She doesn’t wear a cape, she doesn’t have a super power, my food allergy hero doesn’t even have a food allergy. Instead, she has logged countless hours of prep work, baking numerous birthday cakes for kids in classrooms she didn’t know, weekly loaves of bread, and so many cookies you could fill Lake Ontario with them. No, my allergy hero never had to use an auto-injector, but she carried one every day, went to yearly training, and taught others in schools and businesses. She was never at-risk for anaphylaxis but still to this day refuses to eat or keep peanuts or tree nuts in the house. She doesn’t need allergy testing, but she’s never missed an appointment in the past 20 some odd years. My hero then, now, and forever will be my mother, Sharon.
A woman who, without a second thought, dropped everything, switched gears, and transformed her and our family’s lives (and cupboards) when I was diagnosed allergies to peanuts and tree nuts at age three. She hasn’t looked back since.
Growing up with the risk for anaphylaxis was tough on me, but it started as an unimaginable journey for my mother. Suddenly the grocery store was a nightmare. No food seemed safe and if we didn’t know each and every ingredient of a product, forget about it. No restaurant seemed feasible anymore since we didn’t know what was going on in the kitchen. It looked like we as a family were lost, but not my mom. She took charge and decided that if nothing was safe, she would make it safe. And just like that our house was filled with baked goods, safe meals, and treats that I could reach for anytime and feel safe. To me, it was perfectly normal, I thought every kid had all these homemade foods in their home. I never saw my mother in the kitchen ‘till one in the morning cooking, baking, and worrying. I also assumed most kids had the choice of going home for lunch and that I was just lucky enough that my mom would come pick me up, and let me watch cartoons at home, then drop me back off at school. It never occurred to me that I had to go home because once the lunch boxes came out, our classroom was seen as a dangerous place to my mother.
My childhood for all I knew was normal, I never knew or realized the time, effort, and work my parents put into everyday to make me feel like a normal everyday kid or the tears she shed over the fears she had for me and my childhood. I never knew how special our situation was because she took the brunt of it upon herself and shielded me like a hero from the things that could hurt me, both physically and emotionally. To me it was the best childhood I could ask for, shrouded in a wonderful haze filled with memories of baking, specials meals just for me, and most importantly, love.
It is these reasons, and so many more that my mom is my food allergy hero. She’s brave, and kind, and was willing to give up everything for me so that I could be a normal, happy kid. Most people ask if I would ever give up my food allergies if I had the opportunity, and I always say no. First, they made me who I am today, and second they filled my childhood with so many wonderful, unique memories between me and my mom that I wouldn’t give any of it up for anything.
My food allergy hero may not need tights (unless she’s dressing up) and a cape, but she gives me inspiration every single day to live better, be kinder, and make the smallest differences in people’s lives because in the end, it’s the little things that matter.
From stunning mountain tops, to lush rainforests and deep canyons, combined with a remarkable history, rich culture, and of course Machu Picchu itself—the hard question is, what isn’t calling you to Peru? South America has long been on my list of places to visit with Peru at the top of countries to explore within this vast continent. So needless to say, as soon as the time was right, I purchased my ticket! While travelling to a new country in a continent you’ve never been to causes a great deal of excitement and anticipation, it also leaves you with some unknowns to be discovered. This holds especially true when travelling with food allergies. With that said, I am a firm believer that you should not let your food allergies hold you back from new and exciting experiences! I found that with the right preparation, I was able to accommodate my allergies to wheat, eggs, and peanuts, and not have my allergies hold me back from making the most of my travels to Peru!
When planning any trip/vacation there is always extensive preparations beforehand. From booking your flights, to nailing down your itinerary, and of course packing a strategic suitcase, there is always something to be planned or done. Of course, there is always an extra degree of planning when you have to consider your allergies. Whenever I am picking a country to travel to, I need to look up what their typical cuisine is and assess the likelihood of finding some allergen-friendly food options. I found that when researching common Peruvian dishes, most consisted of grilled meats, potatoes (over 300 varieties…yay!), grilled vegetables, quinoa, and soups. Luckily, most of these work well with my wheat, egg, and peanut-free diet! I also ensure that whenever I am travelling to another country where English is not the primary language spoken, that I bring my allergy cards. These allergy cards are laminated cards that I’ve ordered online which are the size of business cards and state in whatever language I order (in this case Spanish): my allergies, pictures of the specific food allergens, and also feature a specific card that states I need immediate medical attention and need to be taken to a hospital where they speak English. I’ve used these cards in the past in Tanzania, Nepal, and throughout Europe and have had very positive results. I also like to always have Google Translate on my phone, as another means of translation if needed.
