A Toast to a New Year: My 2017 Food Allergy Advances

As we celebrate 2018 and the new adventures the year holds. We must say goodbye to a year gone by and cherish the memories we’ve made. With champagne flutes poised for toasts and resolutions promised, let’s take a step back and think about our achievements as we promise ourselves progress in 2018. For me personally, I had two milestones worth mentioning with my food allergies in 2017 and one resolution I’ve promised myself for the new year.

New Food at New Spots: This year I took a huge step forward with my anxieties and tried new foods and restaurants to eat in a city, Ottawa. I stepped outside my comfort zones and ate at one new place per month. Exotic foods and places I’ve always wanted to try but never did; I really let myself explore new and safe foods confidently.

Travel: I took the opportunity to travel both near and far this past year. I didn’t want my food allergies to hinder my ability to explore new cultures and foods. So, I took the right steps to ensure everything would be safe, and with friends and family, I created memories and gained new perspectives.

My goal for 2018 is to become more confident and forward about my food allergies. No more being complacent or shying away if I am uncomfortable. It’s easy to get complacent with our food allergies, letting them lead us instead of the other way around.  Even as an adult it can be hard to find a confident voice. I know this confidence and wherewithal won’t come all at once, but I’ve got a whole year… no, a whole life to work towards it!

At the end of every year we embark on new paths and celebrate our victories, however big or small. It’s easy to dwell on the things we didn’t achieve or times we felt like we took a step backwards instead of forward; but a new year means new opportunities to grow, explore and learn. So, let’s all promise each other and more importantly, let’s promise ourselves something this year.  A resolution that we’re going to make a change – however big or small just as long as it is significant to us. To take strides with our allergies, learn new things and to most importantly not let them hold us back from anything we want to achieve in the new year!

– Arianne K.

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The Challenges of my Italian Christmas Traditions

I’m part of a huge Italian family and Christmas is one of the biggest holidays of the year. I find that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are centered around food, what time are we eating, what are we eating, where are we eating, when are we cooking it, who’s eating where, and who’s coming over? It’s such a fun and exciting time of the year to get together with family members and just enjoy each other’s company around a table over a hot meal. Another huge tradition in the Italian culture is to refrain from eating animal by-products on Christmas Eve. That means no meat. You’ll find a lot of Italian families’ Christmas Eve dinner centered around fish and shellfish because they cannot eat meat. Not me, though. I’m allergic to fish and shellfish. For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve has always been an uphill battle for me. Trying to get my grandmother (I call her Nonna) to understand that I cannot eat fish/shellfish without getting very sick is very difficult (she’s an 80-year-old Italian woman who’s still learning that food allergies exist). The rest of my family, unfortunately, doesn’t really accommodate my allergies or even make the attempt to try, either. It’s just something that they won’t do. Call it stubbornness, ignorance, or selfishness, but regardless, it’s something that they just won’t do. I wish we could break from these cultural traditions but it seems really en-grained.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make me food in advance at my house and bring it to my grandmother’s house so that I could at least eat with the family. In the last couple of years, though, it’s been more difficult to do that. We just can’t find the time. My parents and sisters have also tried holding Christmas Eve at our house in order to prevent the “fish fest” as we call it from happening, but my family isn’t happy when they can’t follow their traditions.

Finger art of friends celebrates Christmas.In the last couple of years, my parents, siblings, and I have started our own smaller, more intimate Christmas Eve gathering at home. We eat at our house and then go over to my grandmother’s house after dinner for coffee. We still spend time with the family, but we do it in a way that is safe for me. My family’s Christmas Eve traditions have taught me that it’s very challenging for everyone to accommodate/understand you and your needs, especially when they’re family. It’s important to remember that you need to make sure that you stay safe. Your priority should always be your own health and safety.

Do you have difficulties with your family understanding and accommodating your allergies? Please leave a comment below.

Happy Holidays,

Giulia

 

Cross-Contamination at the Grocery Store

Eating out can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you have multiple food allergies. As with most food allergic people, I find comfort in making my own food in my own house as I am confident that I have a clean food preparation space and that the food I make will be allergen-safe. If eating in and doing your own meal preparation is in your wheel house, have you ever thought about cross-contamination at the grocery store? It’s a real threat and definitely something to consider when shopping.

