Kiwis (not the fruit), Hobbits and Rugby – Travelling to New Zealand with a Food Allergy

Kia Ora (hello in the language of the native Maori people of New Zealand)!

Milford Sound in New Zealand

I recently had the pleasure of travelling to the amazingly beautiful country of New Zealand where I spent 3 weeks driving all around the North and South Island discovering this exotic land.

After 24 hours of travel to get to New Zealand I was not only exhausted but was also starving! I started out my discovery of what the local cuisine was and began navigating my allergies while travelling. Overall, the food in New Zealand is very similar to food in Canada and North America as a whole. I wasn’t sure if they would have any bizarre delicacies or not have food I normally eat at home but I found eating with my allergies to be very easy while there!

Having a common language was probably what made travelling the easiest as I had no issues communicating my allergies with servers or chefs while eating out. Allergies are quite prevalent in New Zealand, so most people are aware of what it means to be allergic to a food.

Oysters on stone plate with ice and lemon

Seafood and shellfish are fairly common items I found on menus when eating out so if you are allergic to any of these items, you will need to be careful. However, there are lots of other options such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork etc. that can help you to avoid eating any fish. For those allergic to kiwis make sure you say kiwi fruit as the term Kiwi is often used to describe a person from New Zealand. I made this mistake a few times when referring to the fruit and was always chuckled at by a local (I’m sure it happens all the time).

One thing I would be careful of is ensuring you always have a good store of auto-injectors on you. There is often a fair distance between towns and cities throughout New Zealand. We spent most of our days driving anywhere from 4-6 hours with most of that spent on the side of a mountain or in rural farm land. Often there is not cell phone service and you can be quite far away from a hospital or a doctor. So it is important that before you leave, you stock up on auto-injectors so that you have enough to last you in case you have a reaction while travelling between places.

Overall I found New Zealand a very easy country to navigate with my allergies. They have some chains of restaurants and fast food places that we have here in Canada so you can almost always find something safe to eat!

– Lindsay S.

Travelling to the Land Down Under with Food Allergies

Kangaroos crossing.

G’Day Mate! Travelling to Australia is an amazing vacation and a beautiful place to visit. I took my first trip to Australia recently and had an amazing time seeing kangaroos, koala bears, beaches, and the outback. Of course for any trip I take, being extra vigilant about my food allergies was something I made sure was a priority.

Since they do speak English in Australia, handling my allergies was a lot easier than it has been when travelling to places where there is a language barrier. As you quickly learn though, Australians have lots of different terms and words that we don’t use in Canada. For example, green peppers are called “capsicum” and cantaloupe is called “rock melon.” To make sure people understand you when you are asking about your allergies, do a quick search online to make sure that they don’t use a different word to describe the food you are allergic to!

I wasn’t sure what to expect from “Australian food” as I didn’t know if their cuisine was substantially different from North American cuisine. Overall, they do eat a lot of similar foods that we eat here. They have some unique local dishes like kangaroo, emu, and camel (but don’t worry there are lots of other meat options for you to choose from!) Aussies also love their beet root and will often put it on burgers and in salads. Being completely surrounded by water, the coastal cities often have lots of fish on the menu as well, some of which are not found back here in Canada. So if you have a fish allergy, make sure you are careful about what you eat. They also have lots of fish and chip shops but it is important you ask about what oil they are frying the fish in as I did come across some places that used peanut oil.

Fruit and Vegetable Markets

Overall the concept of food allergies is quite well understood in Australia so if you tell your server about your allergy they should be able to easily understand and accommodate your dietary restrictions. I did find that food in the country tends to be a little more expensive than back in Canada – although tax is included in the price and they do not tip servers there. Therefore, I ended up buying a lot of food at grocery stores which have a wide variety to choose from at more affordable prices. I also found lots of peanut and nut-free snacks available so it made shopping a bit easier. Allergens are often labelled on any food product making label reading a quicker process!

I found Australia to be a really allergy-friendly place to travel as things are well labelled, no language barriers exist, and food allergies are quite prevalent in the country. If you are ever willing to make the long trek to the land down under, I would highly recommend it and would have few worries about travelling with your allergies!

– Lindsay S.

Intolerance vs. Anaphylaxis: A Clarification

Having multiple severe food allergies has helped me grow a tougher skin to rude questions, dangerous misconceptions, and all around odd questions. My usual response to “What will happen if you eat a cashew or peanut?” is: “it won’t be good for my life, and I have things to do this week, so please keep it away.”

