Tag Archives: Communication

Finding the Middle Ground

Compromise. It can be an intimidating word especially if you’re stubborn like I am. It may not be a natural skill but it is one we all need to learn, especially when we’re dealing with food allergies. Having a food allergy or knowing someone with one, we often find ourselves in situations where we need flex this skill and find the best and safest solution for your food allergy. Each day new situations arise where we need to find a sort of mediation that leaves everyone feeling satisfied. For me and my food allergies I find myself using the concept of compromise in the vein of finding alternative, but always safe solutions in regards to my food allergies in three specific situations. Pertaining to life with a food allergy, the definition of compromise is not narrowed to mean giving up or exposing yourself to dangerous situations.  It means adjusting the situation to find an outcome in which all parties are safe, comfortable and happy regarding their food allergies.

  1. So you’ve decided to bake or cook:

I have come to realize that if you didn’t grow up with food allergies or know someone with one, it can be an incredibly foreign experience, especially when baking and cooking. When cooking with a food allergy, I’m always trying to ensure my safety, whether it’s reading ingredients or ensuring my food hasn’t come into contact with any allergens (from shared utensils/foods to “may contain” labels). Extra attention needs to be taken to ensure food is safe and there is an element of compromise with this, but that doesn’t mean compromising safety in regards to your food allergies. It is important to remember that you should never cook with or ingest ingredients that contain or may contain your allergens. Substituting or compromising in this situation means finding creative solutions and ingredients (that do not contain yours or any other allergens) and finding fun ways to bake with them that ensure it is safe for all food allergies. There are so many substitutes available now to accommodate most food allergies, you’re sure to find a way to cook without ingredients like eggs, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts and more. It’s just a matter of being open and honest about your allergens and helping everyone understand why they need to be avoided certain ingredients. Luckily the word compromise can take many forms, and it doesn’t mean you need to compromise on taste or safety when it concerns your allergens in the kitchen.

  1. So you’ve decided to dine out:

There can be a lot of pressure when dining out with a food allergy. If you’re dining out on the fly, it can be stressful to find a safe place near you that also sates your dining companions and fulfills your allergen needs. When eating somewhere new or dining out in general, we have to help our friends and family understand that we can’t just eat anywhere. Precautionary measures need to take place before we sit down for a meal and both parties need to be willing to compromise to make this happen. This may look like a few different things, such as:

  1. Calling a restaurant and asking to speak to a manager or chef about their food allergy policies.
  2. Going somewhere and for drinks only.
  3. Bringing our own food to a restaurant, if permitted.
  4. Finding safe places to eat that may not be the cuisine you were hoping for.
  5. Choosing a dish that does not contain your friend’s allergen (if this is your personal preference).

A great way to avoid these awkward situations and find the best outcome for all is to talk before. Sit down, text, or call your friends/family and let them know why you are concerned, as well as where you feel safe eating, where you don’t, what makes you uncomfortable in a restaurant, and what you feel comfortable doing. This way you can, as a team, work out a plan that suits everyone’s needs and we all come away feeling like we achieved or got something out of it. The most important thing is that we feel safe, comfortable and don’t leave feeling hungry.

  1. So you’ve decided to travel:

Vacations are not often a spur of the moment thing when you live with a food allergy. Lots of meticulous planning goes into each trip and for those of us who have a food allergy, we have to be willing to compromise on where we stay, where we go, what we bring, and even what airline we travel on. We have to be understanding and acknowledge that we may need to stay somewhere where we can cook our own meals or bring our own food. Just because we need to take precautionary measures doesn’t mean that we have to compromise on fun or cost. We can still enjoy the full extent of our vacation, we just have to be willing to make the necessary arrangements beforehand and ensure our travel companions are willing to compromise as well. Like dining out, it’s all about options and in order for everyone to come away happy, we have to work as a team, communicate with each other and be willing to compromise on certain things that are not necessities.