I bet this is something many of us notice but never really acknowledge. The truth is, this can be a big risk! Take for example, the photos I took below. In the first photo, I was about to buy some fresh asparagus for dinner when I stopped and saw the pistachio bags directly beside. A few of the bags had tears in the packaging, likely from a stock employee accidentally cutting them with their box cutter to open the box of pistachio bags. The display shelves were basically touching so how could I guarantee there was no cross-contamination? I couldn’t. In the second photo, I wanted to buy some figs but there were open containers of chestnuts, walnuts, and assorted nuts directly beside and even touching the fig packaging. In the third photo, the fresh fruit I wanted to buy were directly beside an open container of tree nuts. 

If these examples make you a little nervous about grocery shopping, my advice would be to harness that energy to help you focus on reducing your risk of cross-contamination. Here are some simple tips I use:

  • Try to stay away from produce directly beside your allergen if it is loose and unpackaged.
  • Bring your own bags from home (reduce, reuse, recycle!)
  • Always bag your produce – think about all the food that travels over the check-out conveyor belt…it’s not worth the risk of cross-contamination at that stage either.
  • Always wash your produce with soap and water whenever possible.

In the majority of cases, grocery shopping will be a safe venture for obtaining allergen-friendly foods. My objective with this blog post was simply to raise the awareness of risks involved in daily life that many of us overlook. Hopefully shedding light on this subject will help all of us become a little safer with the management of our food allergies. Good luck and let me know if you have had a similar experience at the grocery store!

– Dylan B.

Baking a List, and Checking It Twice: Allergen-Friendly Holiday Recipe Ideas

The holiday season will soon be upon us and with it comes dinners, work parties, potlucks and gifts. Each event filled with scrumptious foods and surprises, but if you have a food allergy something much more stressful can be lurking behind wrapping paper or baked into a treat. Holiday meal prepping and planning can be stressful without food allergies, but planning with multiple food allergies or intolerances? It can be a downright stressful experience. I’ve found the best way to handle the holiday stress when living with food allergies is by planning a dish and sticking with it. Prep your ingredients, prep yourself, and most importantly talk to everyone. If you’re cooking, ask other people about their allergies/intolerances. If you’re going somewhere, make sure people know your allergies and how to avoid cross-contamination. If you’re looking for some kitchen inspiration; below are a few of my holiday favorites that are sure to please crowds and leave you with the least amount of stress.

The holidays are a wonderful time, it gives us the opportunity to see old friends, laugh with our families, and share joy with each other. Food has always and will always be a big part of any celebration which can be hectic when you have a food allergy. As a community of people living with food allergies, we need to take a moment and plan ahead so that we can ensure we’ll be safe in any situation where meals or food are concerned. By having the right conversation with people about our allergies we can make baking and cooking a fun holiday activity. Eventually turning the experience into a wonderful and safe tradition for everyone involved.

-Arianne K.

Summer Squirrel: My Allergen-Friendly Winter Meal Preparations

This past summer I went into full-blown squirrel mode to combat my allergies. It feels like my normal life gets put on hiatus for a month or two, while I suddenly frantically start storing food in preparation for winter. Of course, it’s not always necessary… but it sure does make my life SO much nicer in the winter. There are some seasonal fruits and vegetables that are simply inaccessible to me (or outrageously expensive) in the winter. For example, if I buy corn in season, it can be as little as 25₵/cup. But in the winter, my only safe source is about $2/cup. Gooseberries are a great example of something that I can only find in the summer- and often only if I pick my own. Preparing food in advance also gives me access to homemade “processed” food, which then allows me to expand my diet because then I’m not always eating the same food in the same ways.

This explains why I become rather squirrelly every summer! I want to take advantage of summer sales so that my food budget doesn’t skyrocket in the winter, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about having safe food stashed away. Not to mention growing my own safe food! Just in case you want to follow in my footsteps… here’s what I did (Or, in some cases, what I should have done).

