Alison Giardina is the mother of Gio, a young celiac warrior, living in Waldwick, New Jersey. He has been fighting celiac disease since the age of 5. You can follow them on their Instagram (@giosgfjourney).
What’s your food identity?
My son Gio was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at the age of 5. We went for his normal well visit and after the nurse calculated that his growth percentile was down to the 1st percentile, the doctor looked at me and said “there is something wrong with your son”. Words that you never want to hear for any of your children. We tested him for several things, one being Celiac. His blood results confirmed Celiac and severe vitamin deficiency. The results were followed up with a Endoscopy to verify the diagnosis. What really hit home after the meeting with his Gastroenterologist was learning about the additional diseases Gio was now at risk for due to his diagnosis, one being Cancer. So we do everything in our power to ensure he is not exposed to Gluten which means virtually no eating out.
How do you maintain your food identity?
We are Italian and as you may guess, we eat tons of pasta, bread and all things crunchy in addition to just eating whenever we are with the family. Food is central to who we are. So after Gio was diagnosed, we sat through one Sunday dinner at Nonna’s house where we ate rice balls, lasagna, meatballs, bread, bread and more bread. It was at that moment that I realized the impact Gio’s disease will have on his life. I vowed that I would never let him sit through a family gathering eating one cold gluten free dish and that he was not going to miss out on anything just because he has Celiac disease. I worked over the next year converting all the family recipes to equal or greater tasting gluten free versions. We don’t eat out, and when we do, I bring all Gio’s food which always consists of several meal options from rice balls to mac and cheese. I make it a habit of invoking food envy by the others who eat with Gio. It wasn’t until recently when Nima was released that we actually had some freedom to try eating at restaurants. It’s not just the long term effects of the disease that limits our options, but when Gio eats gluten he has to be rushed to the hospital within the hour for IV treatment. Gio has something called rapid dehydration which means he can go into shock if he eats gluten. Nima has created freedom for Gio where before he could only eat what I made because the risk was too great for him and now, if we go out I have the Nima to give us the sense of security we were missing previously. Nima has changed dining for us as family.
What are some of your hobbies or interests?
Gio plays football, baseball and wrestles. Football and wrestling always means several hours of preparing food before we head out the door so Gio has food throughout. Unfortunately, snack stands aren’t equipped with real food options that are safe.
What do you test with your Nima?
We test any food item Gio orders from restaurants or freshly prepared foods at local markets (i.e. freshly prepared gf pasta).
What was your food life like before you had your Nima?
Food life meant exclusively eating at home or bringing all food out to restaurants when we had a function or family dinner.
Gio in the hospital after getting glutened.
What’s your food life like now that you have Nima?
Freedom to try eating out. We aren’t reckless in our choices, we carefully discuss meal prep wherever we go, and we use the Nima to verify the food we ordered is safe to eat. Gio has never gotten sick on food that was tested safe with Nima. He has however gotten sick at Celiac recommended restaurants even after lengthy discussions with the chef.
Alison, Gio, and their family.
Bonus fun questions:
If you can only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Gio would choose rice balls. We make several kinds of rice balls to keep it interesting.
If you can only use one spice or condiment what would it be?
Tomatoes! Tomatoes make everything taste better.
If you can only choose one restaurant for the rest of your life where would it be?
Any restaurant in Sicily! There is no better place to eat in the world. Fresh, delicious and you can safely order gluten free food from most restaurants including french fries, pasta, pizza and any entree on the menu.
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Thank you for sharing your story Alison and Gio!