Travel by Map: Road Trips with Food Allergies

You’ve got the perfect playlist queued full of your favourite songs. Your car is full of friends, a full tank of gas, and your destination is loaded up into your GPS. You’re ready to hit the open road and see all that this great country has to offer. Since you have a food allergy you’ve probably packed a cooler full of food and plenty of snacks to fill those long road cravings.  Planning ahead and being cautious comes with the territory of having a food allergy regardless of your location.

But, what if your car companions (and even you) want something warm, delicious and not consumed in a moving vehicle? Where do you stop and how do you tell people you’re traveling with about your food allergies? It can be a tricky subject no matter what the circumstances. Small town diners and roadside stops can be quaint, kitschy, and you can find some really great food and drinks in these mom and pop gems. With a food allergy, it can be challenging going somewhere new without planning ahead such as having the ability to research, or call and discuss your allergy with the food preparation staff. As adults with food allergies, our goal is to always be prepared and informed but sometimes on a road trip we just can’t plan our meals ahead like that on the road. So, what do we do? Ultimately, it’s up to you and whatever you feel the most comfortable with, but I personally jump between two ideas depending on various things.

One: You can bring your own food for the whole trip. Eat before or after you stop and only have drinks you’re familiar with when stopping at a restaurant. Never feel pressured or forced to eat somewhere you don’t feel comfortable. Just because everyone else is eating doesn’t mean you have to. You can still have fun and enjoy yourself without food. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment or excitement of travelling and forget to take your allergies as seriously as you do at home. Always consider your comfort level and what makes you feel safe.

Two: What if you’re swayed to try some local cuisines?  Since you don’t always know where you’re going, you can’t always make a reservation or talk to a chef in advance, but there are still some pre-emptive measures you can take. Call ahead to a few places along your route, read their menus online, or ask other food allergy travellers for their advice. Just because you don’t have a set plan, doesn’t mean you can’t map out potential safe places to eat, locations of where to buy safe snacks, etc. Take the precautions you can, prepare safe food, pack multiple auto-injectors and see what you’re comfortable with when it comes to eating in new places.  Ask the right questions and inquire about cross-contamination or any other questions you’d normally ask at any restaurant. Just because you’re in a new city or different province/state doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the same precautions that you always take.

On the road with the wind in your hair and adventure in front of you, you obviously don’t want your allergies to be a constant distraction, but they sometimes make us put up a guard, ask tough questions, and make sacrifices when we’re travelling. This doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time or participate in any activity, it just means we have to think and a plan a little more beforehand in order to ensure our safety.

It’s easy to feel like you’re letting your travel companions down or ruining the spontaneity of the trip by having a list of safe places to eat or having a cooler full of food. When you’re away from home and your comfort zone, it’s easy to slide into a dark place full of anxiety and worry; but you should feel confident in telling yourself and everyone around you when you don’t feel comfortable or safe. Save the spontaneous actions for a random beach visit or souvenir, not the food you’re eating. A road trip with friends is an amazing bonding experience and a wonderful way to see the small gems of the world, now get out there and explore!

– Arianne K.

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Exploring What Not to Do During a Reaction

“Hey guys, can you help me figure something out?”

Four of my friends were sitting at the kitchen table and looked up from the card game to give me quizzical glances before returning their attention to the cards in their hands. Between the drinks, cigars, and fun we were having it was hard to get their attention.

“OK, let me be more clear” I said as I lifted up my t-shirt. This of course got their attention as they wondered what the heck I was going on about. “Do these look like hives on my chest?”

I’d been deliberating this very question over the past 45 minutes or so. I had a huge rash and was concerned as I’d experienced a couple anaphylactic reactions in the past.

The questioning looks from the group became concerned and sober in a flash. Suddenly everyone was deliberating like a group of experts trying to unravel a political controversy.

“Well, your skin is red but I think hives would be more raised.”

“It’s definitely hives, what else could it be?”

“It can’t be hives, we weren’t even eating!”