Step 1: Planning– In January I laid out a rough plan of what I wanted to prepare, and how I wanted to prepare it. I should have also had a plan of how much I wanted to prepare… but this year was a bit of an experiment in pressure canning so I just tried things out.

Step 2: Planting– This year I planted a full 8’x4’ garden with allergen-friendly veggies that I could easily grow to produce a big harvest. I also intentionally re-planted many of them when they were seedlings so that they weren’t too close together, which was quite successful. Next year I’d like to sprout them before I plant the seeds, so that I can avoid re-positioning the seedlings.

Step 3: Buying– Some of the best sales I found were rather spontaneous decisions, like the moment I found chicken on sale for $7 instead of my usual $24. I bought 12 on the spot, and proceeded to use the rest of my shopping trip as impromptu teaching opportunities to explain to everyone who asked or looked at me strangely that allergies can be really expensive at times!

Step 4: Going to farms– Most of my other large purchases were made when I went straight to the farms where the food was grown. I did a bit of price comparison by calling around, and then ordered ahead and was able to get 50 cobs of corn for $25.

Step 5: Preservation– There are three main ways that I preserved my food this past summer- freezing, canning, and dehydrating. I was very happy to be able to purchase and clean a used pressure canner as well as a dehydrator, and then bought a vacuum sealer on sale from Costco to help with storing both dry and frozen foods. If you’re doing research into how to preserve foods, there’s lots of great resources out there. The one I found myself using the most was the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning from the NCHFP.

Step 6: Sanity– I was able to get my fabulous friends to help me cook, but it was last minute. I should have planned for more help in the really busy weeks, taken some time off work and cooked my regular meals in advance. I also should have planned a trip to a restaurant, as a reward at the end!

At the end of the summer, as frost (and snow) has already started to cover the ground in my area- there’s good news: my squirreling was successful! Now to catch up with the rest of my life… 😀

– Janice H.

Tips for Dealing with Online Food Allergy Bullying

We all expect as adults that the days of being bullied or pushed around by someone were over, right? We’ve left the playground behind, we no longer worry about being invited to the popular kid’s birthday and we can simply walk away and never see that person again. We’ve spent years cultivating a group of friends from all walks of life that lift us up when we’re down, support us in our endeavours, and have even helped move us a couch or two.

But bullying may still occur as adults, especially as new Internet platforms arise and new forms of communication are born. We have to face it, people may use these platforms for bullying. For us as adults, instead of taking place in the school yard or lunch room bullying takes place in the seedy under belly of the internet and comment sections on social media. Written and expressed by people we’ve never met before but have plenty of opinions on our lifestyles. It’s simple to say ignore it, stay away and don’t engage with “trolls,” but this is easier said than done; especially when these types of situations creep up into our feeds and news stories grabbing our attention and prying at our curiosity to know how the general public thinks about food allergies.

Whether it’s stories about passengers being taken off flights for a food allergy, patrons having their allergies dismissed by restaurants, or parents being villainized in schools, bullying can still happen: Vile comments and cruel statements made from behind a keyboard in the shadows of anonymity are bound to pop up be shared and commented on. It’s a seemingly endless cycle. It’s an odd feeling, being attacked or bullied at our age especially within the confines of our own home and from someone behind a computer screen far away. How can you fight against a bully you’ve never met; how can you speak up for yourself when the comments are shared online repeatedly by thousands of people? This kind of bullying is magnified when anyone, anywhere can partake in these conversations with no evident real-world repercussions. There are important things to remember in any bullying situation:

Talk to someone: The internet is a big place, and even though there are people who disagree with you there are even more people who agree (especially when it comes to food allergies). Find a community who understands what you’re going through whether it be social media groups, webpages or likeminded comments. Talk to these people about how these situations make you feel. You’d be surprised how a simple kind gesture or comment can change your perspective.