When it comes to planning my itinerary, I again take some extra considerations. For this particular trip to Peru, the first part of my trip that I planned was a four-day trek. When researching trekking companies, I considered their ability to accommodate dietary restrictions. The company I decided on was one that actually asked clients to list their dietary restrictions on their initial intake form. After further communication with this company they assured me that they regularly accommodated food allergies and would be able to provide meals during the trek that would be allergen-safe. Since this trek was only four days out of my two weeks of travelling, when I was planning what other cities and sites I would be visiting, I also looked up what health services were closest and the presence of any English-speaking hospitals. I kept a log of the name and locations of these hospitals and health services hoping not to ever actually need them, but knowing just in case!
Finally, when it came to packing for my trip, along with trying to strategically fit enough clothes and supplies for two weeks in one hikers backpack I also ensured I packed allergy-friendly snacks for what I thought might last the better part of two weeks as well as multiples of my auto-injector as well as anti-histamine pills.
After months of lead up, the day of my trip finally arrived! After two long plane rides I arrived safe and sound in the city of Cusco— a city in southeastern Peru. This is the city you are likely to visit if you are trekking to or planning to visit Machu Picchu. Due to the popularity of Machu Picchu, Cusco is a city that is very traveller-friendly. I spent two and a half days in Cusco as I acclimatized to the high altitudes. During my stay, I found I was able to eat out with relative ease with waiter or waitresses either able to speak English or by using my allergy cards. One of my favourite restaurants had to be a place that specialized in vegetarian/vegan dishes and used only organic ingredients grown in the sacred valley (and believe it or not, this was also probably one of my cheapest meals eating out!!).
After the two and a half days spent in Cusco it was time for some trekking! The trail that I hiked is known as the Salkantay trail and is a 64 km hike over three days that leads you to the base of Machu Picchu, where on the fourth day you actually spend the entire day visiting Machu Picchu. The trek was everything I could have wanted and more. The days were tough first hiking up through the Andean Mountains until finally reaching the Salkantay Pass and then hiking down into the forested valleys below. Every type of weather and degree of temperature seemed to be experienced and every form of clothing worn. The scenery and dramatic landscapes were absolutely spectacular and humbling at the same time, not to mention made every blister and worn out muscle worth it. Food wise, I always had food options I could eat on my trip. While the trekking company provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which I was able to eat, they also provided trekkers with a snack— which I found more often than not I could not eat. I definitely under-estimated how many granola bars I would go through while hiking 20+ km a day. One near miss at the end of my trip came after my trek was finished and when I was out for dinner and drinks with my fellow trekkers. Arguably the most popular alcoholic drink in Peru is known as a “Pisco Sour,” a cocktail consisting of pisco (brandy commonly found in Peru and Chile), lemon juice, and bitters all shaken together with a creamy froth added on top. It wasn’t until I had my glass and was about to take my first sip when a friend of mine listed the ingredients of this drink again and added that meringue was the finishing feature on top of the drink. This of course meant that the white froth I was about to slurp up was just beaten egg whites and would have lead to a less ideal end to my trek. So, instead of this drink, one of my fellow trekkers got an extra drink and I got to try the pisco sour minus of course any egg whites.
The rest of my travels took me to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru— this lake being the highest navigable lake in the world. I began my travels in the lakeside city of Puno, I visited islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, before following the coast down to Bolivia where I spent several days on the Bolivian side of the lake (I highly recommend giving a visit to the Bolivian side if you ever find yourself visiting Lake Titicaca!) Now being away from the popular traveller city of Cusco, it was definitely a rarity to come across locals who knew English and I either relied on using my allergy cards when eating out or fellow travellers who happened to be able to speak English as well as Spanish. I also was out of my packed snacks not long after my trek was finished. When it came to purchasing allergen-safe snacks, I quickly learned that bananas and avocados not only taste a million times better in South America but stay ripe for days longer and pack well without bruising as easily as they do in Canada. I also ate way more Pringles then I care to admit. With all of that, I am happy to say that I did avoid any allergy incidents at all of the restaurants that I visited and was still able to indulge in some fantastic Peruvian cuisine! For anyone visiting Peru/Bolivia my top food recommendations have to be their Ceviche quinoa soup and for anyone super adventurous perhaps some Alpaca steak!
Anyone with food allergies knows the extra hurdles that come with travelling, but that’s not to say allergies should be a barrier to getting out and exploring the world a little more! Comment below with your favourite travel destinations and what you did to ensure you stayed safe while travelling with allergies!