Some questions or myths make me chuckle a little before I answer or clear up some facts, but the one that makes me laugh and frown at the same time is the misconception of intolerances vs. anaphylaxis.

I was once at a cottage with friends, and in preparation for food and drinks I explained in great detail my food allergies and the dangers of cross-contamination. When we arrived and prepared lunch, one of the people there informed us they couldn’t have dairy at all. Diligently, we prepped food to ensure everyone eating would be safe and comfortable, and avoided cross-contamination at all costs. Fast forward to the next day, and iced coffee. I watched the same person put half a carton of 15% creamer into their drinks.  When I tried to warn them, they informed me they could have “cheat days” and, if I wanted to, I could as well.  The only thing I could do was laugh.

horizontal photograph of a cup of coffee with creamer being poured into it

It was funny at the time, but the more I thought about it, the misconceptions about intolerances and food allergies need to be cleared up. I certainly cannot have cheat days at all, and didn’t appreciate that kind of thinking, but instead of getting upset, I got educated. I did my best to inform myself, and anyone who was interested in the differences between intolerance and an allergy.

A food allergy can cause the immune system to react and, in turn, that affects numerous parts in the body. It has multiple symptoms and can range in severity from case to case. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.

Telling me I could have a cheat day, is like telling Luke Skywalker he could go to the dark side for a bit. It just doesn’t work that way. So in order to clear up some misconceptions and to avoid future awkward situations here is some helpful information to help understand food intolerances a little better.

Some common food intolerances can include:

  • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example.
  • Celiac disease.Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at-risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.
  • Sensitivity to food additives.For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods, and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/expert-answers/food-allergy/faq-20058538

If you have a reaction after eating certain foods, it’s important to see your doctor to determine whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy. Both may mean you have to cut certain foods from your diet, but it can open up new doors to creative and delicious recipes, as well as problem solving and substitutes in the kitchen, helping create beautiful meals that are safe.

Man with stomach pain holding a glass of milk. Dairy Intolerant person. Lactose intolerance, health care concept.

Having one or the other doesn’t mean you’re better or worse. As a community of food allergies and intolerances, we have to work together to create safe spaces where we all feel comfortable. We should also be working together to help educate and inform each other, so we can bring that knowledge with us wherever we go. No matter what, we have to do our best to accommodate, and help each other because we’re all in this together.

Have you ever gotten a weird or quirky food allergy question or comment? How did you handle it? Let me know below.

– Arianne K.

 

Food Allergy Travel: The key is to plan ahead.

For about 14 years of my life, the word “travel” had a very limited meaning for me. I mean, how could someone at-risk for anaphylaxis from eating peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish/seafood, wheat/barley, and buckwheat safely travel, especially to countries where you can’t even explain your allergies in the same language?

Well, when you really think about it, there are actually quite a few ways.

The key is to plan ahead.

Then, there’s also the natural anxiety that comes along with travelling with severe food allergies. I can say that this fear has not gone away for myself. However, I can confidently say that you can manage this anxiety by planning ahead.

For me, planning ahead started in 2005, when I discovered the world of cruising. I was quite skeptical at first when my parents brought up the idea of boarding a cruise ship for 7 days – I mean, what if something happened and I was stranded on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? But, before I knew it, I was boarding the 140,000 ton MS Navigator of the Seas. From this trip, I learned a couple of things –

Communicate. If you’re travelling on a cruise ship or any other type of organized trip, inform the company, or organizer, of your food allergy weeks in advance, as well as while travelling. They will need the extra time to prepare, just like those of us with allergies need time to plan.

In the context of cruising, my parents called the cruise line ahead of time and provided them with information on my food allergies. Some cruise lines even have a “special needs form,” which must be filled out prior to sailing. Additionally, immediately after boarding the ship, we spoke to the Maitre’D, and discussed lunch and dinner with our wait staff the night before. This gave them enough time to ensure that they had the allergen-safe ingredients to make food that was safe for me, and had informed the appropriate crew members about the allergies. This also allowed them to have lunch and dinner ready for me, without having to wait for them to make it from scratch every day – which helped me enjoy more of my vacation!

Plan ahead. Bring dry foods that are easy to put in your carry-on luggage (in case of the off-chance that your checked luggage gets lost). For instance, foods I commonly bring in my carry-on luggage include dry pasta, bread, muffins, etc. This does two things: 1. Helps me feel comfortable and safe with the food I’m eating, and 2. Gives me a back-up for days where finding allergen-safe food is difficult, or for any unforeseen delays or changes in my planned itinerary. In cases where you’re not sure where lunch or dinner will be – plan ahead and bring food with you for those meals.

