read about in to my life. I started eating breakfast regularly for the first time ever. I ate every two hours and I ate well. I’d always loved vegetables, but now I made sure I was eating a lot more of them and that they were organic. I switched out white flour products for whole wheat and white rice for brown. I refused to settle for anything but the best quality when it came to food. If my choice of snack one day was between a processed, chemical laden “low-fat” cookies or a nice hunk of delicious, full fat, all natural cheese; I always chose the cheese. I started reading all of the nutritional information on my food and not just the fat and calorie content. Most importantly I lived by the 80/20 rule; 80% of what I ate was full of nutritional value and 20% was just for fun. I now knew with utmost certainty that I would always be big, but I would be a healthier big person.

But then guess what happened…

My pants started getting looser and my reflection was taking up less of the mirror. Amazingly, while I was eating real full fat foods, albeit in moderation, and eating every two hours instead of waiting until 2pm to put the first bite of food of the day in my mouth, I started losing weight. I was shocked and happy, but instead of rethinking my new eating habits as a weight loss plan, I kept focusing on being a generally healthier person. I didn’t have a timeline or a goal weight, I truly was trying to make a lifestyle change and see what the results would be. I never weighed myself and I still don’t because I didn’t want to get too crazy focusing on those numbers, instead choosing to notice the changes in my body as I put my clothes on in the morning and looked at myself in the mirroe. I decided that as I made my lifestyle changes, I’d let my body tell me where it wanted to be.

When I got down to a size 12 I was thrilled since I’d only been a 12 once, very briefly, in college. I thought, “A 12 is really nice place for my body to want to be”. But then, shortly after, I was a size 10. I blew through an 8 pretty quickly and had a brief affair with a size 6 before my body settled in to a size 4. I’m 5’2 so a size 4 is nice and proportional for me.

For a very long time I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was so much smaller, but now that I’ve been at this size for a good five years it feels natural to me. I still live my life the same way I did when I started this journey, indulging ocassionally in something like candy corns around halloween or creme eggs in the spring, but mostly eating only things made with ingredients that I can pronounce, and I plan on living like this for the rest of my life. I still believe that being healthy isn’t about what size you are, but about what you’re putting in to your body.

I say all this not for a pat on the back and not to tell anyone out there how to live their own lives. I say this simply to explain to you why I feel so strongly about what kinds of fodds people should be putting in to their bodies so please take my opinions as you will with the understanding that maybe I know a thing or two about what I’m saying.

Get to Know Me: Foodie Style!

My friend Lisa posted this meme over on her blog and I thought it would be fun to try it using only food related answers.

I am a damn good cook.
I think every single person can (and should) use their votes, voices and consumer dollars to bring about real change in the way food is produced and distributed.
I know that eating real food is better for you than eating processed crap.
I have a great love of anchovies.
I wish I were the next Martha Stewart (only sexier).
I hate ketchup, popcorn, raw onions.
I miss the milk in Denmark.
I fear GMO’s!
I hear a lot of evidence that organic farming methods can in fact feed the world and I hope other people are listening too.
I smell basil and instantly get happy. It has to be one of the greatest smells on earth.
I crave carbs when I’ve had a bad day. You can keep the ice cream, give me pasta!
I search for new recipes all the time.
I wonder if Mario Batali realizes that if he met me, he’d love me as much as I love him.
I regret the unhealthy relationship I used to have with food.
I love strawberries more than any other food on the planet!
I ache for a big beautiful kitchen to cook in.
I am not much of a chocolate person. I mean I think it’s ok, but I don’t get what all the fuss is about.
I believe in pretty much everything Michael Pollan says.
I dance at weddings, but don’t eat the food. Big catered events are tough with food allergies so I pack a sandwich in my purse and find a minute to step outside and eat it.
I sing sometimes when I’m cooking. Growing up my mom and I would often sing Broadway show tunes while I helped her in the kitchen.
I cry every single time I cut an onion. That’s one of the not so great things I get from my mom. We’ve both tried every trick, but even the mildest onions bring on the waterworks.
I fight to bring about a real, lasting, sustainable change in our broken food system.
I win all of my friends and family’s vote for best homemade cranberry sauce they’ve ever had. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many people I know who swore they hated cranberry sauce until they tried mine.
I lose my cool when I hear people espousing the virtues of whatever the latest fad diet is.
I never eat fast food.
I always have a well stocked spice rack which, in my opinion, is the number one rule for being a good cook.
I confuse curly leaf parsley and cilantro when I see them, but all you need to do is get a good whiff of them to know which one is cilantro.
I listen to restaurant reviews, but in the end rely on what real people say about their experience.
I can usually be found exploring markets when I travel. I love seeing the kinds of things they sell and the way in which they’re prepared and shared, it can tell you a lot about the culture.
I am scared of pink slime
I need better knives.
I am happy about this blog.
I imagine a world where everyone has access to good quality, affordable healthy food and I believe that’s possible if we all work together!