Tag Archives: Communication

Barbados in Peanut-Free Shell

Your footprints disappear in white sand behind you as clear turquoise water laps gently against your toes. The air smells warm, the breeze carries tranquil scents and the sights offer endless blue horizons and lush green gullies. It’s hard to have any worries when you’re surrounded by such beauty, but the reality of having a severe food allergy is and it follows you anywhere you go.

I had the opportunity to travel to a slice of paradise last year when visiting the Caribbean island of Barbados. My family and I stayed at a condo-style facility where I had the opportunity to make most of my own food, which is an ideal situation for anyone who, like me, is at-risk for anaphylaxis to several foods. I thought I would find issues with food labeling laws or lack of information available when it comes to prepackaged foods. I was surprised to walk into a grocery store to see both North American brands that I am more comfortable with and precautionary labelling (e.g. “may contain”) on other brands. As well, an abundance of fresh foods like meats, vegetables, and fruits gave me variety in what I chose to eat. I was also shocked to see separate sections for all tree nuts away from the produce, along with closing bags and wash stations, a feature that I’ve never seen at a grocery store! It was amazing to see food allergy safety protocol outside of my home. It put my worries at ease and I felt safer and more comfortable.

Having bags that zip shut, and a place to wash or disinfect your hands is an idea worth considering for other grocery stores internationally. Whether it be for sanitary reasons, or food allergy safety, it’s a protocol I wish more would adapt. All of this made cooking on our vacation no sweat but I was still looking forward to trying the local foods and spirits.

Before I eat anywhere whether it be at home in Canada or abroad, I always research several restaurants online and gather any information I can find. From menus and allergen information, to hopefully contacting the restaurant by email or phone, I like to be prepared when I dine out. If I’m travelling, I try to contact a restaurant beforehand and see what (if any) allergen policy they may have. My emails and phone calls always have the same message and questions. If there isn’t an email or contact, I try to contact the restaurant on social media like Facebook or Twitter with simple questions. In my experience, they’re usually great at responding but I was floored at the responses and multiple follow ups I received from several restaurants in Barbados. The moment that caught me off guard was the remembrance of me and my food allergy. I emailed a particular place about two weeks before our trip, after being assured it was safe, I made a reservation, and to my surprise the manager remembered my name and allergy when we arrived. She took time to get the chef to chat with me about my options and assured me he would personally make my meal. I haven’t felt that safe and confident in my meal choice since Walt Disney World, where the staff went above and beyond! The chef brought my meal out specifically and even made me a special dessert since none were safe on the menu.

It was such a nice surprise to be greeted this way. I never expected that level of involvement and assurance from the chef, not to mention the sheer acknowledgement of my name and allergen was enough to keep a smile on my face the entire meal. I never expected that level of involvement and allergen awareness when I entered that restaurant. Here in Canada, restaurants are great when it comes to food allergy awareness. One thing I think some could learn is the hospitality and comfort I was offered in that fateful place. The assurance of safety and knowledge in the kitchen and care from the chef and staff boosted my confidence in asking questions and voicing my concerns.

A travel advertisement once left you with the line “life wasn’t created here, but it was perfected.” When each day starts with crystal blue water and ends with picture perfect sunsets, it’s hard not to get swept away into the peace and beauty that is Barbados. When you have a food allergy, it can be hard not to let a black cloud hang over your head when travelling. Between the plane and being in a different location, it can cause serious anxiety regardless of where you are. It can also be easy to forget about or be less vigilant when it comes to your food allergy when you’re on vacation and already in a relaxed state of mind. Whether you’re the former or the later it’s important to plan ahead, do your research, and come prepared wherever you may be.

With less worry blocking your view, that black cloud can lift and you’ll be able to see that beautiful view of vacationing.

-Arianne K.

Be Our Guest: Dining at Walt Disney World

Let’s face it, we’ve all looked at a menu with hesitation. Wondering what limitations or substitutions await you. We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for the lines “made on the same grill, pre-made at another facility, or may have come into contact with.” It can be so discouraging that you almost want to wait to crack open that menu until you can talk with a server or chef. I’ve always held off on making decisions on ordering until I’ve spoken with someone, that is, until I stepped into the most magical place on earth and was handed a menu that helped me put away my worries and strife.