It’s not your fault: We’re all brought up differently, have different perspectives, life experiences and outlooks; no two people are exactly alike. Just because someone doesn’t understand airborne allergens or cross-contamination doesn’t mean they’re evil or dumb, it just means they don’t live with it or have any frame of reference. Enlightening someone who isn’t aware can be a great thing to do. Being bullied is never your fault and it certainly isn’t right to hone in on a single feature you possess, like an allergy, and no one deserves to feel bad about a medical condition.

Don’t engage. But if you do, respond intelligently, not rapidly: If you feel up to responding to a negative comment, don’t stoop to their level. Never insult or sling mud; you’re just adding gas to a fire. Take a breath, do some research and respond maturely with facts and always keep a level head. Try inputting positive remarks and creating a dialogue where you can explore the topic together and find common ground, otherwise we’re no better.

And if all else fails…

Stop and Drop: If the comments and bullying is truly insulting or degrading and becomes harmful: Stop, save the evidence, then remove yourself from the situation, block the person or if it is really out of line, report them.

Bullying is never right or a good idea and it isn’t funny or fair. You should never be made to feel bad about your food allergies or anything else for that matter. The internet is a big place, you’re bound to encounter people or groups who will disagree with you, but you can always find people who will support you, have healthy discussions with, and give you a different perspective.  Social media and mass communication has brought us closer together and allowed us to share across the planet; let’s not let it tear us apart.

-Arianne K.

A Reservation for Confidence – Getting over the Feeling of Guilt with Food Allergies

I once partook in a workplace analysis about myself. It was a team building exercise that determined our profile and how we would react to certain situations. The overall outcome: I tend to handle stressful situations in a calm, steady and secure way with minimal stress. I can problem solve with the best of them and handle things in a rapid, rational way almost analytically. Looking back on that, I owe these skills (and a lot more) to growing up with severe food allergies. Living with such a serious thing every day makes you methodical about everything. From handwashing, packing, to even dating, you quickly learn how to handle yourself in any situation and how to respond to an allergic reaction. Basically, I owe a lot of my confidence and critical thinking to my food allergies, but this kind of confidence isn’t just bequeathed on you after your initial allergy test or when you get your first auto-injector. It’s something you constantly work towards, break a sweat for and may even cry many tears over. It’s a constant internal struggle between your inner extrovert and introvert.  So how do you work through an internal struggle you’ve carried around with you for your whole life? How can you speak confidently about something when it fills your brain with words but when you try speaking it all comes out at the same time causing you to get tongue tied? Well, it’s not easy and it takes time. Maybe even a lifetime, but speaking confidently about your food allergies doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can take small steps by choosing situations we want to be more vocal in so we can become more confident and less embarrassed.

One area where I began to speak more confidently about my food allergies came from a place of annoyance and embarrassment. It’s a situation we’ve all been in: choosing a place to eat. I hate the pressure of always choosing the restaurant or having to prepare a list of safe places on the spot when I have no idea what/where to go. It’s hard to please everyone, with my limited options and anxiety about trying new places without proper preparation time, it doesn’t make the situation easy. It always seems that the choice of restaurant falls on me and when I can’t go somewhere people get frustrated and in turn I get frustrated with myself. Situations like this are frustrating, embarrassing and complicated. Trying to get people organized and choosing one dining option should never fall on a single person’s shoulders. It took a while, but I finally built up the confidence to speak up about the situation. I spoke about how uncomfortable it made me, and how the pressure made me feel guilty about my food allergies. Finally getting over my embarrassment and speaking confidently about my food allergies gave me the opportunity to explore new options and teach my friends and family about safe dining etiquette. It was this small step that lead to more personal confidence and a healthier attitude towards my allergies.

Situations like these taught me to be patient and speak confidently about my allergies. As I took a step back and thought of the situation from someone else’s perspective I began to understand that their true intention was to keep me safe. Knowing this allowed me to speak more freely and without limitations.  Being confident doesn’t come all at once, it’s something that takes time and effort. The important thing to remember is to never be embarrassed or ashamed of your allergies. Confidence begins with a positive self-image. Working on skills like problem solving, critical thinking and handling stress in a healthy way is a great way to start the path to confidence.

 

-Arianne K.

 

By Food Allergy Canada