Category Archives: Allergies and Attitude

Exploring Colombia with Food Allergies

Travelling to a foreign country offers an exciting opportunity to immerse oneself in a new culture, to meet new people and to take on new adventures. Before one begins their trip, there is always research and planning that must be done.  This includes trying to foresee and account for any difficulties that may arise when navigating in a new destination. For anyone travelling with allergies, the added challenge is planning how to stay safe and avoid any food allergy reactions— while also not going hungry. My own experience planning for and travelling to the South American country of Colombia was no different.

To add some context to my planning and actual travels; my trip to Colombia was a two-and-a-half-week adventure trip that involved lodging in hostels tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains as well as trekking five days through the jungle to reach the famous site of “the Lost City”. I also spent time touring cultural hotspots including Cartagena and Medellin and finished off by exploring Colombia’s coffee plantation region. While my trip proved to be an amazing adventure that balanced hiking the great outdoors while also experiencing and learning about Colombia’s unique culture, I still had to go through certain precautions to ensure I stayed safe during my vacation!

Planning for My Trip

When preparing for a trip to any foreign location, I always extensively research the country. This includes researching the languages spoken, popular destinations and sights to see. Because of my allergies, I also always research what common food dishes are popular and what ingredients are commonly used in the country. Being allergic to wheat, eggs and peanuts, I was happy to discover when researching about Colombia that one of their popular food items is a type of corn bread called “arepas” that are naturally gluten/egg free and prepared in numerous ways. Having been to Peru last year and having fallen in love with ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime juice and spices), I was also excited to find out that Colombian styled ceviche is another very popular dish in the country. While this sort of research doesn’t eliminate the risk of encountering an allergen while travelling, I always find it helpful to be knowledgeable of a country’s food traditions before trying to navigate one of their menus.

When preparing for my five-day trek to the Lost City, I signed up with a trekking group and was able to contact the trekking company via email and ensured that they could accommodate my allergies with the food served on the trek. (I also sent two follow up emails before leaving for my trip just as an extra double check to ensure they didn’t overlook my food restrictions!)

Further preparations for my trip involved notifying the airline that I was flying with about my allergies. When travelling, I also always ensure that I have my “allergy travel cards.” These cards are the size of a business card and say in a specified language (in this case Spanish) what I am allergic to along with pictures of my allergens. I also have cards that state “I am having an allergic reaction and need to be taken to an English-speaking hospital. This is not a card I ever want to use, but crucial to have in case of emergencies! I’ve found different companies offer versions of these travel cards and can be ordered online. When planning, I also ensured that my auto-injectors were not expired and that multiple were packed.

Travelling in Colombia

When travelling in Colombia, I found that having my “allergy travel cards” was the most useful and effective way to communicate my allergies since I am not fluent in Spanish.  These cards were concise and provided a visual clue to servers about my food restrictions. It was almost amusing to see their first quizzical look on their face when I passed them my allergy card and then this look change to disbelief that I couldn’t eat all the foods listed on the card. Despite that, I found every restaurant to be quite accommodating and understanding. I also used my broken Spanish to try and order alternate food options with my usual “go-to” being some form of arepa.

For snacks on-the-go or while I was hiking, I had pre-packed granola bars that I brought from Canada or would buy bananas or avocados from local fruit stands— you would be amazed at how long an avocado stays ripe in a hiking pack!  While on my five-day trek to the Lost City, each night I stayed in hiking refuges, and having touched based with the trekking company beforehand, I had very few issues finding food that I could eat. That, combined with the size of portions that were given out, I never went hungry!

Overall, while I had to undergo some extra planning and exercise certain precautions while travelling to Colombia, I found I was still able to experience the best that this country had to offer in terms of destinations to see, activities to do and people to meet, all while staying safe and avoiding my allergens.

Feel free to comment below with your own experiences of travelling abroad and staying allergy safe as well post any questions you may have about preparing for your own travels in the future!

For more tips on travelling with food allergies, visit Food Allergy Canada’s travel section.

– Caitlyn P.