After a few minutes, and a clear progression of a red rash across my chest, we decided it would be prudent to act, just in case. This moment is where I think we all collectively made our biggest mistake. This is a moment I’d like to draw your attention to, because I’ve been here more than once, and I’ve messed it up more than once as well. In this moment we decided that I was probably having an allergic reaction, but we failed to act in any meaningful way.

In a panic we quickly tried to figure out who was able to drive to a hospital. This was a short conversation:

“Well, I’m drunk and I’m having the reaction, I can’t drive”

“I’m drunk too”

“Me too”

“Dammit”

And that was that. Here we decided to take a different tactic and call a nurse hotline, the kind you call to figure out if you should go to a doctor when you have a cough. The nurse seemed shocked and frustrated that I was even speaking with her.

“Take your auto-injector and get in a bloody ambulance! What the heck are you waiting for?” She even patched me through to the emergency 9-1-1 line.

By now we’d wasted close to 15 minutes on top of the 45 minutes I wasted keeping the hives to myself. This is critical time when a life-threatening reaction is upon you. This is the moment when we got the train back on track so to speak.

While one of the guys spoke to the ambulance dispatcher I took a dose from my auto-injector. My legs began to shake dramatically but it was a fair trade as my symptoms began to stabilize a little as well. This is what I should have done an hour before when I first noticed the hives. It’s also what I should have done when my friends correctly identified my hives.

We were staying at a cottage in the Muskoka area in Ontario, so the ambulance took nearly an hour to arrive. Even then the paramedics told us that they would normally have been much longer but random chance had them driving from a different district at exactly the right moment to pull onto a highway and come to us. For those keeping track this means about 2 hours passed between the appearance of my symptoms and the arrival of medical intervention.

In the end I made it to the hospital and lived to tell the story. But to be sure it is luck that allowed this, not my response.

Like many others before me, I wasted so much time deciding whether I was in danger that I, in fact, put myself in much greater danger. An important detail that I have so far left out is that this was my bachelor party! Imagine what my wife said to me when I relayed this story! You can bet it was quite the tongue lashing I received.

The moral of this story is simple: Don’t waste time.

By the time we called an ambulance I’d known about my reaction for over an hour. First, I tried to keep it to myself so that I didn’t ruin the party. Then we collectively tried to convince ourselves that everything would be just fine as it was. Finally, we made the right decision, but only after a tele-scolding from a nurse.

Like me, if you experience an allergic reaction, you are likely to experience denial. But unlike me you now have an opportunity to learn from my mistake before it happens to you. It may feel wrong at the time but the best thing you can do to save a party is come clean and deal with the reaction and ask others for help. It may feel like a bummer but imagine how your friends will feel if you wait until the reaction is much worse.

You can be smarter than I was. Prepare now for that ultimate decision, that way if it happens to you then you can act swiftly. Know the symptoms of a reaction and decide right now how you will act if you notice them.

Trust me, the party is more fun with you alive and well!

– Jason B.

Guest Blog: Treat Allergies Seriously, Even in the Movies

The community of food allergy advocates has erupted in outrage over a scene in the movie “Peter Rabbit”, released in February, 2018. In the scene, a rabbit escapes from a man who is severely allergic to blackberries by throwing his allergen at him, resulting in an anaphylactic reaction. Many viewers were concerned that kids would copy this behaviour, whether as bullies or in jest, with life-threatening consequences for those with severe food allergies. There were also questions as to why the scene had even made the cut, given its upsetting content.

As an adult, I’m grateful I don’t have to worry about a school bully capitalizing on my food allergy. However, I was sad to see how many people thought portraying an allergy and anaphylaxis like this wasn’t a big deal, or who thought viewers were being oversensitive. This reflects the struggles I’ve experienced when explaining the nature of my allergy to other adults. I always try to stress how serious it is, especially when asking for accommodation that affects those around me. Unfortunately, some interpret these requests as asking for special treatment or attention. Even worse, some ignore them altogether.