We have to be willing to compromise without sacrificing safety. To meet each other half way, give a little, and take a little, otherwise everyone is going to leave most situations unhappy or unsatisfied. If we start considering ourselves sleuths by always finding answers for new and exciting ways to dine out, bake for others, and travel safely with a food allergy, it will make learning that tricky “compromise” skill just a little bit easier every time. As for those living with an allergy, we have to be willing to stand up for ourselves, admit when we’re uncomfortable and have faith that those around us will help us find the best possible solutions by flexing that compromise muscle.

– Arianne K.

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To “Pensacon” and Beyond

“Let’s go to Pensacola, Florida for a Comic-con/Film festival, a film I made is in it and could be fun?” My brother said this to me and I thought, well why not? Planning a trip with food allergies on the fly can be stressful but luckily, I had a great travel partner who helped me stay safe and positive while exploring on this trip.

Our flights were short and the airline was cooperative with my food allergies. I brought some sandwiches in my carry-on bag, but when I’m bored at an airport there is only so much I can read and watch before I want to snack. After asking about allergen safety at a few places, it became pretty clear that I wasn’t going to find a safe place to eat, let alone find anything healthy. So I turned to my trusty pre-packaged food with handy ingredient labels to sate my snacking needs. I always find it best to find and pack a brand of snack that I trust, then re-read the ingredients and wash my hands/eating area when I’m in this type of situation. It helps give me confidence that there will at least be this food to eat, if nothing else can be found.

Before we even set foot in the “Sunshine State,” I checked out a few restaurants online and called ahead to ask if they could accommodate me. I always try to see what the local establishments have to offer, but I didn’t want to rely on just one plan so we made sure there were safe “chain restaurants” around where I felt comfortable with their food allergy policies. I also brought a lot of my own food and relied on packaged items. When we arrived in beautiful fogged-over Pensacola, I was pleasantly surprised with the cooking amenities in our rooms. We were able buy items at a local grocery store for our breakfast/lunches to eat before we set out on our adventure at the comic-con.

One thing I have noticed when travelling is that it’s tough to keep my food allergies in perspective when I’m experiencing sensory overload. One of the hardest things I find is staying focused and safe when so much is going on around me. It’s tempting to touch interesting things, not to mention handrails for stairs, doors to hold open and the list goes on. Your hands are on everything and that can be risky when you have a food allergy. Since I was going to be in a place where many hands are touching many things, I tried to wash my hands as often as possible. I also chose to carry around a pack of wet wipes to clean surface areas where I ate. You never know who touched what and it’s always a good idea to keep your eating area clean.

Being surrounded by so many themed drinks, snacks and other food-related items, I had to constantly remind myself to subvert my expectations until I read ingredients and understand what was safe and what was not safe. It can be hard watching everyone around you, even your travel partners, try new cool foods, but something I’ve learned is that you sometimes have to take a step back and assess the situation to re-align your mindset. For example, even though I may not be able to have a drink or snack themed to my favourite wizard, I can take home a commemorative cup and other keepsake that I will have forever. I can even ask what the drink or food ingredients are and try making my own allergen-safe version at home.  It’s all about the little things and finding a compromise. It may be disappointing for the moment but my bet is that something new and wonderful will come along and make you forget those negative feelings.

Keeping what’s best in mind for my food allergies and still having an outlet for those around me to experience culture or events can be a tricky balance. I never want my food allergies to hold me or anyone else back, especially when it came to the unique experiences the comic-con offered. One particularly tricky situation was themed restaurants around the city celebrating various “nerdoms.” After using my best detective skills, talking to two separate servers and a chef, we determined that most items were in direct contact with my allergens. I chose not to eat there, but I didn’t want to stop my brother from having those experiences, so I decided that I felt comfortable enough having a drink while he ate then we found somewhere else for me to eat. Finding a balance between personal comfort and safety is key. Never put yourself in a situation that isn’t safe or makes you feel anxious and don’t be embarrassed to speak your mind and tell people when you don’t feel right.