Again, in the context of cruise lunches and dinners, I provide the gluten-free dry pasta or bread to the kitchen staff on the ship, who can then add an allergen-safe sauce or toppings for me. The muffins, and other foods like Rice Krispie squares, are a couple of ideas for snacking throughout the day. For days at port, I either use my thermos from home to bring food with me, or bring an allergen-safe sandwich.

After 2005, we began cruising 1-2 times a year, and what I once thought was impossible, suddenly came within reach – I got the chance to visit Europe in 2012, and then again in 2014, both times on a cruise ship. It was then that I began using “allergy cards,” which I had in English, as well as in Italian (thanks to my good friend’s mom, who speaks fluent Italian). I even used pictures of my allergens on the back of the Italian cards to be extra safe. These “allergy cards” helped to reduce the risk of miscommunication, and gave me extra comfort that the wait staff were noting my food allergies correctly. The wait staff also appreciate it, as they can give the kitchen the card for their reference.

In 2009, my dad and I also began taking baseball road trips. If you know anything about me, it is that I am the biggest Toronto Blue Jays fan that you will ever meet. My dad and I have a bucket list of 162 baseball related things that we want to do, which includes visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. We are at 11 now, but hope to be at 14 by August 2016. This obviously entails travel as well – usually via car and on land. I apply the same tips and techniques from cruising on my baseball road trips – I plan ahead. The one difference is that we generally stay in hotels with kitchens which gives me the flexibility to make my own meals.

Ultimately, by planning ahead, you set yourself up for safe travels. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still risks – but planning ahead helps mitigate those risks significantly!

Helpful links:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/allergy-safety/travelling/

Allergy Translation Cards

– Shivangi S.

A Quest to Understanding the History of Food Allergies

When I was thinking of an allergy blog topic to write about for the month of June, my first idea of course was related to food. I was thinking about how food options for people with allergies has changed drastically in the past two decades. I too frequently tell the story of growing up in my small farming community and my parents ordering me allergen-safe food all the way from Toronto— now my local hometown grocery store has it’s own gluten-free section. The overall change in allergy-friendly food options is of course reactive to how the prevalence of food allergies, as well as awareness of food allergies, has increased over the years. Instead of questioning the change in allergy friendly options over the past two decades, I began to wonder about the history of food allergies in general and how they have developed alongside modern medicine.

Happy New Year 2016. Jigsaw puzzle timeline.

To look into this overarching question, like any good millennial I took to the internet.  I quickly found that learning about the history of food allergies wasn’t as easy of a search as searching common egg substitutes in baking. Despite the lack of volume of information, I did find some interesting reads that shed a bit of light on our early understanding of food allergies which I will highlight in this post.

Interestingly enough, the earliest documentation of the adverse effects of food on human’s health came from none other than Hippocrates.  He described adverse food effects in his writing On Ancient Medicine in 400 B.C.E (http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/ancimed.20.20.html):
“For cheese does not prove equally injurious to all men, for there are some who can take it to satiety, without being hurt by it in the least, but, on the contrary, it is wonderful what strength it imparts to those it agrees with; but there are some who do not bear it well, their constitutions are different, they differ in this respect, that what in their body is incompatible with cheese, is roused and put in commotion by such a thing”

Even in 400 B.C.E Hippocrates could empathize with not being able to enjoy the popular dairy product!

One of the most enjoyable reads on the history of food allergies that I found came from a short paper titled A Brief History on Food Allergies, which is actually a small chapter featured in the Super Allergy Cookbook written by Lisa Lundy. In this writing, Lundy describes the earliest recognition of food allergies in modern medicine at the beginning of the 19th century.  At this time doctors were making observations and documenting the connection between food and problematic health issues in their patients. One of the earliest modern writings came from Dr. Francis Hare of Australia. In 1905, Dr. Hare published a 1,000-page book entitled The Food Factor in Disease and sought to explain the relation between food and multiple diseases including: migraines, asthma, gout, headaches, eczema, GI disturbances, hypertension, bronchitis. See any connections to symptoms that we see today from food?

As for coining the term “allergy,” A Brief History on Food Allergies also discusses this moment. Dr. Clemens von Pirquet is given credit as the first to suggest using the word allergy to describe an inappropriate reaction to food or other substances that was typically not considered harmful. Another notable character on the road to developing or understanding of food allergies is Dr. Arthur Coca who not only proved the relation of exposure to food allergens causing a change in a person’s pulse, but went on to found the Journal of Immunology in 1915. These are just a small highlight of some of the early work to building our understanding of modern food allergies.