The bottom line is that allergens are a serious physical threat to those with food allergies. They should never be used as weapons or to threaten others, no matter how casually, even in a movie. Furthermore, no one who has allergies is using them for attention or special treatment. We require accommodation that may inconvenience others sometimes, but this accommodation is ultimately necessary for our safety.

Personally, I find the scene in Peter Rabbit to be in poor taste (no pun intended). However, it sparked great public discussion about food allergies and anaphylaxis that may have reached more people than the actual movie itself. Hopefully in the end this discussion will benefit people living with allergies.

  • Agnes S.

Skiing with Allergies

Downhill skiing attracts those from all ages to ski hills and resorts during the winter months to enjoy the thrill of “carving pow” and enjoying time with friends and family, sipping hot chocolate in the chalet après ski. Downhill skiing also boasts health benefits, with moderate skiing burning approximately 400 calories per hour, increasing aerobic capacity, and improving leg strength and core stability. However, it is important to recognize some risks of skiing with allergies.

Remote locations

Ski hills are often located in exciting and remote locations, often a few hours from hospital facilities. Many ski hills and resorts can be situated near local hospitals, or even major health centres, but on a mountain, it may take time to get down to transportation. There are locations on the mountain that lend themselves to further isolation, such as chairlifts and gondolas. Often times you can find a skier having a bite of a snack on the chairlift or in the gondola while enjoying the wondrous mountain views. An allergic reaction in this situation, albeit rare, may be tricky. Furthermore, the best ski conditions are during or after heavy snow falls, so prime skiing may involve a treacherous drive to the closest emergency facility. In 2012, a news reporter Gemma Morris suffered an anaphylactic reaction at the chalet of a European ski resort and was transported to hospital where she spent 24 hours in the intensive care unit (Daily Mail). Thankfully the weather was clear, but a snowstorm in this situation may have impeded Morris’ travel to hospital and possibly worsened her care. Knowing how long it might take get to a local hospital will definitely keep your mind at ease while enjoying some exciting skiing or snowboarding after a fresh, crisp snowfall.

Health Facilities

It can be good to know that some ski hills do house physicians on site. Larger resorts often have medical centres where physicians or nurses are able to diagnose and treat skier and snowboarder ailments, such as broken limbs, and even help treat allergic reactions. However, some patients may need definitive care at a local hospital. Knowing the resort’s medical facilities in advance can also help ease the stress of being in a relatively remote location.

Extended stays

Ski and snowboard trips often extend for a few days, so it’s important to understand the implications of an allergic reaction on the ski hill. Let me put forth an example where a young male skier suffers an anaphylactic reaction on day one of a three-day vacation. He is taken to the medical facility on the mountain where he is treated, observed, and then safely discharged. There may be considerable anxiety about having another reaction, especially if the first one occurred accidentally at one of the chalets or restaurants. It might be a good plan to bring some safe food that you know is allergy friendly in the event that options may be limited at the mountain. This is also why it is important to take a few minutes and either call or research the food options at the mountain before departing.

My story

I am an adult with several life-threatening food allergies and I enjoy skiing. I live about 2 hours from a large, Canadian ski resort, but the first time I was planning to venture up the mountain I was scared of an allergic reaction on the ski hill. The hill is remote. What if a reaction happened while skiing after a snack and I crashed? What if it happened while snacking in the gondola up the mountain? I listened to some advice from a friend, brought extra food which I knew was safe, made sure to pack two auto-injectors in my jacket and not forget them in the car or in my backpack, and researched how far away the nearest hospital was (including a print-out of directions to the hospital). The first time I visited the hill and skied, I was anxious, but after some brief but important preparation, I had a blast! I skied there 16 times that winter, and this winter I’ve been back for more wide turns, fresh powder, and allergy safe hot chocolate! Shred the pow!

– Fraser K.

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

Valentine’s Treats for All!

