Tasting event caters to allergy-friendly lifestyle

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COLUMBIA - A local cooking school has been hosting a series of tasting parties to provide people with free meals that are allergy-free and made from scratch. 

Ashley Nichols, the founder and cooking coach of Back 2 Basics Cooking, said she had the idea in April and has been trying to organize an event once a month.

Nichols said the cooks always steer clear of common allergens in their recipes. At the most recent event on Sunday, all meals served were paleo-friendly and did not contain gluten, dairy, soy, corn, artificial food dyes or refined sugars, she said. 

She said the menu at each event is different.

“If anybody wants to know ingredients or anything, they can always call or text me, and I always will share all that stuff,” Nichols said.

There are no entry fees to any of the tastings, but there are freezer and ready-to-eat meals available for purchase at the end.

“There’s no cost and no obligation to take anything,” she said.

As someone living with multiple food allergies, Nichols said the number of allergy sufferers grows daily and people should start paying more attention to the issue.

“Because I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t know somebody that has a food allergy now,” she said. “There’s just more and more people.” 

Nichols is allergic to gluten, dairy, corn, soy, rice and food dyes.

“My son also has some issues, my oldest son,” she said. “I just wanted to make an option for those people who really, cause I mean, when you go out, there’s not a lot of options for people who can’t eat these things, because they’re in everything.”

She said she didn’t even know she had food allergies until she had severe migraines and had to see an allergist in town.

“She said, 'you’re allergic to dairy.’ And I couldn’t believe that,” Nichols said.

Nichols said living as an allergy sufferer hasn’t always been easy.

“You think you have this wide range of things on the shelves, but the products inside are not as diverse as it seems, once you start reading labels,” she said. “It’s when you go to fast food places, or you’re at social events. Social events are just really hard--there’s always gluten everywhere.” 

Nichols’ husband Jerale Nichols said he supports his wife’s decision to provide the community with allergy-free food at no cost, as he suffers from fish allergy as well.

“I had a fish fry at my grandmother’s when I was younger,” he said. “And I tried it, and I had an anaphylactic shock. So I know all about it, and I think it’s a good idea that she is helping people with allergies. Cause, you know, you don’t get a whole lot of that in certain places.”

Ashley Nichols said it’s not just the food allergy community she’s serving, she hopes everyone could learn more about eating healthy.

“When you first start down a healthy eating journey, if you’re on a more traditional standard American diet, it can be kind of overwhelming,” she said. “It can be scary. It can seem like there’s so many things that you can't eat. But the truth is there’s so many healthy foods that you can eat. So if you just focus on what you can eat versus what you shouldn't’ be eating, it makes it a lot easier.”

She said she wants to get people more “back to the basics.”

“Whether it be with paleo or you know, more traditional things, I still think it’s better to make cupcakes from scratch,” she said.

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