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Food Allergy Awareness at the Office

In the past calendar year, I have started two new jobs in office settings. In both cases, I tried to initiate conversations about my food allergies as early as possible without overwhelming my new co-workers. Instead of providing a number of tips, I am going to share a couple of stories from my experiences and hopefully you will be able to draw lessons from them to apply to your new job.

My first new job was a fresh, new start with new co-workers after nearly 4 years at a different company. With this fresh start, I wanted to be diligent with my food allergy awareness and education. I met with the Human Resources Manager and discussed the severity of my peanut and tree nut allergy. Rather than demand an allergen-safe environment, I shared my general management strategies with her and assured her that I will practice safe eating procedures. I quickly learned at orientation that the company provided snacks and had a pantry that was always well-stocked for the employees. After meeting with the HR Manager, I read the ingredients of all provided snacks and made a mental note of which snacks were safe for me, and which were not. I then cleaned my new office cubicle (including the keyboard and mouse) with soap and water to reduce the risk of cross-contamination from previous usage. The company itself was very accommodating of my food allergy and my manager even went so far as buying only peanut/tree nut safe snacks so that I would feel more comfortable in our work space. Pretty cool eh? This experience just goes to show how something as simple as being open about your food allergy can open so many doors.

In my second new job, I took the same approach and told my new manager about my food allergies on day one. The topic came up at lunch, which was a great time to break the ice on a topic that can make some people feel quite awkward. She was luckily also very accommodating and made sure to send an email to the rest of my new team to inform them of my food allergies. The tricky part about this job is that it revolves around teaching others about good health strategies, which includes healthy eating. For the most part, tree nuts are an easy snack suggestion as they are a great source of healthy fats and nutrients. My challenge moving forward will be to ensure I implement safe food preparation practices on my own since I cannot expect everyone to avoid these snacks just for me (especially when my team and I promote tree nuts as a healthy snack!).

One take home message that I’ve learned through these experiences is that being open with an employer can be extremely beneficial to ensuring my safety, but the onus is ultimately on me to keep myself safe at the end of the day. As long as I keep my immediate working environment clean, have my auto-injectors accessible, wash my hands before eating, and let others know about my food allergy, I can feel confident that I have done all I can do to feel comfortable and focused when I am at the office.

– Dylan B.

Setting the Mood: Letting your Partner know about your Food Allergies

As Valentine’s Day looms closer, it’s easy to fall under the spell of Cupid’s arrow and think of romantic nights out with someone special. Whether it’s your first or tenth date, this time of year sends butterflies fluttering around your stomach, but let’s hope it’s the nerves of a first date and not your food allergies causing a rumble in there. So, when should you tell your significant other or first date about your food allergies? When is the right time to air this tumultuous subject? The answer is as soon as possible, like, do it now… I’ll wait.

There’s no point in stalling till your inches away from your allergen, or second guessing what they ate before you go in for a kiss. Treating your food allergies like a mysterious secret waiting to be unravelled is not a good dating tool. It’s a serious topic that deserves to be mentioned upfront with honesty and confidence. If you’re anything like me, you tend to undervalue your food allergies around new people for fear of how they will react to the little inconveniences it may cause them. It’s a nasty habit I picked up in school; no one wants to be different or stand out, so I brushed off the seriousness of my allergies or neglected to tell people right away. I waited till the absolute last second causing myself serious anxiety from being near my allergens when it could have been avoided. It’s a habit I try to break every day in adulthood but unfortunately it rears its ugly head every so often.

This bad habit of ignoring the seriousness of our food allergies or hiding them under a rug should never carry over into our dating lives. It’s a subject that will inevitably come up, and chances are much like a lump under a rug: it’s going to trip you up, make you fall flat on your face and seriously ruin your day. Picture this, you’re on a date with the greatest person, you’re shy, they’re nervous, and so far, the evening has been wonderful. And then the two of you walk you up to the doors of a beautiful Thai restaurant where your date has made reservations for you. Great! The only problem is you’re extremely allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame. Uh oh, now you have go through the awkward process of telling them about your allergies, why you can’t eat there, why you didn’t tell them beforehand, etc.  To think all this could have been avoid if you were just open and honest about your food allergies.

