Category Archives: Allergies and Attitude

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.

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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.

 

Magic words to get anyone to take your allergies seriously

In relation to my peanut and tree nut allergy

I am a 27-year-old adult with life threatening allergies and I carry my epinephrine auto-injector everywhere I go. When I’m out with friends or family at restaurants it is very important that I communicate the severity of my allergies to servers and to the chef(s) or management. It is more and more common that restaurants and pubs ask about food allergies before patrons need to mention them, which is accommodating and proactive. Still, it is vital to impress upon the wait staff the severity of the allergies, so the chef can comment on whether or not various meals or parts of the kitchen are allergen friendly. As well, it is not only when I am out on the town when I find the need to mention the seriousness of my allergies; it can also be when I am at a friend’s house for dinner, or even at my own house with my family.

It was not easy learning how to broach the subject of my allergies. I recall visiting a friend who had put out a vegetable platter to which I had to politely refuse. She asked why, and I explained my allergy. Following up, she asked what happens when I eat raw fruits and vegetables, to which I said “I die”. The whole room fell silent, and I realized that everyone either thought I was being over dramatic or that my allergy was so severe that I couldn’t even be in the same area code as an allergen. I then explained that my body may go into what is called “anaphylactic shock”, and helped them understand the severity of my allergy better. This was when I learned that there is a fine line between over-dramatizing allergies and downplaying them. At a restaurant or a friend’s house it is important not to scare people with the thought of a life-threatening allergy, but it could even be less effective to undercut their severity.

I have learned that there are two or three phrases, which I commonly use now, that portray the quality of my allergies without creating a panicked environment: “life-threatening”, “anaphylactic”, and “serious” allergies.

Surprisingly, another method that has worked effectively to communicate the danger of my allergies is simply having my auto-injector visible on the table. It is nearly a habit of mine that when I sit down at a desk or at a restaurant table, I empty my pockets of my wallet, cell phone, keys, and auto-injector. I do this for comfort and to avoid losing one of these valuable items in the crack of a seat or onto the floor. One time at a restaurant a server noticed this ritual, and immediately asked me what I was allergic to. They seemed concerned to obtain accurate information too. This method worked unusually well, but personally I don’t like being the centre of attention, so I have stopped doing this as often.

In relation to my other allergies

I have found different experiences with my common allergies compared to my uncommon allergies. I have a severe form of what’s called “Oral Allergy Syndrome”, where my body confuses fruits and vegetables with tree pollen. Many people have an allergy to one or two fruits or vegetables and when they eat these, they experience a mild throat irritation or scratching. I have a severe form of oral allergy syndrome and when my mouth and throat are exposed to any raw fruit and any raw vegetables, there is profound swelling which can lead to airway compromise. Peanut, tree nut, gluten, and milk allergies are fairly well publicized in the media, and I find restaurants usually understand that these are serious. Raw fruits and vegetables on the other hand are less commonly life-threatening allergies, so it always comes as a surprise to my server. I usually avoid fruit and vegetables in a restaurant because servers invariably mention, “How cooked do they have to be.” Since this is so often subjectively interpreted, I don’t risk it. It is not always known whether or not they understand the severity of these more uncommon allergies. I’m sure this is not limited to my allergies, but other adults with other less common allergies as well. It is important to approach these allergens as you would any common allergens when communicating them to others and understand that there may be some surprise and discussion about these allergens.

Overall, a useful method to ensure the severity of an allergen is communicated effectively, I remember to use a calm demeanor, language such as “serious” or “life-threatening”, and avoid dramatizing or underplaying an allergy.

– Fraser K.

Why Aren’t People More Allergy Aware?

Help me, Help you.

It’s important to take a step back from our daily lives and gain some perspective. Whether it’s to gain a new respect for your surroundings, or a better understanding of someone else’s life choices, it makes us all a better, well-rounded society that appreciates the differences we all possess.

I’m well aware that the severity of food allergies is not something most people deal with on a daily basis. The reality that a trace amount of food or sheer inhalation can affect someone so physically is a reality many live with, but not all. Over 2.5 million Canadians self-report having at least one food allergy. Yet, there sometimes seems to be an overwhelming lack of allergy awareness or compassion in society today. I usually try to brush this off, with fleeting thoughts circling the idea of “you don’t live with it every day, so of course you don’t know”; but the more I am exposed to people who aren’t aware of allergies, the more I realize it’s not necessarily that they are unaware. It may be that they are simply misinformed on the subject.