I would definitely recommend reading Lisa Lundy’s paper: http://www.thesuperallergycookbook.com/PDF/FoodAllergypaper.pdf

What about the history of developing medical treatment for anaphylactic reactions triggered by food allergens? In this day and age, the epinephrine auto-injector is the well-known treatment and lifeline for anyone suffering from an anaphylactic reaction and works to restore plummeting blood pressure that can prove to be very quickly life-threatening.  It turns out that the invention of the epinephrine auto-injector was a spin off a Cold War invention of a hollow-needle that allowed troops to self-inject an antidote to nerve gas! In the 1970’s, inventor Stephen Kaplan saw that simple modifications would allow this to be used by civilians particularly for those suffering from an anaphylactic reaction.  A brief history of the EpiPen® can be read in the article written by Mary Ellen Bowden A Mighty Pen and is featured online in the Chemical Heritage Magazine: http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/media/magazine/articles/31-3-mighty-pen.aspx.

Developing our understanding of food allergies has led to not only placing a focus on treatment and management of allergies but studying the exponential increase in prevalence of allergies in today’s society. A great resource that looks deep into more modern research on this topic is the Nature of Things- With David Suzuki episode “The Allergy Fix”:  http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/the-allergy-fix. In this episode, startling facts are addressed.  This includes the fact that children in today’s society are three times more likely to have food allergies compared to children twenty years ago. Different research hypotheses that have been proposed for this increase are also discussed in this episode including the Hygiene Hypothesis which suggests that societies have become too sanitary and therefore not exposing children to certain germs that can actually be protective to their immune system. An interesting historical research finding that highlights this point mentioned in the episode states that when the Berlin Wall came down those living in the industrial and more “polluted” East side of Germany had a significant lower number of allergies as opposed to those living in “cleaner” west Germany. The Allergy Fix is definitely an episode worth checking out that summarizes where we have gotten to with our modern understanding of food allergies.

Have any interesting facts or findings old or new about food allergies? Feel free to share below!

– Caitlyn P.

The Dangers of Complacency with a Food Allergy: The Black Bear Tale

This past spring, two friends and I went interior camping near Gravenhurst. We found a really cool map online of an unmaintained provincial park that is essentially a big playground waiting to be explored by camping geeks like us. We prepared for weeks, slowly purchasing new gear, mapping out potential routes, acquiring additional auto-injectors, and discussing all the great trails waiting for us. As the big day grew closer, we began planning out our menu. This is where things can get tricky. I am at-risk for anaphylaxis for peanuts and tree nuts and my other friend, let’s call him Ted, is at-risk for anaphylaxis for peanuts, tree nuts, raw fruits and vegetables, and salmon. Luckily some of our allergens cross-over so we went with some of our staple foods that were easy to carry: Noodles, rice, oatmeal, chips, etc. Before long, we had our menu completed, our food purchased, and our bags packed. We didn’t think twice about the food since we ate them all the time and felt confident that what we had was safe to eat.

Entering the park was quite the experience. The road in starts as pavement, then turns to gravel, then abruptly turns into pot-holed, uneven dirt for several kilometers. Once we parked our car and took off down a trail, we soon realized we had missed the trail we wanted and had to double back. Whenever we stopped moving, the black fly army would swarm us and leave itchy reminders that this was their land. Clearly, we were off to a great start… The actual trail we wanted started as hardly more than a half foot of compact grass but regardless, we were finally on the trail and making up ground.

DSCN1407The scenery was beautiful! The trails meandered up and down, left and right, and popped us out on some really nice ridges overlooking forest and marsh below. This park was like a dream come true for us! We couldn’t believe we hadn’t discovered it earlier.

Anyway, that night we found a great little campsite beside a lake and stayed there for the night. The next day, we made some oatmeal and Ted had a packet of noodles and off we went down the trail to continue our exploration.

DSCN1410Flash forward about an hour later. We had been hiking through a dense forest that took us over a little stream and up a steep ridge. At the top of this ridge, we took a break to take in the incredible view of a marsh below and drink some water. Andy, the second friend, points down to the marsh and says, “Whoa! Look! A bear!” Lo and behold, there was a massive black bear trudging along the marsh in a line away from us where we had been hiking not even twenty minutes prior! We marvelled at catching this sight and probably got a little too loud because the bear turned and looked up the ridge towards us.

