Food Allergies are not Preferences

There!  I said it.  It is that nagging question/assumption/unspoken belief that some of us have.  For some, yes maybe it is a preference, but for hundreds of thousands of individuals, it is a life or death reality. It means dealing with hurting stomachs, rashes, throat closures, headaches, you name it.  I first started my journey with food allergies when my second child was about 9 months old.   We struggled to find out why once he stopped breast feeding, he was throwing up every morning. After testing his skin and blood, we found several of the culprits.  However, it was not until he actually ate an agent (4 months later) that he had been exposed to a few times, but in small amounts, that he had an anaphylactic (life threatening) reaction and had to be rushed to the ER after EpiPen. That is what is so scary and sneaky about food allergies.  You can be exposed sometimes 10 times (called the 10-time rule) before you actually have a reaction. In his case, he was a very picky eater, and looking back I believe it was because his little body knew, smelled, and sensed when things were not going to be processed or tolerated well.  So, when he took an interest in eating some good ole fashion scrambled eggs… We gave it to him.  Within minutes, seconds even, my little baby was coughing, vomiting repetitively, and eventually gasping for breath.  Thank God and 9 years later, we have learned a lot about food allergies, how to navigate in this world with them, and how to try to give him a seemingly normal childhood, all while keeping him safe. Over the years, I have had people apologize upon learning about all his allergies, I have had people look on me  and him with pity, I have had people offer gluten free snacks ( he does not have a gluten allergy by the way), I have had peoples eyes glaze over in overwhelment ( my own made up word), I have had people ask if it was really an allergy or really just a preference, and the list goes on.  I am always struck by this.  See for many years I was the mom WITHOUT the food allergy child.  So, I know what it feels like to be on the other side as well.  Watching the allergy moms come to the birthday party with “premade at home” cupcake or pizza.  I too have felt sorry for the kids and their moms, not realizing until I was THAT mom, that pity is not what they need or want… its empathy, cooperation, and a bit of self educating on the part of those unaffected.  Let’s be real…There are all kinds of parents out there dealing with health challenges for their children, whether it be my good friend who has a child with Type 1 diabetes and an insulin pump, or the very sensitive asthmatic, or the child with epilepsy.  We are all just trying to do what is best and safest for our children, all while trying to help our kids feel “normal,” and included. Society has come a long way in understanding, respecting, and responding to food allergies and sensitivities. There are more gluten free (anything free) products on the shelf, people don’t look at you as crazy if your asking if a product is nut free, and Schools now how EpiPen’s posted up on the wall for easy administration.  This is truly a blessing.  However, there is still work to do and awareness to be had.  Even in my own town’s hospital, A few years back, I was surprised and frustrated on how very little was posted or available by the way of allergen information on the menu (nice touch I might add) that is given to patients for ordering, while staying inpatient.  When I called down to the kitchen, I was equally not impressed with the literal run around I was given on the phone.  I finally ended up talking to the ordering manager who quickly informed me that “he had too many products to order to keep track of that sort of thing.”  We are talking about a hospital, the one and only place where I would think they would take the time to “keep up with that sort of thing.”  

All of this to say, born out of this adversity (over time I will share many stories), has come a genuine interest in helping others navigate food allergies and sensitivities. I also have developed a sort of “expertise” in helping entities to become more food allergy sensitive and aware.  I also try to take the time to educate on food allergies and what we can do in our communities and society to decrease them and make things easier for those affected. You have landed on this blog, for some reason. Maybe you have a child with food allergies, maybe you have food allergies yourself, or maybe you are food allergy aware.  Whatever the case may be, I hope you will find some good nuggets here every now and then and most of all when you see THAT mom or THAT child doing their best to handle their child’s need, maybe you will look on them with respect and not pity.