Travelling to Africa with Food Allergies

Africa is an incredible continent, one which I have had the pleasure to visit several times now. I first went to South Africa in 2004, and then visited Angola in 2009 via Namibia. In 2010, my parents moved to Angola, so I decided to go back for a surprise visit in 2014. It was a pretty epic adventure, not only because I wanted to keep my very social parents out of the loop… but also because it was to be my first international trip with new severe food allergies. It seemed impossible at first, travelling at all, and especially with the added element of surprise. I wasn’t even sure my parents would be home, since they travel frequently…Map of Africa - Tristan da Cunha

But looking back, the look on my father’s face was WELL worth it. The planning, getting a visa, calling airlines… all the logistics worked out. So how did I pull it off? Well, here are my tips for travelling to Africa:

1. Bring Emergency Food!
If you’re travelling in a more developed/stable country, like South Africa, Namibia, Egypt, or Morocco… chances are that the local grocery stores will have some food you can make from scratch. You might even find specialty allergy safe food, but be sure to call the company: Each country has different labelling laws so the definition of “gluten free” (for example) might change from place to place.

If you’re more likely shopping at the local market, bring your specialty food with you from your home country. I found it very helpful to have dehydrated/ freeze dried meals with me, but I had to leave a bunch at home when I realized that dairy and meat are completely forbidden to travel through the UK. Those were particularly useful on board aircraft, and when I was camping, but that’s a story for another time.

2. Allergy Card
Many of us with allergies know how helpful it is to carry a card with your allergens that you can hand out at restaurants. I designed mine to be a double-sided business card with both English and Portuguese (the main language in Angola). I also added pictures in order to try and minimize misunderstandings, and to prevent a lack of literacy from being a problem.

3. Travel Insurance
If you’re going to Africa… buy travel insurance. Even before I had severe allergies, having travel insurance saved me thousands of dollars in change fees when the airlines changed the locations of my flights. But with severe allergies, travel insurance gave me peace of mind that I would have medical coverage while overseas, should an emergency take place. Medical care can be limited in Africa, and more severe cases are referred out of country, so having a plan to pay for those emergency transportations is key!

One of my favourite food-related moments was in Luanda, on the way home. My father came with me so as to maximize spending time with me, and we spent a few lovely nights being treated like royalty by one of his friends, Etienne. Etienne took us to some fabulous restaurants (where my allergy card came in handy), and then put us up in his guest house, complete with a private chef! It happened that she (the chef) had family members with allergies, so it was such a high note to end my trip there! She was able to accommodate all of my allergies, and her personal attention was very much appreciated.

Pride of Lions

All in all, the trip was a huge success, and while I have developed even more allergens since then, I have already started planning my next trip. It might not be until 2020… but I’m determined to make it happen! Have you ever travelled to Africa with a food allergy? Let me know your experience by commenting below!

-Janice H.

Summer of TAG 2017: Join race car driver Alex Tagliani in raising awareness of food allergies

This summer, join Canadian race car star Alex Tagliani in the Summer of TAG 2017, as he races across Canada and helps to raise awareness about food allergies and the importance of educating others along the way! Through this joint initiative, undertaken by Alex and Food Allergy Canada, with the support of Pfizer Canada (Canadian distributor of EpiPen®), Alex hopes to reach Canadians from coast-to-coast.

This year marks the 5th anniversary of the Summer of TAG, help us make it a year to remember by participating in some key activities planned this summer.

How you can be involved

  • Participate in the Drive the Discussion contest – Help raise awareness of food allergies by posting your favourite food allergy tip on our site to be entered to win one of five weekly prizes and a grand prize from Lowe’s/RONA. Value of up to $500 for the weekly prizes and $2,500 for the grand prize. Contest closes on August 20, 2017.
    Thank you to Lowe’s Canada for their generosity in donating these prizes for the contest!
  • Attend a race – Cheer Alex on at his races across Canada and help to promote food allergy awareness with him.
  • Check out Alex’s top 10 list and share with others – Alex provides his advice for having a safe and fun summer.

Webinar: Managing food allergy in college/university

June 25 @ 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm EDT

Join us for a lively webinar led by a panel of post-secondary students with food allergies as they impart their tips and best practices for managing food allergy in college/university settings.

