Tag Archives: Friends and Allergies

So You Didn’t Make a Plan: Allergies and Contingency

Girl and binoculars

It’s easy to make a plan in your head or write it down. You can map out every detail and think of different possibilities that could happen or arise. Putting those plans into action is a completely different story. A few years ago, my friends and I planned a road trip to Darien Lake, New York, where we went to Six Flags.  As kids, we had traveled there with our parents on numerous occasions; but this was the first year we were going alone. Given my food allergies, I knew that I had to plan ahead for safe options to eat. We were going for three days and I assumed a cooler with some cold snacks would be good enough. But boy was I was wrong. I didn’t anticipate how hungry I would be or what I would crave. I didn’t plan ahead for every meal I could want or be hungry for. I felt lost and without food. We were not close to a grocery store and I began to wonder what I would do. My friends I travelled with, being amazing and understanding about my food allergies, realized something was wrong. We decided to try our luck with the few of the restaurants available at the campground we were staying at. I hadn’t planned on eating out, so I did not call ahead or find out if any of them were safe. The first place we looked at was unable to guarantee a safe meal but, luckily, the second restaurant we went to could confirm they were an allergy-safe kitchen.

After eating, I satisfied my hunger; but I was still upset. I knew I was smarter than this. I always had a plan when I went out (but not this time). I realize now why I was so unorganized on this trip. It was a last minute we decision to go, a few days before to be exact, so I had no time to call ahead to the restaurants to make sure they would be safe. I also had conscience to share my cooler with one other person. So I didn’t have the room I would have liked to put more food in. Lastly, I had traveled there without cooking amenities; so my food options were limited.

I know now, whether it’s two days or 200 days in advance of travel, you should always have a some sort of plan in advance. Reliable snacks and foods are always a smart idea but, as we get older, we need more sustenance and most likely a hot meal. With mobile phones, it makes it easier to contact restaurants or look for grocery stores around you. Making sure you know your surroundings and having a plan are not only important to your safety but also when it comes to enjoying your trip.

Planning doesn’t have to be hard or tedious. Knowing what food you like, where you’re going, and what to bring is a lot easier than trying to find safe foods and places to eat. So remember, be prepared for everything because anything can happen.

Arianne K.

Close Calls and Life Lessons Living with Allergies

Cake Temptation

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget what is important. It’s also easy to become lulled into a false sense of security. Having food allergies, you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and the food you’re going to eat. Being vocal and confident when telling those around you about your food allergy is a skill that we’re all constantly crafting. A while back, I was at a restaurant I frequent at least once a week. Sometimes familiarity can betray us. I know the staff and owner and regard them as close friends; and they are very aware of my food allergy. But, since they are aware, it is easy to forget to tell them or inform them each and every time I eat there. One night, we settled in for a few drinks and some food. The chefs at the restaurant had recently decided to start experimenting in the kitchen. I thought nothing of it since they were aware of my food allergies and I trusted that it would be safe. As I picked up my fork, ready to dig into my meal, the chef came out of the kitchen and said STOP! I immediately put my fork down as he explained that the food they were making in kitchen was perch (a new but serious allergy of mine). The chef said he was pretty sure that it had come into contact since it was in the same part of kitchen.

After they took my meal away, and promised to prepare a safe meal, I thought about the situation. I had failed to mention my allergy that day and it almost ended badly. After that close call, I realized that comfort can be deceiving. Just because I am familiar with a place doesn’t mean everyone is. I need to be more vocal with my allergies so everyone is informed just in case. I’m fortunate to have people looking out for me in the kitchen; but I need to look out for myself more than anyone.

It’s great to be comfortable. Your food allergies should never hinder you from experiencing things like anyone else. But it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and be vocal about your food allergies. You will feel more confident and comfortable in the long-run.

Arianne K.

 

 

Food Allergies and the Transition to University Life

University Students laptop
If you have a food allergy, the transition to university can be a pretty daunting experience. In high school, you were likely surrounded by people who had known you well for many years and teachers who knew your name. In university, the chances of this happening again are quite slim. Most classes contain 400+ students and, unless you manage to schedule time to meet with your professors multiple times, they likely won’t know your name let alone your food allergy. So what’s the good news? The good news is that you prepared for this ahead of time and are ready for the new challenge of independence! In case you’re still in the preparation phase, I’ve put together a few things to think about and look for within your new environment.

Let’s start with the dorm life. Many first year dorms or residences contain a lot of shared bedrooms where the room is shared with a roommate. Every school is different so be sure to scope out possible residence options when you apply to that school. Also, be sure to educate your roommate (if you have one) and all new friends about your food allergies and the proper administration of your auto-injector. You are definitely going to eat in your room, which means your roommate will also eat there. With this in mind, your safety is paramount. If your roommate doesn’t understand the severity of your food allergy, speak with the residence life staff and ask them to help you explain it. Also, don’t be afraid to make special room requests when applying or even after being accepted to a university. You can ask to be placed in an allergy-friendly room or ask for a solo room to ensure your safety.