Overall, the trip was a success! On our way home I was shocked when my brother commented on the level of attention and care that goes into even the most minute of things when it comes to food allergies. Since growing out of his food allergies, it seemed that he had forgotten what it takes to stay safe and aware at all times. He marveled at how eye opening it was to see all the variables to consider everywhere you go, even a Comicon. He asked me how I stay positive and safe, all things considered? I told him that much like a certain caped crusader, it takes vigilance, a utility belt packed with supplies for every food allergy need, and a positive attitude.

– Arianne K.

 

Traveling to PEI with Food Allergies

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful province of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) for the first time on a semi-family vacation. As an adult going out east was a bit difficult since I was recently diagnosed with a fresh water fish allergy that has crept over into almost all fish. After a few hives and some close calls, I decided I’d stay away from all fish until I had more tests completed and information received. So what better place to visit this summer then “The Land of Anne” and fresh seafood? Prepping for the trip, I can break down my experiences into three significant food allergy related areas: Road trips, great food and a real confidence boost for me regarding my food allergies.

Part One: On the Road Again

My family and I all piled into an already packed car to drive the 11-ish hours through four provinces, three bags of chips, two bridges and only one cell phone charger. I’m lucky the people in the car knew about my allergies before the trip but that didn’t stop us from encountering a few speedbumps along the way. As a group, we had an on-going group chat where we talked and planned activities. Here I was able to communicate all of my allergies and more importantly, I was able to talk about the risk of cross-contamination, and about how I will not eat anything if I can’t read the ingredients first or know where/how it was made. This was cause for a bit of back and forth regarding homemade baked goods and assurance that it would be safe. For me, I am just not comfortable eating something that I am not familiar with, especially on the road in a new place. Mandatory road snacks aside, the biggest issue on the road came late at night. Our first and only stop before reaching our destination was in the province of New Brunswick late at night. Arriving at the hotel we all had cabin fever from spending nine plus hours in the car. I foolishly assumed we’d be able to find somewhere allergen-friendly to grab food before turning in for the night. Well boy was I wrong! Everything was closed and what was open was a pizza restaurant that couldn’t distinguish between sesame seeds and what they called “flavour seeds.” So I choose to play it safe and not to eat there. At 1:00 am, my only option was a vending machine and breakfast bars that I had packed for the next morning. I realized I packed like an unprepared fool. I had no plan B and I paid for it. The next day when places were open, I was able to find food before the last leg of our trip, but it taught me an important lesson of not taking things like pizza places for granted. I made a mental note to pack sandwiches and other things to eat for our way home.

Part Two: Great Food

It can be tough when travelling to a place where your allergen is extremely prominent, especially if it’s a new allergen. I was diagnosed with an allergy to fresh water fish only a few years ago, and I am still not as comfortable with it as I am with my other allergens. Since my nervousness tends to get the better of me, I did some serious emailing and calling to find some allergen-friendly places to eat in P.E.I before we left home. Luckily, we were planning to stay in a cottage where we had the ability to cook the majority of our meals. But, I was still extremely excited to try some local brew houses and great cuisine, so I was both extremely happy to find incredible safe places to eat and disappointed that some places were not safe. The biggest thing I learned was trusting my gut and calling ahead. I am so glad I took the time to call restaurants ahead of time and even received some suggestions from my sister-in-law on where to go. I didn’t let it get me down when places weren’t allergen-friendly, and I certainly didn’t let it stop me from having a drink there or discouraging others from eating or visiting places where my allergens were present. All in all, I had amazing food both made by me and my travel companions, and in lovely restaurants.

Part Three: Confidence Boost

The most important thing I can say about my trip or any trip for that matter, is to stay positive about your food allergies and not let your limitations get you down. If you’re uncomfortable eating somewhere, let people know or refrain from eating and wait until you get back to an allergen-friendly spot. Always carry extra snacks or something when you’re on-the-go and most importantly, speak up about your allergies and let others know if you feel uncomfortable. Even if it may feel awkward to bring up or impede on your travel companions’ food and traditions, if you feel unsafe, speak up and let others know. The weight you feel lifted off your shoulders when you share your food allergy concerns with others is amazing because they’ll likely want to help you and keep you safe. It can be a real boost in confidence when you speak openly and honestly about your allergies, and I’m always grateful when the people around me care and want to listen as well.