Because I love you all so much, I thought I’d share my top 5 favourite treats. These have been heavily adapted from various sources so that they are safe from: eggs, milk, mustard, peanuts, crustaceans and molluscs, fish, sesame seeds, soy, sulphites, tree Nuts, wheat and triticale. They should also be dairy-safe, gluten-safe, and, depending on the type of safe butter or milk you use, vegan. Please feel free to comment below if you need ideas on how to adapt them to make them safe for other allergies too!

  1. Fried Granola

No time? This takes less than 14 minutes.

Simply melt over medium heat:

3 Tbsp coconut oil or butter alternative

¼ cup (c) raw sugar or sulphite-free brown sugar

         Then add and brown:

2 cups of Gluten-Free (GF) oats or puffed rice

½ c optional toppings (chocolate chips, coconut, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit etc.)

Serve with your favourite allergen-friendly milk.

  1. Tapioca Gummies

You’ll need silicone candy moulds for these, and a bit of time, but they’re well worth the effort! Mix together:

1 ½ c tapioca starch

 ½ c coconut flour or rice flour

½ c white sugar

1 can of coconut milk

 ½ c of allergen friendly milk

This will make a goopy liquid. Split it into plastic bags, and add flavourings or colour as desired.

Pour it into the moulds in thin layers, about 1/8” at a time. Steam them for 2-3 minutes, then add the next layer and repeat. Different colours/flavours can be put into the gummies as you’d like. Once the mould is full, steam an extra 2 minutes, then chill for at least 30 minutes before removing from the mould. If they’re not coming out peacefully, freeze them 10 minutes before removing from moulds. These last about a week, and are even better if dipped in chocolate.

  1. Coconut Macaroons

Preheat oven to 350°F, and prepare a silicone cookie sheet (or a greased cookie sheet)

Blend 3 cups of shredded sulphite-safe coconut, until it is not quite butter.

Mix in 2 Tbsp of thick syrup (Like golden syrup, rice syrup, or agave syrup)

Using a round tablespoon, pack firmly and lay on a cookie sheet. Silicone or parchment paper helps.

Brush with ½ Tbsp melted coconut oil or butter alternative, and bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

Dip into melted chocolate if desired.

  1. Pizza

Haven’t found a pizzeria that caters to your allergens yet? Make some of your own!

Crust:    In an insulated mug, mix:

1 Tbsp dry yeast

1 Tbsp sugar or honey

 2/3 c lukewarm water

Once the yeast is frothing up to the top of the mug, combine it slowly with:

1 ½ c GF all-purpose flour (Or ½ c tapioca starch, ½ c GF oat flour, ½ c rice flour)

 ¼ tsp salt

Oil the inside of a large zippered plastic bag, and add your dough.

Leave it somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size- this will even work under your shirt if you don’t poke it.

Knead again until smooth.

Press onto pizza pan, add toppings, and bake at 350°F for 20-30 mins.

Topping Ideas:   Can’t eat tomato sauce?

Blend equal parts cooked sweet potato and beets with a dash of rice vinegar. Or try just using mashed butternut squash!

No cheese?

I had a hard time finding safe allergen-friendly cheese for me, so I used to make a roux. I would melt allergy safe butter, add GF flours (rice or oat works well, but if you add tapioca starch too it gets stretchy!), then add allergy safe milk.

  1. Tempered Chocolate

Once you have finally found allergen-friendly chocolate, the secret to making any chocolate-based Valentine’s treat for your sweetheart is to temper the chocolate first. Once that is done, you can pour it into a chocolate mould (silicone makes it easy to get it out again!) and make truffles, or simply draw chocolate on wax paper and freeze it. You’ll need a candy thermometer, and you can either use an electric fondue pot or a double boiler for the melting.

  1. Heat half of your allergen-friendly chocolate chips to between 110°F and 115°F
  2. Add extra chocolate until the chocolate cools down to 80°F-84°F
  3. Carefully increase the heat until the chocolate is 88°F-91°F. Keep it there, and use the chocolate for dipping, pouring, moulding, etc.
  4. Extra chocolate left over can be frozen, chipped off the pot, and then re-used later… If it lasts that long.

