Category Archives: Communication

Halloween as an Adult with Food Allergies

Jack O' Lantern on leaves in the woods

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up, eat candy, and go out. I feel like it’s the one time of the year where you can let you inner child out and just simply “be” whatever you want. I feel like with allergies, though, Halloween can bring a whole storm of worries and concerns. When I was growing up and I went trick-or-treating, it would take forever to look through every single piece of candy in my bag and audit whether or not the candy was safe for me to eat. At the end of the night, I would have two piles; one pile of candy I could eat, and one pile of candy I couldn’t eat and would give to my neighbour. As an adult though, Halloween is so different. It’s one of the biggest nights of the year to go out. Don’t think that just because you’re not trick-or-treating anymore that you can let your guard down. Follow these tips to ensure a healthy happy Halloween this year:

  • Always carry your EpiPen® on you – just in case anything happens, you want to be prepared.
  • Only consume beverages and food where you know the ingredients – If you don’t know what’s in the green juice your friends are passing around, don’t drink it. Last Halloween, I went to a bar and ordered a vodka tonic. When I received the drink, it was blue. I told the bartender that he had given me the wrong order, but then he informed me that he had “spiced” up my drink by adding a blue liquor and gin to the vodka to make it more special. I’m allergic to gin. If I had decided to not ask questions and to just drink the beverage that was given to me, I would’ve put myself in a very scary situation.
  • Don’t drink too much! I always make sure that I never drink myself to the point of intoxication. When I see my friends after nights that we’ve gone out and tell me that they literally don’t remember the night, it scares me. What if that happened to me and I just happened to ingest an allergen not thinking about the consequences? It’s just not a situation you want to put yourself in.

Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and you can stay safe and still have fun with allergies. Now, I’m off to go figure out my Halloween costume this year and make my plans!

Happy Halloween,

– Giulia C.

Advertisements

My Favourite Restaurant: T-Bar NYC

I love to travel to New York – whether it be for business or pleasure, there is a magical and electric element about the city that you cannot experience anywhere else in the world. In the past year, I’ve had to travel to the city, specifically for business. One of the difficulties with travelling to the Big Apple, is the fact that most hotels do not have kitchens. In fact, most native New Yorkers eat-out very frequently. This poses some issues to those of us in the severe food allergy community, where eating-out can be a potentially dangerous experience. Having lived with the risk for an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts for the past decade, I found myself in this position on one of my most recent trips to the city.

While in Manhattan, I researched “nut-free restaurants in New York” on Google, and stumbled across a restaurant called T-Bar: an upscale, modern restaurant on the Upper-East side. I was very eager to try this new place out, given that nut-free restaurants in Toronto are a definite rarity.

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order

When I arrived, I was greeted by a team of very friendly staff who assured me that my meal would be completely nut-free. I was ecstatic! So much so, that I ordered the left-side of the menu; everything from fried-artichokes, to fresh breadsticks, to an entire pizza. In short, the food along with the overall ambiance of the place was amazing. The restaurant is quintessentially New York – elegant, classy, modern and buzzing with activity.

Further, my experience at T-Bar was the best I’ve ever had in any restaurant in a very long time. The restaurant has now become a staple during my trips to New York – if you visit the city, definitely give this restaurant a try!

If you’re looking for more options, a college student has created a blog finding allergy-friendly places in New York City. Check it out at https://nutfreenewyork.com/

– Saverio M.

My Backpacking Experience

This spring my best friend and I graduated university, and decided to celebrate by buying oversized backpacks and booking plane tickets to Europe for a month long adventure. It was a whirlwind! We visited 12 towns throughout 6 countries in just 28 days, but it was definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Most of my family was very supportive of my plans to take off and explore, but I did see some hesitation from my dad. Being two young girls travelling on our own, I do get where he was coming from, but it turns out that he was most concerned about my food allergies. Being in such unfamiliar places, with language barriers, made him nervous.