I love to travel, whether its seeing our beautiful country or abroad, it’s amazing to get out of my comfort zone and gain a new perspective. Just because I have food allergies, doesn’t mean that I can’t try new foods, see new places, and enjoy myself. Having a plan, packing safe food, and maintaining a good attitude is a sure-fire way to have the best allergy-friendly vacation. Don’t hold yourself back; trust your gut and go out there and explore the world!

– Arianne K.

Addressing the “Allergy” in the Room: Communicating Your Allergy to Others

Going out for dinner, whether on a date, with colleagues from work, or with your closest friends, you are likely to experience some common elements: loud music, clinking plates/utensils, crowded tables, and multiple wait staff running around, each server striving to satisfy the multiple tables under their supervision.

Sometimes in this environment, it is easy to feel anxious or feel like it is a burden to mention your food allergy to the wait staff (or to the company you are with) when you go to order your meal, because it is one more thing they need to worry about. Growing up with a severe peanut/tree nut allergy, I’ve struggled with how to handle situations like this. As a child, speaking to any “stranger” is scary enough, let alone to inform them of a possible life-threatening reaction to occur under their supervision. It took me a long time to find my confidence and even still, it is not always easy. However, the reality is, we should all feel safe going out to eat and be able to enjoy an anxiety-free meal with the company we are with.

OK, so let’s say you are now at a table with friends and the waiter is making their way around the table taking orders, and you are next up. Instead of being anxious and overthinking everything in your head, start thinking about what questions you can ask the waiter to ensure you feel comfortable eating there. For example, you can ask questions about food preparation and the risk of cross-contamination to prove that you are quite serious about the safety of your food. Or you can ask what their process is for handling tables with allergies. It is important to communicate that this is a life-threatening allergy; this is not an intolerance or a preference, this is an allergy. Another tactic is to get in front of the issue by pulling the server aside before ordering and asking them what dishes are safe or easy to prepare to accommodate someone with a severe food allergy. You will find that most of the time the servers are educated to handle this scenario and more than happy to offer recommendations as well as assist in finding you a meal that you will safely enjoy. If there is ever an instance that the response you receive is not entirely confident, I would recommend speaking with the chef themselves or choose somewhere else to eat since nothing is worth the risk of having an allergic reaction.

This above scenario not only applies for the wait staff, but also for the people with whom you are enjoying the meal. Some people are not accustomed to dealing with food allergies, or never grew up in an environment with someone that had a severe allergy. Have you ever been out for lunch with a friend and they decide to order a dish with the allergen you are severely allergic to? How do you address this without hindering their dining experience and avoid the rest of the lunch being uncomfortable? I have been in this situation and to be honest, the first time I definitely could have handled it better. I was extremely uncomfortable and anxious knowing that the allergen I have been conditioned to avoid for the majority of my life is in the dish right beside mine. However, once you confront the issue the first time, the rest is a breeze. One possible solution is to simply ask your friend to slide to another seat at the table to minimize the cross-contamination risk. Allergies are so common now and being able to speak about them with your friends, family or the waiter should never feel uncomfortable.

So next time you go out for a bite to eat, check the menu beforehand, read the reviews, and make sure your company and the waiter are informed of any food allergies. This is your safety, your life, your allergy and most importantly, it is YOUR responsibility to communicate.

– Phil Greenway

 

Required Reading: Remembering to Read the Label, Even When You’re Comfortable…

Everyone always tells you, never visit the grocery store when you’re hungry. With a rumble in your stomach, everything on the shelves can start to look delicious. From chips, to cookies, to mashed potatoes, you’d buy just about anything to sate the hungry in your stomach. Satisfying your “hangrier” self can be a bit tricky when you have multiple food allergies. A grocery store can suddenly become a library of required reading with a hefty test at the end before you can go home and eat.