May your Valentine’s Day be safe and enjoyable!

-Janice H.

Tips and Tricks to Travelling with Allergies

From bag-checking and unexplained delays to getting lost in Paris’s extremely complicated transit system and your Airbnb © host cancelling your reservation 24 hours before you’re set to arrive, travelling can be a huge hassle. If you’re living with an allergy, travelling can raise health concerns that other people would never have to even think about before boarding a plane or packing for an adventure. Your allergies, however, shouldn’t prevent you from travelling. You can take steps to minimize your risk of having an allergic reaction while on your once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Before travelling, regardless of whether you’re going just south of the Canadian border or you are flying 12 hours across the Atlantic, you need to be prepared. Preparing in advance before travelling will make a positive difference in your allergy travel experience. Here are some allergy travel tips and tricks that you can follow to minimize risks:

1) Do your research beforehand – Find out about potential encounters with allergens at your destination before you leave. This can prevent potentially adverse reactions. If you’re allergic to peanuts, find out which local dishes could potentially contain them or could be cooked nearby. For example, the research I did before I travelled to Italy taught me that peanut oil is one-third the price of any other type of oil. This makes restaurants and bars much more likely to use peanut oil just to cut costs and save money. Knowing this, I knew that eating out in Italy would be particularly challenging for myself.

2) Get a kitchen when travellingAirbnb © saved me in Costa Rica in dodging fish and shellfish. Not only was getting a place with a kitchen a better alternative for me and my allergies, but my friends and I also saved a ton of money by cooking in our apartment. I also had much more peace of mind when I was cooking my own meals. The best part about cooking while travelling: finding a good grocery store! Going into town and grocery shopping with the locals is one of the coolest experiences because you’re literally engrossed in the everyday culture.

3) Pack protein bars & snacks Believe it or not, my carry-on bag is reserved almost exclusively for packing snacks/protein bars for my trip. Bringing your own snacks gives you options if you feel like you need a quick midday snack without hassle. Snacks are also great for when you return from a long day of travelling or hanging by the pool and you feel like munching on something comforting from home. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve craved my favourite chips and chocolate bars when relaxing on the beach.

4) Check epinephrine expiry dates – Bring multiple epinephrine auto-injectors when travelling. Check expiry dates well in advance leaving you time to get new ones before you depart. You do not want to travel with expired epinephrine auto-injectors!

5) Call your airline before your flight – Alert your airline before getting on a plane about your allergies. Some airlines hand out complimentary peanut/nut snacks to passengers while flying, so it’s important to alert the attendants of your allergies beforehand, and become familiar with their allergy policies in advance.

6) Alert others about your allergy – Always travel with a buddy and make sure your buddy is aware of your allergies before travelling with them. When I’m travelling with friends or family, I make sure every person I’m travelling with is trained on how to use my EpiPen®.

7) Translate common words for your allergy before dining out – Do you know how to say egg in Spanish? Peanut in Italian? Shellfish in French? Knowing the words for your allergens in the language of the country you’re travelling will make it easier to identify potential allergens on menus.

8) Bring allergy cards in the language of the country you are travelling to – If travelling somewhere where you can’t easily communicate and can’t speak the language, it’s important to bring allergy cards identifying your allergens in the language of the country your travelling to. Give this to your waiter as soon as you arrive at the restaurant, and the card will usually do a much better job at explaining your allergies than you could ever do. I’ve literally watched my waiters read my card with the widest eyes, and then ask me if they can keep it so that they can show all their managers and co-workers because it’s literally the wildest thing they’ve ever seen. Tip: bring multiple cards!

So there you have it folks, some tips and tricks to travelling as stress-free as possible with food allergies. Though these tips are supposed to minimize risks, accidents can still happen so it’s important to be prepared with a game plan in case you do have an allergic reaction. Write down the emergency number of the country you’re staying in and research the closest hospital. I want you to be as prepared as possible whether something does or does not happen. Happy travelling!

– Giulia C.

 

By Food Allergy Canada