BY JOE RINI
On Friday May 4, the New York Mets hosted their third annual Celiac Disease Awareness Night at Citi Field to benefit R.O.C.K (Raising Our Celiac Kids) Long Island.
R.O.C.K is a free support group for parents, families, and friends of children on gluten free diets and it also raises funds for the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, the premier facility in the United States for celiac research and the treatment of patients with celiac. Prior to the game, Randi Albertelli of R.O.C.K and Dr. Peter Green, Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, were honored on the field with the Spirit Award from the Mets organization.
The event featured SNY’s Kevin Burkhardt hosting a pre-game party with gluten free food options for fans in The Bullpen Plaza while Elisabeth Hasselbeck of The View sparkled her way through the crowd greeting fans. Burkhardt and Hasselbeck, who both have celiac, have used their public profile to raise awareness to this disease and lend support to those afflicted with it.
Hasselbeck, an active supporter and fundraiser for the Celiac Disease Center, is the author of two gluten free cookbooks, the latest being “Deliciously G-Free” and also markets NoGii, a gluten free protein bar popular even among non-celiacs.
Burkhardt, who was diagnosed with celiac 10 years ago, was instrumental in getting the Mets to open a permanent gluten free food stand at Citi Field after seeing one in Colorado. While typical food concession stands at baseball games with their gluten heavy menus can leave slim pickings for someone on a gluten free diet, the Kozy Shack Gluten Free Stand at Citi Field offers Mets fans gluten free hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage and pepper heroes, products from Kozy Shack, and even the gluten free beer Redbridge. Therefore, even when it’s not Celiac Awareness Night, there’s always something to eat for gluten free fans at Citi Field. For Burkhardt, the feedback he has gotten from fans can be as simple and yet so profound as, “My son can eat at the game,” or “I don’t feel alone with celiac.”
Celiac, an autoimmune disease affecting the small intestine and the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Symptoms may include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and bloating. It is estimated that 1 in 133 Americans suffer from it yet 95% of those cases go undiagnosed. In fact, one of the most dramatic chapters of “Born Minus,” the memoir of Armand Miele, the publisher emeritus of The Rockland County Times, occurs when his serious health problems were finally diagnosed as celiac 30 years ago. There is no cure for celiac and the only treatment for it is to stay on a gluten free diet although Dr. Green reports that the Celiac Disease Center is currently researching non-dietary therapies for celiac in addition to studying why the rates of diagnosis are lower in the United States versus other countries.
Dr. Green was effusive in his gratitude to Ms. Albertelli for organizing the evening at the Mets game, saying, “She is amazing as she continually organizes functions that greatly benefit the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. She is tireless in her efforts.”
Fans purchasing tickets through this group ticket offer had reserved seating in the Excelsior Level where even more gluten free options were available. In the end, if any of them were feeling stomach pains at 9:35 p.m. on Friday night, it wasn’t because of the food – it was because the Arizona Diamondbacks rallied for three runs in the eighth inning to edge the Mets 5 to 4.