With so many labels to read and so much fine print to understand, it’s easy to get complacent and glance over ingredients with glazed eyes. Sometimes we can become too comfortable when it comes to brands or foods we’ve known and used for some time. My thought process in a store has bounced between, “it’s always been safe,” or “I’ve never had an issue with their other products,” and regrettably even, “this looks good I’ll read it later.” I’ve been guilty of making the mistake of throwing a commonly used brand product into my basket without reading the label, assuming it will be fine. However, a recent experience with a familiar brand taught me to take the few extra seconds no matter how busy I am, and always read the ingredients no matter what.

A crumbling experience: There is a brand of crackers I’ve trusted for as long as I can remember. Normally when I go grocery shopping I read every boxed or canned item I put in my basket. This routine started by my mom who would let me read ingredient labels after her and would quiz me about what’s safe, what isn’t and why. But that day, for a myriad of reasons and silly excuses I grabbed a box of crackers, a new flavour that looked good and put it in my basket. I went on my way busily preparing for a potluck the next day. For some reason, I didn’t even think twice about reading the ingredients for the crackers in my basket. I assumed, like all other flavours from the brand, that it was safe, and you know what they say when you assume… I got the other items to make a yummy dip to pair with my box of crackers and went on my way.

It wasn’t until the next day when I was plating the crackers, mere minutes before my guest arrived that I noticed something odd about these crackers. On the outside, they seemed fine but once cracked open there were seeds, sesame seeds to be exact, something I am allergic to and something that had never been on or in this brand of crackers before. I was dumbfounded and frankly disappointed with myself for not reading the ingredients list beforehand. After that night, and narrowly avoiding a reaction, I promised myself no matter how comfortable or familiar, I will always read every label and ingredient before I buy anything.

I was able to avoid a reaction that night but found myself wondering how many times I may have put myself at risk in the past because I forgot to read ingredients or was overly comfortable with a brand. As we get older, day-to-day errands can be overwhelming and sometimes reading every label in the grocery store can seem like a task you seriously just don’t want to do. When you’re stressed and hungry, you want to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. Even when we’re in a hurry though, it’s important to take an extra 10 seconds and read labels to ensure the foods you’re buying are safe. I always try and think of it along the same lines as the precautions I would take when dining out. I would personally never eat anywhere without researching, calling ahead and always ensuring the kitchen is aware and capable to handle cross-contamination. The same rules and precautions should be applied to our kitchens and shopping experiences.

As an allergy community we’re always looking for new and safe brands to add to our pantries. If we take the time, do some research and find safe products, we’ll have a better, and safer cooking experience. Creating culinary treats can challenge us to experiment in the kitchen in the best ways, so don’t let a little label reading stop you from cooking up a delicious meal.

Bon appetit!

– Arianne K.

Adults and Allergies in the Workplace

As an almost thirty year old, I’ve been dealing with allergies in the workplace for about half of my life. From my first job in fast food, to my current job in an office setting, having a severe allergy and a career can be challenging.

Luckily (or maybe unluckily), when I was a kid, there were posters plastered all over the school with my picture on them, along with a little slogan about the fact that I’m allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. Unfortunately, this route is much less effective, and much more embarrassing in an office of 250 people. Lunchrooms and cubicles can be full of people eating allergens. It’s especially difficult to focus when the scent of your allergens lingers throughout the office. However, as a working adult, I can’t just go home every time someone walks by with a sandwich, or when I see someone eating a protein bar. In a large office setting, it’s next to impossible to keep track of who is eating what, and where they’re eating it. As adults working with other adults, it’s important to have a plan that’s both realistic, and effective at keeping you safe.

So how does one deal with allergens in the workplace? It is a good idea to let the people you work directly with about your allergies as they might be more than willing to help you feel more comfortable. In my situation within a large company, you learn to work around everyone else. If groups of people are sitting in the lunchroom consuming my allergens, I politely remove myself from the lunchroom, and find an allergen free place to eat your lunch where I’ll feel more comfortable. If at a colleague’s cubicle, and there is a nut-filled protein bar at their desk, I make sure to not touch their desk during any of my visits. If you’re in a profession where you’re meeting new people, and shaking hands constantly, washing your hands often is a great idea. You never know what type of allergens someone has touched.

