Allergy free is a misnomer. When it comes to food, allergy friendly is a more accurate term since there are over 170 food items that are known to have triggered reactions. What is safe for one person could cause anaphylaxis in another. However, removal of the allergic person from the home can result in the other non-allergic household members to safely consume a wider variety of food. After 13 years of keeping a kitchen and home free of peanuts, tree nuts, soy protein, peas, chickpeas and lentils, my older daughter went to college. Here's what happened.
As she was embracing the challenges and freedoms of living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, CO, we too were faced with a brave new world at home. The sadness and emptiness I felt with her absence were slowly replaced by a new normal of having one child at home, the one who does not have any food allergies.
One day, my husband took our younger daughter out for ice cream. She came home with chocolate peanut butter chunk. I felt weird having it in the house but we discussed it and decided that it was ok and posed no threat to my allergic child since it was disposable and she wouldn't be home for months. Dining out was a pleasure and we exalted in ordering once banned food like edamame or pad thai. It turns out that my younger daughter LOVES peanut butter. And tofu. And peas. And so do I. I drew the line at jars of peanut butter but did indulge in having some foods in the house that we could enjoy while our college daughter was halfway across the country. I make a mean panko-sesame tofu that has become a weekly staple. Now, as she is finishing up her freshman year and preparing for finals, I realize I have to remove all traces of these forbidden foods and once again resume our strict avoidance of nuts and legumes.
Halloween was particularly interesting. In the years since my college girl was in kindergarten, Halloween was a day fraught with fear, anxiety and anger. I had to attend every classroom Halloween party to make sure the almond finger nails and peanut butter monsters didn't end up near my child. This was before it was acceptable to ban these foods at classroom celebrations to protect children. My daughter was the only kid in her grade of 100 with peanut allergies so advocating was hard, tiring and lonely work. I had to scour my kids pillowcases filled with candy to make sure nothing forbidden crossed our front door. Once my girls were safely tucked into bed I could relax, knowing that the allergens that could literally kill my daughter, and most likely eaten by people all around her, did not hurt her this year. That might sound extreme but I will bet that every allergy mom or dad knows what I'm talking about.
This year was different. I felt a little guilty but I bought the bag of candies that contained Snickers, Reese's and Butterfingers because I could. Then I felt guilty about the kids who had allergies so I went back and bought peanut free candies and put them in different, labelled orange and teal pumpkins. Once an allergy mom, always an allergy mom. I put all the leftover peanut candies in an airtight container in the back of our pantry and all the peanut m&ms in the freezer. Why am I surprised that I still have most of it?
Then, in January, sometime between the NFL playoffs and the Superbowl, someone gave us a yard of Snickers bars. That's 18 full sized bars. Our daughter had just left to return to college, and we knew she would not be home for 4 months. We did the math and decided that the 3 of us could eat 1-2 bars a month and it would be gone before the end of the semester. We were wrong. After the initial guilty pleasure of eating Snickers in our own kitchen wore off, we stopped eating them. There are still 4 left. Our team won the Superbowl but we failed the Snickers challenge.
Giving up food we like to protect someone with allergies is actually not such a big deal. I am not going to feel an ounce of guilt asking someone to remove an allergen. Even when I could indulge in a forbidden food, I usually didn't. As we prepare for her safe return from Colorado, I wonder if some of my anxiety will be lessened, I am not the one solely responsible for her safety. She knows how to take care of herself and make safe decisions. I miss her so much I am actually looking forward to being crazy allergy mom again.
Just when the airlines are starting to get onboard with food allergy safety, there is still a threat in the cabin - other passengers. I flew Delta recently and want to share my experience. I must have peanut allergy on my profile from previous trips I took with my daughter. This time I was flying solo from Boston to Denver with a switch in Minneapolis. When I was checking in online I noticed my ticket said "peanut allergy" next to special requests. I didn't think to change it.
Once on my first flight, I was curious if any accommodations would be made. Was I in a peanut free buffer zone? would something be announced? Sure enough, just after takeoff, the flight attendant stated "there is a peanut allergy onboard this flight. please refrain from eating food with peanuts." Music to my ears. Even though I am not really allergic, it just made me so happy that finally, after all these years of anxious travel, things are starting to change.
This was the scenario on all 4 flights I took on that trip. Delta was consistent in its message and protection of its passenger(s). What differed, however, were the responses from the general plane population. I was looking around and trying to see if anyone was visibly put out. I didn't hear any groans or mumbles or snickers. Maybe people just don't bring peanut snacks on planes anymore, I naively considered!
The first flight emptied and I was standing behind a small group of adults who were laughing about how they had to sneak their pbj sandwiches, and phew, noone caught them. More jokes about peanut allergies. I almost said something but I also liked being anonymous. My fake allergy allowed me to be a fly on the wall. I let them go and tried to let it go.
On the next flight I sat behind a young family. They brought pb snacks for the flight (there goes my theory). The parents did refrain from giving them the pb, as they had other snacks. But the kids only wanted the pb of course. So the parents had to keep saying "I can't give you the peanut butter snack until we get off the plane." At first it annoyed me because she was so loud and I wondered if she was trying to make sure the allergic person could know her sacrifice. Then I sympathized with her because she was struggling with her own family's needs to protect someone she didn't even know. And to make it worse, I didn't even have a real peanut allergy. But it was too late in the game to tell her so I just cranked my headphones.
So what have I learned from this? Some airlines are improving. Some passengers are improving. I'll change my Delta profile. Maybe next time I will fly Southwest.
Hi everyone! Welcome to the Food Allergy Website, I am so glad you are here! I have been wanting to do this for a very long time. I am an allergy mom, professional cook, school nutrition staffer and food writer. Previously I was the executive director and founder of a 501(c)3 organization, the public relations director of a nonprofit community center, cooking instructor, corporate event planner, marketing vice president, career counselor and social worker. All these jobs have given me the skills to deal with food allergy management. I consider myself part private cook, part nutritionist, and part therapist.
As you can probably tell from the name of this blog, I was a pscyh major! I graduated in 1990 with a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, and in 1992 with my MSW from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. I am a native Jersey Girl, having lived in Roseland, then Mendham then Westfield. Now I live in Marblehead, MA with my husband, two daughters and our cavechon Bailey.
I dedicate this website to my daughter Sara who has taught me so much about how to take care of other people. When my daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies at age 5, including peanuts, tree nuts, soy protein, peas, chickpeas, and lentils, I instantly became an advocate for food safety. From kindergarten to college, and from summer camps to vacations in foreign countries, we have learned how to stay as safe as possible. There were a few bumps along the way, including several trips to the ER, many tears when people didn't understand, and the fear and anxiety that goes along with life with severe food allergies.
A week after I dropped her off at college she had an anaphylactic allergic reaction at her first football game. Here it was. She used epipen and was fine after 4 hours in hospital, but my heart broke a little more that night. Even though she is grown up and living independently (well somewhat..) she is still so vulnerable and so far away. I can never really protect her. But after a number of reactions, she is smart enough to protect herself. In that way, I believe I have succeeded as a parent. All that repetitive drumming into her head "bring your epipen" really paid off. So to all you allergy moms and dads, I get it. It's so complex but teach your kids well and they might surprise you.
With that in mind, I hope to build a community at the Food Allergy Website where we can learn from each other, discuss relevant topics in the news, share recipes, compare medical research and treatment options and support one another. I will be posting lots of blogs and reposting other blogs, articles and columns that are related to our mission. If you are a writer and have something to share, please send it to me! Contact me here.
While the website is being constructed, please follow us on Facebook and Instagram