Details of this webinar

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  • What is the webinar about: How to navigate post-secondary school, and live safely on campus with food allergies. The panel will share their experiences, insight, and provide strategies on how youth can identify food allergy risks on campus and how to prepare accordingly.
  • Who is presenting: A panel of youth with food allergies who are currently attending post-secondary school.
  • When is the webinar: Sunday June 25, 2017 from 8pm-9pm EDT
  • Who should attend: This is a must-attend session for youth who are soon entering, or already in, post-secondary school. Parents of youth, school staff, and others who are interested in this topic are also welcome to attend.

Register today

Why All the Anti-Allergy Public Backlash?

Ah, I see you’ve met someone who isn’t entirely sympathetic or has a very archaic view of a food allergy. It doesn’t matter what point you are at in life or where you are in the world, it’s bound to happen. It’s hard not to get angry and fight fire with fire, but sometimes you have to be the bigger person, count to ten and try your best to explain.

A story: I was recently on a plane heading back to Canada after a wonderful vacation. Being the prepared person that I am, I had informed the airline of my food allergy and was allowed to board early to wipe my seat down and speak with the flight crew. As people began to board (my family included), the flight attendant came over to us and created a sort of buffer zone, informing those around me they had to refrain from ordering or eating anything with peanuts/tree nuts. Great, right? Apparently not, because not even Captain America’s shield could save me from the daggers the woman in front of me was throwing. When the flight attendants came around with the food cart an hour later she tried to order something with tree nuts and was angry when she couldn’t. She turned around and shook her head at me while muttering to herself that people like me shouldn’t fly.

So, what’s the deal with anti-allergy backlash? I’ve had my share (as I’m sure many have) of negative responses and backlash regarding my food allergies. People can be callous or have little respect when it comes to things they don’t understand or don’t want to understand. It’s not something you can control, and it’s not something you wished upon a star for, but people seem to lash out regardless. It might be the restrictions on where you can enjoy your favourite snack or what you can put in your child’s lunchbox for school that has people so upset. The reality is, parents have to deal with the very real reality that a simple food can cause serious harm. Their kids then turn into adults who are hyper aware of their food and surroundings because of this constant threat. Trust me, being an adult with a food allergy is no walk in the park. It leaves me with more questions about my food than the ending of Sixth Sense.

If I can stand on a soapbox for a second, I urge you to cast your doubt and negative feelings aside for people who have little understanding of a food allergy. I instead ask you to extend the olive branch and help them understand the seriousness of a food allergy. Implore them to put themselves in your shoes. Think of yourself at a hockey game, enjoying the rush of a crowd cheering, your favourite player skating down the ice on a breakaway, you catch your breath, not because of the shot, but because from the corner of your eye you see someone eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor. Try to imagine the very real and scary aspect of the situation. You ask kindly and respectfully that they refrain from throwing shells or eating beside you. As that person, instead of jumping straight to anger for not being able to enjoy the salty snack, try sympathy for a situation they physically can’t alter or change but you can. You have the opportunity to be the winning player in that game, there may not be a trophy or medal in the end but know that you’ll have the eternal gratitude of someone.

If you’re interested in knowing more about allergy backlash check out the articles below.

– Arianne.K

http://allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/food-allergy-backlash-grows-1/

http://allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/hot-topics-food-allergy-backlash/

How Both of my Parents Contributed to Me Being Safe and Normal Growing Up with Food Allergies

Thanks to my parents, I didn’t feel much different from others despite growing up with a food allergy. I had to take on more of a responsibility and be more cautious than others, but I was lucky enough to live a safe and normal childhood with the support and guidance of my mom and dad. Here is a list of ways both of my parents contributed to me feeling safe and normal growing up with food allergies.

  1. They educated themselves, me and those around me:

My parents educated themselves through support groups such as TAEG (Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group) to get the information and knowledge they needed to make sure I was living safely despite the dangers of my allergy. After educating themselves through their attendance at informational meetings on allergies, they passed on their new knowledge and taught me how to be responsible, cautious, and vocal about my allergies. I was very lucky to have such an amazing support system. Not only did they educate me, but they also made sure to educate those around me including my friends, my teachers, and my extended family. My allergies made me feel special in a positive way rather than in a negative way. My family and friends set safe food aside for me and always took the time to make sure I never felt left out.