Be confident and proud of your food allergies! After all, they are a part of you and help make you the amazing person you are! Tell them about your food allergies, how serious they are, where you can eat comfortably and anything else that makes you feel safe. It’s better to be upfront honest with them rather than misguiding in order to appear easy-going or not too picky.  Chances are they’ll understand, listen and heck, even care about your allergies and safety! And if they don’t care or try to help, they’re really not worth dating in the first place, are they? Valentine’s Day can be romantic, fun, exciting, or anything you want it to be. The butterflies in your stomach or nerves at the table should come from harmless first date jitters and attraction, not the food on your plate. Telling new people about your food allergies can be tough and even scary sometimes. But the weight you’ll feel when it’s lifted off your shoulders is immense, and it’ll leave the rest of your evening open to discussing similar interests, sharing candid smiles and enjoying one seriously romantic evening. After all, your allergies are a part of you, and you want someone to love you for who you really are.

-Arianne.K

Travelling in the Winter with Allergies

When people travel in the winter, most of them head to somewhere warm like Florida, Jamaica, or Mexico. I’ve always been the odd one out – I’ve never been interested in going somewhere warm and relaxing on a beach. I moved to Finland when I was 19 and spent a year living in its lovely northern coolness, preferring the forest hikes and rocky ground over a sandy beach. The winter was another realm of newness for me, where the sun disappeared for three months and the country became a bit less lively. Naturally, this meant I had to explore. You know what is even better than living in a northern country during the winter? Going even further north, to its most northern region!

My friends and I went on an official exchange student tour to Levi, a small ski-resort town in Lapland. Have you seen the video floating around Facebook of glass-roofed igloos you can sleep in while watching the northern lights? That’s Lapland, and it’s every bit as beautiful in person! Instead of the glass-roofed igloos, we chose a much more affordable winter cabin to stay in, partially because they had their own kitchens and I could prepare my own food. Who knows what kind of restaurants are around in the arctic, and I found it easier to book an accommodation with a kitchen than to try and contact restaurants in advance.  I had heard from friends who had gone to Lapland previously that food in grocery stores is expensive there, so I packed some extra food from the south to take with me. I also packed my own dish soap and sponges for the kitchen, so I didn’t have to worry about finding any there once we arrived if the cabin didn’t have any. We found a grocery store to get some fresh produce, but otherwise I had brought precooked meals and snacks with me.

While there, I managed to find a restaurant that was amazing for the management of my food allergies (peanuts and soy). There aren’t many choices for restaurants in Levi, and most of them serve similar dishes to one another, so I wasn’t holding my breath on being able to eat out (hence why I packed so much food). My friend and I were able to find a locally-supplied reindeer restaurant, where all of the dishes featured some component of reindeer. I really wanted to try reindeer, since I knew there was a low-risk of a reaction for me and it was locally sourced. The waitress and chef were knowledgeable about food allergies and the waitress was able to translate my questions into Finnish to make sure the chef understood. In the future, I’ve made sure to travel with translation cards, but at the time, I fully trusted this chef’s knowledge of food allergies and the waitress’s translations. My friend and I split a massive reindeer burger, and I didn’t have a reaction! Allergy win!

Because the local culture relies so heavily on the wild reindeer, a lot of the tourist activities have to do with reindeer in some way. I went on a reindeer safari with a friend, where we were in a sled led by a reindeer. Afterwards, the reindeer’s owner brought us to her cabin for a warm drink and some cookies. She grabbed a fresh package of cookies for me, to minimize cross contamination, and since they were cookies I had eaten before and had checked the ingredients on, I was okay with eating them from a new package. We also went to a museum that had an outdoor reindeer park, where you could feed reindeer! The owners of the reindeer could confirm the feed for the reindeer was safe for me to handle, as it was just dried moss, but offered me a pair of plastic gloves to put over my own gloves if it would make me feel better. I fed a lot of reindeer, and I’m not sure if they were more excited to be fed or if I was more excited to feed them (see the photo? Not sure who is more excited). Overall, the week was fun and reaction free, and totally worth the little bit of stress that packing extra food caused.