The Vacation Kingdom of the World. You don’t get a title like that without being a well-rounded, fine-tuned, working machine. Now full disclosure, I am no slouch when it comes to Walt Disney World (WDW). We started going to Disney in the early 90’s, a turbulent time in the family as we had my newly discovered risk-for-anaphylaxis to peanuts and tree-nuts and my brother’s newly discovered food allergy to eggs. With all these food allergies packed into one family, we decided to pack up a trailer and drive from Ontario, Canada to the great state of Florida (a three day excursion mind you) and camp at the Fort Wilderness Campground. This way, my mom and dad could be in charge of all the food we ate because I was terrified to eat anywhere other than my mom and Grandma’s house.

Now, it may not come to anyone’s surprise that The Walt Disney World Company has their food allergy game figured out, but at the time I was still scared, I didn’t have the self-confidence to try the food in the parks. That was until I turned 13. Things changed and I became more confident in myself and my food allergies, and was ready to try new dining adventures. I had my very first dining-out experience at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.

Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for WDW. In such a safe and welcoming environment, I could discuss my food allergies with an actual chef, who took the time to explain the menu and reassure me of their due diligence. It was this stepping stone that laid the ground work for me to become more confident in speaking about my food allergies in restaurants anywhere. I learned to look over menus carefully and talk to servers myself and ask the right
questions. Because their cast members were so well trained and prepared, it rubbed off on me and helped me understand the value and importance of taking this time to be sure of my food choice and feel safe about them.

Fast forward to January 2017. My partner Steve and I decided to travel down to WDW to ring in the New Year with the mouse. I am continually impressed with how restaurants treat food allergies, but I am knocked off my feet in awe of how the Walt Disney Company is changing the game when it comes to food allergies. When you’re planning a trip to WDW, it’s in your best interest to book dinner reservations in advance. Booking online is the first step in WDW’s food allergy preparedness. You have the option to fill out all your food allergies in detail before you even step foot in the restaurant.
When we finally arrived to our first dining reservation, I was greeted with the question, “who has the allergy in this party?” and then promptly handed an allergy-friendly menu. The menu had detailed dishes from appetizers to desserts, outlining all ingredients and what dishes were free of certain allergens. It’s hard to put into words how I felt in that moment. I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. It was the first time I was able to go through a menu with confidence before speaking with someone from the restaurant. When we placed our order, the server asked if I felt comfortable and if I needed to speak with a chef just in case. I couldn’t help but remember that shy 13-year-old, who blustered up the courage to talk with a chef about her food allergies. I was bursting with emotions thinking about how a tool such as this will help kids just like me build confidence and a voice when it comes to their food allergy. Instead of being presented with a bunch of no’s and off-limits, we finally have a menu that is full of options and
opportunities.

Remember, the onus is still on you to disclose all of your allergies and take all of the necessary precautions you would usually take at any restaurant. It’s hard to guarantee anything, but WDW gets pretty close in my books!

The Walt Disney World Company truly gets it. They understand the mental toll it takes to dine out with a food allergy regardless of being a confident adult, or a parent with their child. They’ve stream lined a process with 100% visibility from putting menu’s online, to informing the restaurant when you book a reservation, down to a beautiful allergy-friendly menu. They also have the opportunity to look over menu books at quick server restaurants, and give you the option to speak with a chef at buffet style dining halls in their resorts. It is magical for a lack of a better term, but I think the word fits nicely considering the location. Food allergy awareness has come a long way and WDW is certainly looking like a gold standard contender. They are continuously innovating and discovering new ways to ensure everyone has a safe and happy dining experience while on vacation.

-Arianne. K

May Contain the Following: Stress

This product may have come into contact with the following: How many times have you been in a grocery store aisle reading an ingredient list of a new product with excitement only to find these words at the very bottom like a disappointing end to a great story. It can hit you like a ton of bricks, or knock the wind right out of you. For lack of a better term, it’s a real bummer.

As you put the item back, it’s easy to get discouraged, angry, or upset. You may curse the product or the company but, in my opinion, I think we should feel the exact opposite. Every time I see this or similar wording I’m happy I live in a time and a place where information is readily available for allergen safety. After all, precautionary labelling is completely voluntary in Canada.