Bear in the morning on the loop in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.

We all paused, not knowing what to do next.

The bear seemed uninterested in climbing the steep ridge and continued to the other side of the marsh while we picked up our bags and continued to hike the ridge, still excited that we saw a bear!

About ten minutes later, Ted started to breathe heavily. He took out his puffer and took a couple puffs thinking it was just his asthma that sometimes flares up.

We continued our hike.

A few minutes later, Ted took a few more puffs which raised a few red flags in my head. We took another break near a split in the trail and he told us that his chest felt very heavy and his breathing felt oddly similar to one of his past anaphylactic reactions. Now all red flags were up!

We quickly looked at the map. Luckily there was a fork in the trail right beside us that led a kilometer straight back to our car. There was a river to the left and the marsh to the right. There was only one way to go.

Oh, I forgot to mention…the bear was last seen at the end of that trail. So now we had quite the scenario. Ted needed to get to the hospital and the only way to get there was down a trail blocked by a bear! …Are you kidding me?!

There was really no choice. We took out some pots, I had my hatchet, and we made as much noise as possible while we walked down the trail. The bush was so thick that we had no idea where the bear might be hiding so we kept our eyes peeled and kept moving.

No sign of the bear.

The car was now in sight and Ted’s breathing had gotten worse, so he took his auto-injector.

We loaded the car as fast as we could and I sped down the pot-hole road. I had only one thing on my mind: Drive Fast! The hospital was 45 minutes away and I wasn’t going to be the reason Ted didn’t make it there.

After he took the auto-injector, Ted’s symptoms didn’t get better but they weren’t worse either which was a good sign. After 35 minutes of winding roads, we made it to the hospital and everything turned out great. Ted was fine and we ended up going to a friend’s cottage nearby instead of braving the trails again.

We looked back at our food and meticulously read every ingredient twice. It turns out that the noodles that Ted insisted he ate daily may contain peanuts, tree nuts, AND fish. A triple threat for Ted!

The moral of the story is that it is easy to become complacent with food allergies. Reading the label can become so routine that we just trust that the ingredients of our favourite brands won’t change. Ted and I learned a very scary lesson that food ingredients should always be read multiple times no matter how often you buy a certain brand. Companies can change ingredients at any time. All it takes is you eating one package of “may contain” out of a thousand other times to trigger an anaphylactic reaction. It is never worth the risk. Do yourself a favour and always stay sharp with your food allergy. Be alert and stay safe.

– Dylan B.

Food Allergies at the Ball Game

A summer baseball game is a huge event in my city (Go Blue Jays!). My friends and I live for the humid weekend games, the ice-cold beers, the popcorn, and just the pure excitement of the game. Another huge tradition at baseball games, though, is chomping down on some peanuts. The average person will definitely indulge on this traditional baseball snack, but for individuals with a peanut allergy, the baseball field can suddenly become a very scary place.

I’m severely allergic to peanuts, and I’ve somehow never experienced people around me eating peanuts during a baseball game until the most recent game I went to. My friends and I had amazing seats. We had just sat down with our beers and popcorn and were waiting for the game to start. When I did a quick turn to see the area around us, I noticed a family a few rows behind us just going to town on a bag of peanuts. They were chomping down on those peanuts like they have never tasted them before, and were throwing the shells EVERYWHERE. I was super thankful I wasn’t closer to them, but I was also a little anxious because they really weren’t that far away from me.

Toronto, Canada - July 27, 2010: An aerial view of the Rogers Center in Toronto, Canada. The stadium houses the Toronto Blue Jays and was opened in 1989.

I don’t think a food allergy should stop you from attending a baseball game. You have every right to be there as anyone else! However, there are definitely a few ways that you can decrease your chances of anything happening:

  • When buying your tickets, inquire about “nut-free” sections at the stadium. In Toronto, they sometimes provide nut-free zones where no peanut or tree nuts are allowed.
  • If you don’t want to sit in the “nut-free” section of the game because you have amazing tickets that you want to take advantage of, don’t fret. Ensure you have your EpiPens® on you and upon sitting, take a quick scan of your surrounding areas to see if anyone is eating your allergen. If they are, engage them in friendly conversation and let them know what’s going on. People can be very accommodating; so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
  • Wash your hands if you plan to eat anything and always read the ingredients!

Going to a baseball game doesn’t have to be scary. There are easy ways to make the situation safer for you. Now go buy some tickets and root for the home team with your friends/family!

– Giulia C.

By Food Allergy Canada