 

In addition to Lapland, I’ve also travelled to Iceland during the middle of February. Preparing for that trip was a bit different, because I was going with a friend who is a Type 1 Diabetic who had never travelled before, and we needed to make sure we planned our excursions with her eating times in mind. The flights we found were such a good deal, so we couldn’t pass them up. We made a schedule for our tours, packed a bunch of easy-to-prep meals and snacks we could take with us during tours, found a small Airbnb© apartment with a kitchen, researched some restaurants that had nutrition information for her and allergen information for me, and headed over to Reykjavik for three days.

Once we got there, everything we had planned fell apart. Iceland experienced the worst storm it had had in 100 years, every road in the country was closed for two days, two of three tours were cancelled, buses couldn’t get driven on the hills within Reykjavik, buses to the Blue Lagoon fell completely off the roads, grocery stores were running low on supplies, emergency services couldn’t get anywhere in the country …you get the idea. The storm didn’t stop for the entire three days we were there and the snow was past my waist when we left.

Thankfully we had packed a suitcase full of food for ourselves, so I didn’t need to worry about a reaction to a new food or us not having enough food for my diabetic friend. We had researched restaurants beforehand, so we knew exactly where to go in Reykjavik if we ran out of food at the apartment. Allergies or weather, nothing held me back from visiting Iceland’s Viking-age longhouses! It’s a truly beautiful country, and we got to experience it in a unique blanket of snow not many people will ever experience. We even found some nice Icelandic dogs to pet!

Even when you have a perfectly planned trip, things can go sideways. Usually it’s not the-worst-storm-in-a-century type of issue, but being prepared, having an open mind, and having a backup plan is key. My advice is to bring extra food no matter where you’re going (sunny or snowy!), have a clear idea of what you will need to do in an emergency, make sure you have valid travel insurance that covers food allergies, and make sure you have extra supplies of whatever medication you may need during your trip. If you’re going somewhere cold in the winter, make sure you have somewhere to store your auto injectors so they don’t freeze up. If you haven’t gone somewhere extra snowy during the winter months, I highly recommend it. Beaches are nice, but reindeer are nicer!

-Danielle B.

 

 

Adventuring with an Allergy

I love camping.

Not the kind where you drive your car to a busy park, with running water and giant RVs. I love the kind of camping where you stuff 5 days of food into a bag, with a tent and a compass, and take your canoe out into the wilderness.

This past fall I tried my first solo camping trip! I took a rented canoe, my dog, and headed out for five days in the backcountry. No electricity, no communication, nothing.

I was paddling along a gorgeous, calm lake, I had the whole place to myself, when it occurred to me that if anything happened I would be totally alone. Camping can be dangerous I guess. Then a second thought occurred to me, what if the last person who rented this canoe was eating peanuts? Are my hands covered in peanut residue? Is that even a thing?

In the city, I find I can easily forget about my allergy. It’s second nature to avoid certain restaurants and groceries, I wash my hands often and I know where the nearest hospital is. But out there in the woods I had a new challenge, could I do this on my own? Was I missing risks that I would never encounter at home?

Luckily for me this thought, like all others, was short lived and I was able to get back to enjoying the solitude, and majesty of nature. For me this was a great reminder about life lines and vigilance. It’s easy to take my safety for granted, but it’s never a given. For me to enjoy these adventures I have to spend a little time in advance getting ready. I talked to a pharmacist and my doctor, and made sure I was prepared for an emergency. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure.

If I’m being honest, I did get a little paranoid and washed my canoe paddle at my first camp site, so I didn’t have to think about it anymore.

Having a food allergy is never going to stop me from having adventures. This trip with my dog was one of the most peaceful weeks I’ve ever experienced.

If you want to have a great time, don’t let an allergy stop you. Prepare in advance and get out there and enjoy!

– Jason B.

 

 

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.

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