  1. Safety at school:

My mother was extremely involved at my elementary school through volunteering and participating in council meetings. She helped plan events like school fairs to make sure they were allergy safe and inclusive of all allergic students and family members. She also helped organize hot lunches that were allergy safe. In addition, my mom always volunteered to be a parent organizer and supervisor on my school trips to ensure I could attend and be safe on trips to the zoo and museums, and so I wouldn’t miss out on the fun opportunity with classmates.

  1. Safety at birthday parties:

My mom attended all birthday parties that I was invited to. She would talk to the parents to see where they got the pizza, snacks, and cake. She was there to read all ingredients and to make sure I would be safe while having fun and enjoying time with my friends or family. If I couldn’t have the cake at a birthday party, my mom was always prepared and one step ahead as she always had a safe snack packed for me to enjoy at cake time.

  1. Safety at restaurants:

Growing up my parents communicated my allergies for me. At restaurants, they showed me how to communicate my allergies to the wait staff, manager, and chef. They also taught me how to look through the menu to find the safest option. When I was older, they handed the task over to me and made sure I could practice explaining my allergies with the comfort of knowing they were there to help if needed.

Despite having food allergies, I felt like a normal kid while growing up. My parents enrolled me in numerous extra-curricular activities and allowed me to go on overnight trips without them. They helped me learn how to not allow my allergies to hold me back from doing anything or going anywhere, to communicate my allergies, and to live life to the fullest despite having food allergies. Thanks mom and dad!

– Michelle D.

Be a Superhero! Cooking and Baking Without Allergens

Ever wanted to be a superhero? Recently, the heroes in my life include doctors, nurses, paramedics… and anyone willing to attempt to make food for me. It takes courage, contemplating cooking for someone with food allergies! First you have to clean EVERYTHING, and then you have to find the ingredients… and then you have to find a recipe. Usually, the recipe is where most people give up, and go and look for the store-bought replacement. Today, I wanted to give you a little inspiration in order to conquer allergens in recipes where you’re working from scratch. It’s usually cheaper, and gives you more flexibility. Be careful to stick to the trusted brands, though, and always double check food ingredients!

Step 1) Simplicity: Spices, herbs, flavourings, nuts, glazes and frostings are optional. If you can’t eat it, leave it out!

Step 2) Is the ingredient adding moisture to the recipe? Just substitute something wet… Depending on what you’re avoiding, eggs, fruit or vegetable purée, or sour cream can all add sticky moisture. Pure liquids like milk can be replaced with water, broth, or any of the dairy-free milks out there.

Step 3) Think about the chemistry! Is the recipe using an acid and a base to rise? If so, consider substituting either the acid or the base. You might have to adjust the amount of liquid to compensate. Baking powder is a combination of an acid and base, plus starch, but if you’re avoiding sulphites you may need to cut it out due to the cream of tartar.

Bases:

  • Baking Soda aka Sodium Bicarbonate
  • Baker’s Ammonia aka Ammonium Carbonate (smells bad in moisture-rich recipes, NOT to be confused with poisonous household ammonia!!!)
  • Pearl Ash aka Potassium Carbonate (very bitter, so use it only in spiced recipes like gingerbread)
  • Potassium Bicarbonate (1:1 for baking soda)

Acids: The amount of pH will affect how much you’ll need to react with your base.

  • Vinegar (White, Rice, Apple Cider, Wine, etc)
  • Citrus Juice, or Citric Acid
  • Buttermilk or Sour Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Molasses
  • Golden Syrup (aka Treacle)
  • Cream of Tartar

You could also add the leavening power of CO2 in other ways, too, including using yeast, carbonated water (or straight soda pop), whipped egg whites (if not allergic), whipped chickpea water (Take a can of chickpeas, remove chickpeas. Use like egg whites!), or chilled and whipped agar and water.

Step 4) What is making this recipe stick together? You might try using something else that’s sticky instead. Eggs can do this, but so can water + starch, pectin, gelatin, agar, ground flax, ground chia, puréed fruit or vegetables, rice, bread crumbs, or quick oats.