Growing up I was generally a very shy kid no matter what it came to. This became challenging when I developed my food allergies. When I was really young, my parents would do all the talking for me in regards to telling people about my allergies. I was always afraid to tell friends, teachers, and waiters about my food allergies, sometimes because people would have weird reactions, but mainly because I was just simply shy. This was something that I really had to overcome as I grew up since I could not always rely on my parents for help.
My parents slowly encouraged me to speak up for myself and as I got older, I overcame my shyness. Not only did this encouragement benefit me in terms of my food allergies, but having allergies also taught me to be more confident and to stand up for what I need in many other aspects of my life.
Another thing that I have learned, mainly in childhood, that has carried with me is that you cannot rely on others to protect you. When I was young with food allergies, wherever I went I was like a bubble child. All of my teachers, family, and friends’ parents knew about my allergies and were in a sense, paranoid about them. As I got older, that bubble quickly burst and I was on my own to look after myself. I had to be the one to say that I was uncomfortable with something. Again, this was challenging for me because of my shyness, but I was gradually able to overcome these challenges.
Because of my allergies, I have gained many life lessons that have applied to many aspects of my life beyond my health condition. As I continue to grow, I gain more confidence in myself and push beyond my shy tendencies.
Having spent my entire life with life-threatening food allergies, I have had a wide variety of experiences and encounters with people regarding my allergies. Sometimes you get people who are very understanding and knowledgeable about the topic – often they have a family member or a friend who also has allergies. However, time and time again you will come across individuals who are simply ignorant to what a food allergy is, which can lead to unpleasant encounters and difficult social situations.
Here are my top 5 tips to dealing with those who just don’t get it when it comes to food allergies!
Try to see it from their point of view
It is very easy to get frustrated with people who don’t seem to understand your food allergies. In a time where food allergies are becoming increasingly prevalent it can be confusing to meet someone who doesn’t get it when you say you have life-threatening food allergies. Whenever this happens to me, I try to understand what their point of view is. Maybe they have never met someone with an allergy. They could be from another country where food allergies are very uncommon. It can help your understanding and feelings towards the situation if you can see their perspective.
Don’t get upset about it
When it comes to my allergies, I can get quite defensive when people make ignorant comments. Having dealt with this many times growing up and going through school, sometimes I personally find that getting upset over it just isn’t worth ruining my day.
Use it as a teaching opportunity
I always try to turn a negative situation into a positive one. When somebody makes an ignorant comment about my allergies, I try to educate them about what my allergies are and how serious they can be. Often times people simply are uninformed about the situation and if you take the time to explain it to them this can really help to change their perspective and attitude about allergies.
Advocate for yourself
Often times the easiest way out of dealing with someone who is ignorant about food allergies is to just back away and not say anything. If you shy away from the situation it can only make things worse for you in the future and for others with allergies who may encounter the individual. Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself and let people know that your allergies are something to be taken seriously.
Be open to tell your stories
When people are uninformed about food allergies it is usually because they have never known somebody with them or don’t really get what they are. If you are willing to share stories about how you live with allergies, this can often be a really eye opening experience for others and help them gain some understanding. Usually when you start to tell people about your allergies they will have lots of questions like “Have you ever had an allergic reaction? Have you used your auto injector before? What are you allergic to?” By sharing your experiences with them you can share so much information and help them become less ignorant.
As an individual who has been living with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts since I was two, I have heard many misconceptions about food allergies over the years. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend the Food Allergy Canada Community Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Throughout the day I listened to speakers share their experiences about living with food allergies, as well as fascinating information from doctors in food allergy research. A presentation by Dr. Sandy Kapur, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University, stood out to me as he spoke about common food allergy misconceptions and research that “de-bunks” these myths. Here are five food allergy myths that I learned from Dr. Kapur:
“Hives and food allergy always go together”
This isn’t always the case. In fact, about 15-20% of anaphylactic cases do not have any symptoms on the skin. I also learned that if someone has hives and they persist for over 6 weeks, this symptom is likely not caused by food. In children, viral infections are one of the most common cases of hives, and there are numerous physical causes for hives as well.
“All children with egg or milk allergy should avoid the food strictly”
Interestingly, 80% of children with an egg or milk allergy can tolerate the baked form. These children also have a higher chance of out growing their allergy. It is suggested that regular ingestion of baked egg or milk can help overcome the allergy.
