- Can’t you just take a Benadryl?
- I think this is all in your mind.
- Are you sure you have food allergies?
- We can just pull the cheese off, scrape the allergen off.
- You have a dairy allergy? Me too! I am lactose intolerant.
- I could never survive not having …cheese, ice cream, lobster etc.
- You should just eat more of it and you will be fine
- You are being overprotective/overly dramatic.
- I am pretty sure this doesn’t have… allergen.
- Your child is not invited to the party because it will ruin it for the birthday child.
- It is your fault we can’t have fun food celebrations at school, church etc.
- I made/ bought this just for you but I don’t remember all the ingredients. Just try it.
- Are you really allergic or are you trying to lose weight?
- I didn’t know anyone growing up who had food allergies. I don’t think they are real.
Did they really just say that? This is the thought that crosses my mind in response to these questions or statements made about food allergies. I believe most people have positive intentions but there are those statements or questions that can lead us to feel frustrated, sad and misunderstood.
Let us start with a true and important statement: Food Allergies are a real medical condition that can be life threatening. There is some confusion when people claim to have food allergies when they really have a food sensitivity or intolerance which is not life-threatening. This can lead to misunderstandings in the general population about the severity and realities of food allergies.
There is no one definitive answer as to why or how food allergies develop. The rates of food allergic individuals have exploded over the past few decades again without one clear explanation. A lot of us have wondered if it was something we did or did not do that could have contributed to this condition in ourselves and/or children. We have to accept that food allergies are here now and the best we all can do is to make sure we create the safest environment with as much normalcy as possible. Food allergies can feel isolating and we need to surround ourselves with individuals who will stand by us. Actively listening without any judgements is one way to support someone dealing with food allergies. If you want to go one step further, offering to help when needed is always appreciated.
Due to the individualistic nature of food allergies, it is best to let us explain which actions would be the best in any given situation. For example, if a child has a peanut allergy and you would like to invite them to your childs’ birthday party, simply ask us what specifically would make the party safe for our child. The action of asking the question already sets the tone for inclusivity and compassion. This opens the door for an open discussion about options and working together as a team.
Just try a little bit! No! We can’t have just a little of our allergen or take medicine to be able to eat an allergen. More times than I can count, a server in a restaurant has placed a plate in front of me with cheese or butter on my steak and I had to send it back. I then am often presented with the same dish in which they have simply scraped off the allergen. This is not safe for me to eat. Even the smallest amount can trigger an allergic reaction and often cross contamination also has to be avoided. Cross contamination involves separate utensils, cooking pans, grills, frying oils, prep bowls and serving plates for our food. Strict avoidance is the only method we can employ to stay safe and healthy. We are not following a fad diet, overreacting, trying to be difficult or draw attention to ourselves.
We are doing our best to navigate a world filled with food and honestly at the heart of the matter is to stay alive. Even as I write that statement, I can hear in the back of my head some people saying “Oh come on isn’t that a bit much…stay alive?” No, it is not too much and yes that is what we deal with every day. We can have positive approaches, systems, emergency plans and all our necessary medications in place. However, the reality is that no one can predict when a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis will occur. Therefor we are on high alert when food is involved. Please trust us when we explain what we need to be safe.
Many people with the best of intentions have made something homemade that they believed meets my allergen needs, only to find out I can’t have it. Then we both feel bad. My advice is to ask the individual with the allergy, if you can make something for them or purchase a specific product they recommend. If we choose to decline your offer, please understand we truly appreciate your offer. Due to a multitude of reasons all based on safety, we may have to say no thank you. I will often let my host know that I wish to bring something I have prepared or bought to ensure it is safe. I make sure I have enough to share with everyone at the event. The ideal situation is if the host(ess) can support the choices of the individual with food allergies with understanding. Having the issue of safe food addressed beforehand allows us to be fully present at gatherings and feel truly included.
I hope this helps provide clarity and understanding around interacting with those of us who are dealing with food allergies. This will allow all of us to have more time and energy to focus on making great memories!