Step 5) Is there flour in the recipe? I used to use this recipe for all purpose GF flour: 1 cup corn starch, 1 cup potato starch, 1 cup rice flour, ½ cup tapioca starch, ½ cup corn flour, 4 tsp xantham gum (less if you’re making breads). You can usually play around with a mix of flours and starches to mimic the gluten found in wheat flour:

  • Rice (Very grainy texture. Use a blend of different types of rice, or soak it)
  • Oat
  • Quinoa
  • Almond, or other ground nut flours
  • Chickpea, or other bean flours
  • Seed flours, like ground chia or millet
  • Arrowroot
  • Corn
  • Potato
  • Soy
  • Coconut
  • Tapioca (starch)

Step 6) Is this recipe using an emulsifier? These blend things that would not normally mix, like oil and vinegar. Eggs do this, but so will some ground seeds like flax or chia!

Step 7) Is the ingredient being used for texture, taste, or colour? You might try substituting something else that has that texture or taste. Seeds work as replacements for peanuts or tree nuts. Sesame or peanut oil can be replaced with vegetable oil instead. Vegetables and fruits with similar textures can be substituted for each other- for example, carrot cake with sweet potato is pretty awesome! Soybeans can also be replaced with chickpeas or other beans. Cheese can be mimicked by adding nutritional yeast, or extra salt, or even the stickiness of starch. Shellfish could be replaced with finfish like salmon (if not allergic to finfish, course), or you could change the whole recipe and make it with poultry. For natural colours, Egg, Tumeric, Paprika, Mustard, and Saffron will make yellows or oranges. Red Cabbage, Beets, Hibiscus, and Blueberries will either make blue or green, and Yellow Onion Skins will make things orange/red, or brown. Experiment by using your favourite tea as a way to help colour your recipes.

So… Get into your kitchen! Substitute EVERYTHING! Fight the food allergies and become a cooking SUPERHERO!

– Janice

Cooking with Food Allergies

Creativity is my superpower. I grew up with an abundance of imagination, a keen desire for knowledge, and a deep seated love of all things colourful and bright. My passion for crafting occasionally borders on addiction… But cooking was my kryptonite. For many years I refused to deviate an inch from recipes. Adding recipes to my repertoire usually involved forgetting a key ingredient, mixing up the amounts, or burning those mini muffins until they resembled hockey pucks. Sigh……

It turns out the solution to unlocking my creative potential in the kitchen was developing a ridiculously long list of food allergies. The more I stayed with a few ingredients, the more I learned the basics, and the more I gained the confidence to make the attempt. Most of the time, those attempts worked. When they didn’t, they were usually still good enough to eat. Maybe I was just too stubborn and determined to waste the failures!

The first thing I learned about cooking was simplification. I’ve become addicted to 18th century cooking shows, and it has dawned on me that our ancestors ate a lot more simply than we do. With new undiagnosed allergies, the safest thing to eat involved the least number of ingredients. Did you know that you can just roast meat plain? It was really quite a shock for me to discover how many recipes actually fare pretty well without spices. Gingerbread without ginger, for example? It’s different, yes. But it’s still surprisingly close to the original, and makes a pretty good cookie!

Then I learned to plan ahead. I started cooking at night, after my housemates had gone to bed… cleaning thoroughly and then cooking a two week supply of meals and freezing them. For trips, I borrowed a dehydrator and made a whole bunch of shelf-stable meals. This summer I’ll be using my new pressure canner to free up my freezer space… It feels occasionally like planning for the zombie apocalypse. But it helps! The other day I had a 2 hour meeting that went 4 hours late… and I might have eaten my friends if I’d not had a quick and easy meal ready and waiting in my car!

Finally I learned to change it up. I may not be able to change my ingredients, but I can change the way I cook them! For example, I like to change the colour of my vegetables as often as possible. Did you know that carrots aren’t all orange, and that tomatoes aren’t all red? Most vegetables have a wide range of colours, and each colour tastes a bit different. My favourite is the purple sweet potato, though it does make an odd-looking soup! Next I like to change the shape of my food. Sometimes I’ll use cookie cutters, or cake pops… for shaping vegetables and meat. Maybe I’m a little crazy, but I like my “four-star” hamburgers! Then I’ll change the texture by varying whether things are raw, boiled, baked, fried, roasted or cooked sous-vide. Who knew raw beet greens are really good tasting? Roasted kiwi over a campfire? Almost better than marshmallows! Plus the longer you cook things, the better they taste. My brother swears by cooking sous-vide (vacuum sealed bag, boiled for over 24 hrs)… and I gotta say Easter dinner was pretty amazing as a result!

Do you have any other tips for cooking? I’d love to hear from you with a comment below!

Happy Cooking!

– Janice

By Food Allergy Canada