This wasn’t my first trip to Europe, so I was fairly confident in being able to keep myself safe, but there were still a lot of unknowns. I am glad I didn’t let this hold me back! I had an amazing trip and felt safe when I was eating abroad with my food allergies. If you’re planning on backpacking abroad I have a few words of advice on how to keep yourself safe.

Preparing to Take Off
More than any other flight I had been on, I was very selective of the airline I chose for my transatlantic flight. Being a very long flight, I made sure I was going to be comfortable with the food allergy policies of the airline. It is great to see that there are many Canadian airlines that no longer serve peanuts or tree nuts on-board, and are accommodating by creating buffer zones and making cabin announcements about food allergies. I made sure to call ahead and confirm the policies so that I would be comfortable.
Airplane seat and window inside an aircraft

Before leaving I had food allergy cards made by a friend who was able to translate that I have life-threatening food allergies. These really ended up coming in handy in a few situations. I found that free online translation websites were typically not accurate so having a friend who speaks French and Italian was very helpful. There are a few sites online that have pre-made allergy cards that you can order, which is very useful. I would highly recommend doing this.

It is also a good idea to stock up on any medications you might need before you go. This may seem excessive, but I brought five EpiPens® with me. I kept two in my friend’s bag in case my bag was lost, two in my purse, and a spare in my luggage. I would not want to have to deal with replacing lost EpiPens® while abroad, so I over prepared.

Accommodations
For our month long journey, hostels were our places to stay because they are economical and a great way to meet other travellers. Also, to my surprise staying in hostels was quite helpful allergy-wise. The majority of hostels have a full-shared kitchen. With this, we were able to cook a lot of our meals and that way I had control over what I was eating. Being a shared kitchen, I did have to be careful about what was going on around me. I always washed dishes before I used them, since dishes were often not cleaned well and I did not know what they were used for before they were put away. Eating-in was also helpful in keeping to our budget and being able to have healthy meals more often.
Renting apartments or condos can also be a great economical option in Europe. This generally provides you with a kitchen allowing you to cook your own meals.

Eating Out
My trip began by travelling through the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. English is well spoken in these areas so it was nice to start our trip without the language barrier. Before our departure, many people had told me that food allergies are far less common in Europe compared to North America, and that it would be challenging to explain the concept to servers. To my surprise, when we went to order at our first restaurant in London, after mentioning I had allergies, the server returned with a full food allergy guide outlining the presence of allergens in all of their meals. I was amazed to find that this was only the start of finding food allergy menus at every single restaurant I went to in these countries. Many restaurants would even have a coded system at the end of their main menu so I would not even have to ask for a special menu. I was thrilled by how easy this made dining out for me and this lessened my worries. I still took the time to explain my food allergies to servers and ensured that they would relay the message to the kitchen.

Once I arrived in Paris, eating out became a little more challenging. First of all, I faced a language barrier since my French vocabulary is very minimal. At most restaurants servers would speak English but I still used my allergy cards to ensure that we were on the same page. Allergy menus were also far less common here, but the servers were generally able to suggest what my safest options were. The only time I really had difficulties was a night we ate at a true, authentic, off-the-beaten-path French restaurant. Luckily, one of the friends we had made along the way, who was out for dinner with us, was very fluent in French and able to help communicate for me.

finger on a menu

The most shocking experience I had related to my food allergies throughout the trip happened when we arrived in Venice and picked a cute little Italian restaurant to eat at on one of the many canals. I was so excited to have my first true Italian pizza, until I looked at the menu, which did have a coded system, indicating that every single dish contained peanuts. I later learned that it is common in Venice for some restaurants to use peanut oils or peanut-based flours in their pizza and pasta. I had never heard of this before and was worried at that point that I would not be able to find any food that I could eat. Luckily during my time in Italy, there was only one other restaurant I found that did this and all others were safe, but this is something to definitely be on the look out for in your travels.

Overall, I had a great experience backpacking throughout Europe this past spring. Do not let your food allergies hold you back from exploring the world. Do your research, be prepared, and have fun!

– Sara 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.