I have vivid memories from when I was young of my mom calling company after company attempting to get information about production lines, products in the vicinity, and other foods that the company made. She spent hours with a house phone (on a cord I might add) pressed against her ear with boxes of food, paper, and permanent markers sprawled out in front of her. Each time she got a complete answer she’d mark a or X on the box and then feverishly write down any other information they would give her. She did this for hours on end just to find out if certain products were safe for me to eat, or because I mentioned I wanted try, for instance, Fruit Roll-Up© (which I couldn’t) or PopTarts© (which I could). She scoured this new frontier called the Internet for any information she could find, from website FAQ’s to small forums made up of other parents. She, just like many others, was desperate for some clarity or visibility to make sure our cupboards and grocery store aisle didn’t become a scary place. She spent hours on hold, getting half-truths, rude comments, or no answers at all just to ensure my childhood was a little bit better. She was a brave explorer in in a time where precautionary labelling was in its infancy – just trying to make sense of it all.

30's woman on a serious phone call.Today, that amount of effort seems daunting and overwhelming. I can only image the anxiety and fear she had each time a new food came into our house. Now, with food allergies being more prevalent, and manufacturers taking more precautions with their products and labelling, more information is at my finger tips from a variety of sources. If I have questions, I can contact a company by email, hotline, or check out reviews from thousands of others in various online media sources like websites, social media, articles, etc. If all that doesn’t satisfy my craving for knowledge I can reach out and read the many online publications dedicated to food allergy safety (and I can do that through social media as well). But my first step will always be reading an ingredient list.

I encourage you to read Health Canada’s interview with Food Allergy Canada where they detail the most recent food allergy labelling guidelines:  http://foodallergycanada.ca/2016/10/5-questions-for-health-canada

The “may contain” label was introduced to warn people about potential allergens not listed in the ingredient list. This was done in case another food product during the production process could have come into contact, fallen into, been on the same production line, or any other incident that could have contaminated your product with an allergen. Although more and more companies are disclosing this information and becoming transparent on the true risks of their products, it is still important to do your research if you are unsure about a new food.

– Arianne K

For more information about food labelling, check out Food Allergy Canada’s website.

My Dream for a Standardized Allergy-Friendly Menu

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order
Dining out with friends and family is always something I look forward to. Having to worry about my food allergy, however, takes some fun out of it, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. I always get a sense of relief when I find a restaurant that is allergy-friendly and has a detailed spreadsheet listing allergen information for their menu items across the board. I often dream about what it would be like if there was a standardized allergy-friendly menu at every restaurant I went to.  Here are a few reasons why a standardized allergy-friendly menu would benefit those of us with food allergies:

It would reduce the anxious feelings that often come with dining out. Having a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the burden I sometimes feel when discussing and planning a night out with friends. For example, I often find myself saying to them, “sorry, we can’t check out that restaurant because I think there are nuts in many dishes” or “I didn’t feel comfortable there last time.” Also, it would eliminate the constant back-and-forth of asking about ingredient info with the wait and kitchen staff. I would still notify them about my allergies so they know it’s severe, and to be cautious of cross-contamination.

It would make the planning process quicker and easier. Knowing a restaurant has a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the amount of time I spend researching restaurants before choosing or agreeing to dine there.

menuIt would make me feel more comfortable and safe when dining out. It would show me that the restaurant’s dishes have been dissected to highlight what allergens are within. My hope would be that these recipes would never change, which is another reason why it’s important to still mention your allergies. An allergy-friendly menu doesn’t necessarily mean that the food service staff are completely allergy aware, which is why I would still double check that they have strict kitchen protocols for accommodating allergic diners beyond providing ingredient information.

It would highlight safe options on the menu for my allergies. Having a detailed outline of potential allergens and ingredients for each dish served would not only give me a clear list of safe items, but it would also provide me with options I would have never thought I could have. Knowing I would find a standardized allergy-friendly menu at any restaurant I went to would also allow me to discover restaurants that I never thought I could eat at before.

Fortunately, the restaurant industry in Canada is well aware of the seriousness of food allergies, but there is much room to improve. There are a fair number of food chains that have a standardized menu and provide an allergen information sheet, but it isn’t required across restaurants nation-wide. It would be a dream to be able to check out a new restaurant knowing that when I get there, they would provide me with a menu of safe dining options to leave me worry-free.

– Michelle D.

A Forced First Impression…Food Allergy Style

As a 26 year old, I have had to inform dozens, if not hundreds of people about my allergies thus far in my lifetime. This one story definitely stood out to me ahead of the rest.