I truly believe the road to knowledge is paved with curiosity and an open mind. In order to help people who aren’t allergy aware better understand our food allergies, we need to squash three common misconceptions surrounding them. I summarize these below.

  1. Cross-contamin… what?
  2. In my opinion, the biggest misconception hindering allergy awareness is the use of the term cross contamination. The main point being:

    Cross-contamination is when “a small amount of a food allergen gets into another food accidentally, or when it is present in saliva, on a surface or on an object.”

    For example, when a knife is used to cut an egg and is only wiped off, rather than cleaned with soap, the use of this knife on something else could cause a reaction to someone with an egg allergy. Personally, cross-contamination is the scariest aspect of my food allergy. It pulls me into the depths of anxiety and has me second-guessing everything on my fork.

    Someone else’s kitchen can be a scary place. I rarely eat food when I don’t know how or where it’s prepared. If someone is prepping food for me, I urge them to ensure no cross-contamination happens from using the same utensils or bowls. I do my best to express the dangers of foods touching other foods but one thing that is completely out my control is the cross-contamination of utensils and objects around me. Doorknobs, handrails, etc. anything you touch I may also touch; and that is something I don’t think many people are aware of. My suggestion is a simple one: just be aware of your surroundings. Whether you’re in public, at a dinner party, or at a friend’s house; be aware of what you’ve eaten and what you’re touching. If you’re not sure, the safe bet is to wash your hands or even your mouth. Trust me, your food allergy friends will thank you! Plus it‘s an overall healthy and good hygiene practice.

    1. False news about allergies:

    I always tell anyone prepping my food about my allergies in great detail, whether it be in someone’s home or at a restaurant. I stress the severity of them and ensure I talk to those in charge. It’s these steps that help me feel safe when dining out. I think when it comes to the misconception or lack of awareness with food allergies, it is people abusing the word allergen. I can’t express the importance of telling others about your food allergy. However, disliking a food, hating a certain taste, or not wanting a certain food on your plate does not qualify as an allergy. By creating a misconception about food allergies, preparations, or brushing off the severity of it causes a miscommunication and could lead to a potentially fatal mistake for those who actually have a food allergy. I understand not liking food (I hate cauliflower) but calling it an allergen isn’t fair to your friend who deals with a food allergy every day. You can ask for substitutes, exclude things, or choose not to get a dish, just please don’t mislead people about your reasons why.

    1. This week in the movies…

    The last reason I think there isn’t more allergy awareness, is the portrayal of food allergies in movies and in pop culture. It often shows sensationalized medical measures like swelling up like a blowfish, “funny” hives, awkward situations, or misrepresentation of administering an auto-injector, it’s hard for those not living with a food allergy to spot a reaction in real life. The truth is, allergic reactions come in many forms and being able to identify and react to those symptoms is important.  An allergic reaction can affect several areas of the body and can present itself in many forms(3). Helping those around us understand how to identify and treat an allergic reaction helps everyone gain some perspective and respect for the severity of food allergies. If you’re unsure, it’s simple- just ask. Ask your friend or family member to explain their signs and symptoms. Come up with a plan of action, and make sure you know where there auto-injector is. Everyone likes the good-guy-hero in the movies. If you train hard and learn the signs, symptoms, and emergency protocol, that could be you!

-Arianne K

Learning to Accept my Allergies as an Adult

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting at the Tim Horton’s coffee shop with my parents, enjoying a peach juice and a sprinkle donut. Or an iced tea and a bagel. Or my personal favourite: a milk and an oat cake. Whatever the occasion, our trips always involved a delicious, warm, baked good– one made with wheat, of course.

Whenever I had an important decision to make, my parents would, and still do, take me out for coffee. From applying for University, accepting my first job offer, and now planning my wedding, all of my most meaningful life decisions have been made over a cup of coffee and a treat.  But all that got a little more complicated recently.