“Reactions to peanut are often caused by inhaled exposure”
Food proteins cause allergic reactions. The odour of peanut butter does not contain proteins. Inhalation of peanut particles can cause symptoms, but anaphylaxis is unlikely. When an individual with peanut allergy feels ill from smell, it is due to aversion. Rashes are caused by skin contact, not from inhalation of particles.
“Patients with food allergy have a high risk of reacting to insect stings”
If you have a food allergy it is likely that you also have one or more of asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis. Having a food allergy does not increase the risk of reacting to insect stings since venom, along with drug allergies, are different and not related to food allergies.
“I feel like my child is a ‘ticking time bomb’ and will have a fatal anaphylactic reaction anytime”
Death from a food allergy is not common. When it does occur, it’s a tragedy and in most cases it is preventable by immediate use of epinephrine and calling for an ambulance. Lastly, food allergy related anxiety is common in parents, children, and individuals with allergies. Fear is understandable; we just need to find the right balance.
If you believed one or more of these myths, don’t worry – so did I! It’s important that we are always seeking to learn more about food allergies and have the knowledge to spread information of awareness to those around us.
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up, eat candy, and go out. I feel like it’s the one time of the year where you can let you inner child out and just simply “be” whatever you want. I feel like with allergies, though, Halloween can bring a whole storm of worries and concerns. When I was growing up and I went trick-or-treating, it would take forever to look through every single piece of candy in my bag and audit whether or not the candy was safe for me to eat. At the end of the night, I would have two piles; one pile of candy I could eat, and one pile of candy I couldn’t eat and would give to my neighbour. As an adult though, Halloween is so different. It’s one of the biggest nights of the year to go out. Don’t think that just because you’re not trick-or-treating anymore that you can let your guard down. Follow these tips to ensure a healthy happy Halloween this year:
Always carry your EpiPen® on you – just in case anything happens, you want to be prepared.
Only consume beverages and food where you know the ingredients – If you don’t know what’s in the green juice your friends are passing around, don’t drink it. Last Halloween, I went to a bar and ordered a vodka tonic. When I received the drink, it was blue. I told the bartender that he had given me the wrong order, but then he informed me that he had “spiced” up my drink by adding a blue liquor and gin to the vodka to make it more special. I’m allergic to gin. If I had decided to not ask questions and to just drink the beverage that was given to me, I would’ve put myself in a very scary situation.
Don’t drink too much! I always make sure that I never drink myself to the point of intoxication. When I see my friends after nights that we’ve gone out and tell me that they literally don’t remember the night, it scares me. What if that happened to me and I just happened to ingest an allergen not thinking about the consequences? It’s just not a situation you want to put yourself in.
Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and you can stay safe and still have fun with allergies. Now, I’m off to go figure out my Halloween costume this year and make my plans!
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s, or even on a plane. You’re minding your own business, when you see your allergen walk by in the hands of someone you’ve already made aware of your food allergy. You also made sure that any food around you was be allergen-free. But, there it is, walking around within smelling distance or maybe, scarily enough, within touching distance. You start to panic; you watch the food as it travels around the room, it looms closer and closer. You wonder, is that my allergen? Is it coming over here? Am I just imagining it? Do I say something? A million thoughts swirl around your head, you wonder if you should say something or just leave, but you’re stuck, the words form in your mind but can’t seem to make the journey to your mouth. And then it starts, the panic sets in as the food is placed near you, or you watch the same person handle your food with the unwashed hands that touched your allergen. You shrink into your chair, and try to fold into yourself, you can’t make a noise, your breath becomes short, and you’re frozen in that moment.
I’ve been in this situation one too many times, and sometimes the feeling of panic still creeps up on me unsuspectingly. You so badly want to speak up for yourself but you feel deflated and beat since they didn’t listen the first time. It’s enough to make you want to never venture out for food again. It can be hard to put into words the panicky feeling you get when your allergen pops up un-expectantly or in a situation you can’t remove yourself from, and even more so to voice that feeling and ask for help. It seems like anxiety and food allergies can sometimes go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. It took me a long time to find my voice, and express my concern in risky situations, and yes sometimes its uncomfortable or even awkward but I’ve discovered it’s a fleeting feeling compared to the anxiety and dread of not saying anything or feeling trapped. It takes time and practice but expressing your concerns out loud and making an effort to rectify the situation will leave you with a little more confidence each and every time.
Trust the people around you and the people you care about, practice the situation with them, or have a statement prepared.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re in the same situation, you see your allergen coming close to you. Instead of backing down, you find your voice, confidently express your concerns and instead of dread, you feel happy and satisfied with not only the situation but also yourself.