I admit it. I’ve been guilty of minimizing someone’s food allergy. When Eric and I were in a job working with Middle School students, there was a boy with a severe peanut allergy in the group. Unfortunately, we sided with our boss who said “He is old enough to know if he needs to leave the room because we handed out candy with nuts. We aren’t changing everything for one kid.”
That was six years ago, and we have learned and grown a lot since then. We have friends with children who have life threatening allergies, and have seen the fear and tears in their eyes as they share stories of close calls their little ones have experienced. We’ve seen someone we love gasp in pain and fear as her chest and throat began to tighten when something she ate was cross contaminated with shellfish.
Allergies are also all over the news. I’ve read stories of how kids are bullied because of their food allergies, and seen countless reports on how dramatically food allergies have risen in the past fifteen years.
The allergy issue has come into the spotlight for us this week through the story of our friend Kelsey.
Comments on her news story have exploded from people on both sides of the issue. But when I read comments like, “I guess the needs of the one outweighs the needs of the many” (a logical fallacy if ever I’ve heard one, I don’t think there’s anyone who NEEDS to eat peanuts in every class and every room in the school), I start to get angry. I imagine how difficult it must be to live with a life threatening allergy to any food. You have to constantly be vigilant about absolutely everything you eat.
As I shared recently, I’m experiencing just a small hint of what the food allergy world is like while trying to protect my little nursling who has a dairy sensitivity. Going out to a restaurant is no longer simple, relaxing, or sometimes even enjoyable. I have to ask lots of questions, then try to decide if the server is taking my concern seriously or if they’re brushing it aside and don’t really know or care if the dish I’m ordering might contain a smidgin of something that can cause intense pain and screaming for my helpless baby.
But if I do accidentally ingest some that he can’t handle, it won’t kill him. It will cause him pain for days, and give me several sleepless nights and a mantra in my head of what a horrible mother I am; but I don’t have to worry about either of us dying. It’s not an anaphylactic allergy.
Someone with a life threatening food allergy that leads to anaphylaxis must be CONSTANTLY vigilant. A little boy popping a pretzel in his mouth at a friend’s house without checking whether or not it was stuffed with peanut butter can end in tragedy. A few weeks ago I was out to lunch with my mother-in-law and ordered fresh spring rolls. Without even thinking, I passed the tray to her. She took a bite of one, then glanced at the plate and gasped, “Diana, do these have shrimp?!!!” Miraculously, the bite she took was shrimp free and not cross contaminated, but a second bite would have meant shooting her with the epipen she carries and then getting her rushed to the ER before the epinephrine wore off and her throat closed up.
The world of food allergies is frightening, and I think that sometimes the lack of sensitivity toward people with food allergies is yet another example of the lack of compassion all too common in humanity. Unfortunately, nothing I do or say will change the minds of someone who chooses not to feel compassion.
But I also think a lot of people actually just don’t recognize the severity of food allergies and the difficulty, fear, and discrimination that people with severe allergies face. For these people, a group I used to be a part of, I hope that posts like these can help raise awareness.
There are simple acts we can all do to show we care about people with food allergies. Next time you make something for a potluck, make a little sign for your dish that labels the ingredients. If you know someone with a food allergy, ask what treats you can make or buy that would be safe for them, and surprise them one day. It may feel like a pain to try and accommodate allergies for your dinner guests, but if you take it seriously, your night of “difficulty” can really make the day of someone who faces lifelong hardship.
I’d love to have a conversation in the comments. What experiences have you had with food allergies and/or anaphylaxis? How has it affected you or someone you know? However you feel about the issue, please keep your comments positive. Trolls will be deleted!