Sanitation is also a key component when you’re trying to avoid an allergic reaction in the workplace. If many people work in your direct workspace, it’s important to sanitize and clean the desk area regularly. Wiping down everything from countertops, to telephones, to door handles, and even pens can help in keeping you safe. Washing your hands is also an important aspect to staying safe in the workplace. I always keep antibacterial hand sanitizer at my desk, and ensure I wash my hands regularly throughout the day.

Staying safe from allergens in the workplace can be a challenging ordeal at first, but once you get the hang of it, it will easily become a part of your regular routine.

– Rachel MacCarl

Honesty is the Best Policy with Food Allergies.

Has this situation ever happened to you? You are out at a restaurant dining with friends and family, and after you’ve told the server about your allergens (and stressed the importance of proper food preparation), someone else at your table tells a little white lie claiming that they have an allergy too. They casually drop the information, with you knowing their allergy isn’t true. To them, it’s an innocent piece of fiction – maybe they don’t like the taste, or the texture bothers them or they could even be on a new diet. But to you, who has a legitimate diagnosed food allergy, it’s a big problem as you are both suddenly cast in the same light. The server may even flag that the meal your friend is ordering contains their supposed allergen.  To which your dinner date may brush it off or say they can have a “cheat day” or that “a little dab won’t hurt.”

Your eyes dart from your dinner companion to the server, silently begging them to understand you’re not like that, that your allergies are important and very real. Has your jaw ever hit the table in disbelief during a situation like this, or caused you to shrink into your chair frozen with anxiety that your allergy’s severity was just seemingly “watered down”? I’ve struggled with how to treat situations like this. I treat my food allergies seriously, I make sure everyone around me knows my allergens, how serious they are and how to identify and respond to a reaction. My allergens are very real and serious. Being put into a situation like the one above isn’t fair.

What do you do? Do you express loudly that your allergen is serious, reaffirming your allergies with the restaurant wait staff? Do you sit quietly and hope the server takes all of the food restrictions seriously regardless of the situation? Do you interrupt your friend and say “stop misleading everyone” and potentially embarrass them in public? It’s tough, it’s awkward for everyone and let’s face it, it can be downright annoying. When this happens to me, I feel like I’ve been put in a position where I need to defend my allergies to everyone around me.

Situations like these can be much more common than you’d think. It’s why it’s time we get honest about our food allergies with ourselves, and with others about the misconceptions surrounding them. It may seem easier to say that you have an allergy when you just don’t enjoy a food. What’s the harm, you think? Personally, I’ve fought for every inch of respect and safety in my life when it comes to my food allergies. Before I found my voice, my mom spent hours on phones calling companies, making food, and generally keeping me safe and bringing normalcy to an otherwise challenging life with food allergies.

It took me a long time to find my confidence. My food allergies are a part of me and a big part of what makes me, me. That’s not to say there isn’t still a struggle between my introvert and extrovert self when it comes to telling people about my food allergies, especially in tense situations like the one above. Dining out with food allergies can be stressful, especially when someone casually stretches the truth about their own dietary issues. It’s important for those with true food allergies to help others understand the importance and seriousness of food allergies. Ask additional questions about food preparation and cross-contamination to prove that you are quite serious about the safety of your food. I still spend a lot of time calling restaurants and companies, trying to find safe food and places to go.  When others fabricate a food allergy to avoid foods they don’t like to eat, it can feel like it diminishes all the time and energy we as a food allergy community have put into staying safe and aware with our food allergies.

Let’s face it, there is always going to be a dish or food that you don’t like (for me it’s cauliflower). We can avoid that food and tell others we don’t like the taste or texture, but we should never deceive others or misrepresent these dislikes as an allergen. Although it may seem like a harmless and victimless statement, it can hurt those around you who do have a food allergy.

For those of us with a food allergy, instead of getting angry or upset when people evade foods with false allergy statements, we can instead teach them about the seriousness of a food allergy and the affect that a little lie could have on your requests, so we can all feel safe and satisfied when dining out.

  • Arianne K.