Business Team Meeting Seminar Training ConceptI was sitting in a university lecture on the first day of class. It was an elective and there was someone in the class who I didn’t know very well from a different program. She put up her hand to inform the Professor and her fellow colleagues about her allergy to citrus including oranges and bananas. She went on to say that if these food items were brought to class and peeled it would cause her a serious migraine.

I was pretty impressed by how forward she was about her allergies. I generally inform my friends, and people sitting around me should they decide to start munching on one of my allergens. Nonetheless, there was no judgement in her proclamation, but rather I noted what she said and thought the class would carry on normally.

I had a few friends in the class with me and they began to nudge me and whispered the following in my ear, “you should say something about your allergies”, “yeah, you should speak up”. Again, as I previously said, I do try to keep my allergies on a need-to-know basis, especially since we are talking about a lecture hall full of people.

Well, obviously, my professor noticed that there was a bit of a kerfuffle and asked if everything was okay. My response was the following: “Well, I just wanted to add that I also have allergies. I am severely allergic to nuts. I don’t really see it being an issue in class unless someone eats nuts and then makes out with me. So, yeah. Let’s try and avoid that at all costs.”

There was an outbreak of nervous laughter and the professor was stunned. After a brief moment, he thanked me for sharing and carried on with the program. Can you say AWKWARD!? It was quite the way to make a first impression.

– Nicole K.

The Best (and Worst) Food Allergy Jokes

As with most humour, there is the potential to offend your audience. As someone who has lived with anaphylaxis my whole life, I often find comfort in my ability to laugh things off or look at the brighter side in life. I understand wholeheartedly that this is a serious condition with potentially life-threatening consequences. If any of these jokes are distasteful and offensive to you, I apologize. They are, in my opinion, the best (and worst) food allergy jokes out there!

Two happy woman friends laughingDid you hear about the Frenchman who could only count to seven?
-He had a huit allergy

What does an allergic person have in common with bees?
-They both have hives!

Did you hear about the convict who had allergies?
-He broke out

Why didn’t the child with allergies play the board game Clue?
It contained Mustard!

Why did the chicken cross the road?
-To avoid his allergen

What did the night owl say to his pal the early riser?
-I’m allergic to mornings.

Teacher: Where’s your homework?
Student: I’m allergic to homework.

1: Knock, knock.
2: Who’s there?
1: Auntie
2: Ben who?
1: Anti-Histamine

1: Knock, knock.
2: Who’s there?
1: May
2: May who?
1: May contain trace amounts of ‘nuts’

What was the cause of the tech-guru’s most recent seafood reaction?
-Her new shell-phone!

– Nicole K.

From Food Allergies Suck to Food Allergies Rock!

Annoyed woman plugging ears with fingers doesn't want to listenI’ve found that there can be a lot of negativity revolving around food allergies. “Oh, you can’t eat peanut butter? Your life must suck!” “What?! You have to carry that thing around all the time? That’s brutal.” “Well if you can’t eat this, what can you eat?”

While the negativity can be quite overwhelming at times, I don’t really understand why it happens in the first place. What difference does it make to someone else’s life if I can’t eat something with peanuts or tree nuts in it? My life does not suck because I can’t eat Nutella or peanut butter. In fact, I think my life is better because I can’t eat those things. On the one hand, I remind everyone that because of my risk for anaphylaxis with peanuts and tree nuts, I avoid plenty of baked goods and sweets that my otherwise very sweet tooth would indulge in daily! This keeps me much healthier and in better shape. I’ve also tried peanut butter when I underwent an oral allergy test and full disclosure, I did not like the taste AT ALL.

Secondly, because of my food allergies I have learned so much about food, restaurant hospitality, travelling, airlines, baking, cooking, and especially about myself, that I would have never learned otherwise. My food allergy has opened more doors of opportunity than I could have possibly imagined when my 9-year-old self was told he was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

Teamwork meeting concept
For the most part, I am a very positive person. I pride myself on seeing the good in most situations. It’s not always easy to be positive when people around you always seem to pick out the negative aspects of life with a food allergy. My suggestion is to consider the fact that these people may simply not know anything about food allergies and their comments are simply ignorance. Take the opportunity to spread awareness and teach them about the positive aspects of food allergies. I think there’s something to be said about maintaining a positive outlook on food allergies. Positivity is contagious! Maybe your return comments will help them see why their comments were unjustified and why life with a food allergy really isn’t so bad after all.

– Dylan B.