I was diagnosed with a severe wheat allergy at the age of 30 after an anaphylactic reaction sent me to the hospital during a wintry run. After living with this allergy for three years, and having a second allergic reaction just a few weeks ago, I have been forced to redefine my identity and my relationship with food. What does it mean when I can’t eat the same food as my family and friends around the dinner table? How does it feel when I have to refuse a piece of cake at a birthday party or a treat at work for the hundredth time?

To be honest, it’s hard and I am still learning to accept that this allergy is something I will have for the rest of my life. Adjusting to a severe allergy as an adult isn’t easy. After my first reaction three years ago, I thought maybe it was just a fluke, despite my allergy tests showing a strong reaction to wheat. After my second reaction just a few weeks ago, a result of being served a contaminated dish while eating out, my allergy is literally all I think about.

I don’t often mention the ways that having an allergy has changed my life, beyond just having to say no to foods containing wheat. It’s changed the way I am able to enjoy food with my family at home, out in social settings with my friends, and most of all, the way we cook at home. To be honest, I can’t remember the last family function we had where I was able to just eat the same thing as everyone else. Coming from a large, traditional Italian family, most of our staples like pasta, pizza, paninis and most desserts are foods that I’ve either had to modify, or just stop eating. Wheat-free pasta is fairly simple to find, but a wheat-free cannoli is something I’ve yet to enjoy.

Recently, I attended my sister’s wedding and her gorgeous, three-tier banana chocolate chip wedding cake with fondant icing (my favourite) was completely off-limits for me, and to be honest, it made me a little sad. Not to mention the cheese tortellini with mushroom cream sauce and all the appetizers. Her venue was incredibly accommodating and made me a completely wheat-free meal, that was delicious by the way, but that didn’t stop me from feeling a bit left out or disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy everything that was on her beautifully curated menu.

With my own wedding coming up, it makes me kind of sad to think that I will have to have a “special meal” different from what my guests are eating. While I know that serving the Italian staples are a must, I just hope that whichever venue we choose will do their best to create similar dishes for me that don’t make me feel left out of my own big day. More on wedding planning with an allergy coming up in my next blog!

I know that accepting my allergy, and making safe food choices, even if that means feeling left out sometimes, is something that I have to accept. I also know that many restaurants and bakeries are targeted towards wheat-free living and even offer full menus that are completely wheat-free. Luckily, I live in Toronto where places like this are never too far. These days, our weekend trips to Tim Horton’s have been replaced by a stop at our favourite gluten-free bakery around the corner from our condo. While they don’t serve old-fashioned glazed donuts, they do make a mean lemon poppy seed muffin.

-Jenna

University/College Top 3 Tips Series: Going out with New Friends

One of the best parts of going to school is that you will have the opportunity to make lots of new friends. However, with any situation of making new friends, breaking the ice about your allergies can be difficult. Below are my top 3 tips to how to best manage going out with new friends while being safe with your allergies.

  1. Tell them in advance

It is always a lot easier for both yourself and your friends to talk about your food allergies in advance of going out. It can be a fun fact you bring up about yourself when meeting people for the first time. I always find it easiest to introduce when I’m going out to eat with people. Usually if they ask what I want I’ll say, “Anything without nuts because I’m allergic to them!” I try to keep it casual and not make a big deal about it because I don’t want to make anybody afraid to eat with me.

  1. Come up with activities that don’t involve food

It’s always a good plan to have some ideas of activities to do with your friends when you go out that doesn’t involve food. Look up different things to do in the new city or town. For most people, the city will probably be quite new to them so exploring the place you will be living for the next little while is always a fun idea!

  1. Find some places that are safe for you to eat

A lot of the time when going out, people will default to food-related activities. Make sure you have restaurant options that you know are safe for you to eat at. That way when you say that you have an allergy you can offer a list of choices for your new friends to choose from. This helps makes accommodating your allergy easier for others and ensures you will be comfortable when eating out as well.

Making new friends can be difficult – especially when you have a food allergy. It is always best to tell them when you first meet them so everybody is well aware and can ensure that your allergies are accommodated for when you go out! It is also a good idea to let people know where your auto-injector is and how to use it in case of an emergency! If you have any other tips when going out with new friends, I’d love to hear about it in a comment below!

– Lindsay S.