Next up, cafeteria food. If you are living in a residence with no shared kitchen, you will likely be eating a lot of campus food. Treat this experience as you would going to a local restaurant. Explain the severity of your food allergy to the food staff and ask if they serve any food that may contain your allergen(s). Then ask to speak with a manager or supervisor to ensure you will be looked after for that day and every day in the next year. Ask if the staff know what cross-contamination means and whether or not there is any risk of this with their food. Lastly, stick with your gut feeling. If you feel uneasy about eating at a particular cafeteria or restaurant, move on! There are plenty of other options on campus to fill your stomach.

Another thing to look into for your university is anaphylaxis policies. These can be quite difficult to navigate and find. Even if your school does have policies for food allergies, they are likely to appear on a continuum from either very diverse to cover every food allergy to very specific where less-severe allergies may be overlooked. These are worth taking the time to look into as it may inform a lot of your food choices on campus. If you find that food allergy policies do not exist at your university, you might want to join a university council or speak with a campus political leader to try to put a new policy in place. These people are working to make the student experience more positive; so don’t be afraid to ask! They will almost always do everything they can to help.

Last but not least, parties. By now, you’ve likely been exposed to parties and have learned a few things about managing your food allergy in a party atmosphere. However, at university and college, alcoholic drinks tend to make an appearance. This may be a new obstacle for you and, if it is, remember to keep a level head. If you notice that a drinking game has people sharing cups, it is a good idea to avoid playing that game since you don’t know what these people ate earlier in the day. It could have been your food allergen! Also, stick to drinks you know to be safe for you. There are many different types of alcoholic beverages out there and some contain almond extract, hazelnut, dairy, etcetera. So stay aware and stay safe.

This may seem like a lot to look out for when also trying to manage the new challenges of course work; but remember that you are independent and are ready to conquer university!

Dylan B.

Always Packing: Carrying Your Auto-Injector  

Live_Main Auto Injector

It all started with a fanny-pack. It was a bright blue, yellow zippered, Tigger-themed fanny-pack to be exact. From the time I was five, to about twelve years old, this was the most important accessory I had. Why? It was the vehicle for carrying my auto-injector (my safety net and my security blanket).  Back in the 90’s, my bright blue fanny-pack was my ‘go-to’ item; but I quickly outgrew it and needed to find some other way to carry my auto-injector. Luckily, being a girl, I would eventually grow into carrying a purse with me everywhere. But, during my high school days, I hit those awkward preteen/ teen years. I was too young to carry a purse and too old for a fanny pack. I no longer had a permanent desk to put it in or one specific teacher to hold onto it for me. My locker was too far away and I wasn’t allowed to take a book bag with me everywhere. I needed to find another option to discretely and effectively transport my auto-injector while in school. Lucky for me, I had access to many carriers and tricks to help conceal my auto injector and keep it on me at all times.

I purchased a much smaller, stylish black case that I was able to put in my pencil case. But I also made sure I had one in my book bag in my locker at all times. Getting through those high school years was tough. Most people yearn to fit in. And I was much the same. So I refrained from telling many people about my auto-injector in my pencil case. The people I made aware were my teachers and a few close friends. Now I realize the importance of telling people about the location of my auto-injector and how to use it in case of an emergency.

As I grew up, I became more comfortable with my auto-injector and with my food allergies. I was able to find new ways to carry it around discretely. Being a girl, I was lucky to have the excuse of always having a purse with me. The problem I soon arrived at involved different sized purses and singular-sized auto-injectors. From small little clutches to extremely large purses, I was either fighting to find it or struggling to put it in. Luckily I’ve found a few tricks and discovered, through my male friends, that they also had some unique and creative ways to carry around their auto-injectors.  For me, I’ve always felt it is easier to carry my auto-injector in the side pocket of my purse. It’s easy to grab if there is an emergency and it’s easy to find if I can’t tell someone. There will be no more routing around in the deep caverns of my purse. With the new advancements in auto-injectors, it’s easier to carry them in pant pockets or in those pesky little clutches and purses I mentioned earlier. Some new auto-injectors are as small as a business card with a little width. They can be easily placed in most little bags. As for my male counterparts, carrying an auto-injector can be a little trickier as far as not drawing major attention. One the best ways I’ve seen them carried is in an ankle holster (a lá James Bond) that fits neatly under most pants. Those new auto-injectors I mentioned above are smaller and able to fit in most pockets discretely. There is also many companies offering carrying cases for various activities like belts for outdoor/upbeat activities from Waist Buddy (http://www.omaxcare.com/WaistBuddy.html) or the versatile brand Allergy Pack ( http://www.allergypack.com/) that offer many different styles to carry one or multiple auto-injectors. They even make carrying cases for asthma inhalers.

It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, what kind of purse you’re sporting or what pants you may be in. It is always important to have your auto-injector with you when you go out.  It can be cumbersome and it can be awkward; but nothing is worse than needing it in an emergency and not having it. So remember to keep it with you. Tell someone you have it with you and where it is located. Think of it as the best and most practical fashion accessory you have; it also just so happens to go with any outfit.

Arianne K.

 

Food Substitutes for Common Allergies

Cake Temptation

One of the most common responses I get from people when I tell them about my allergies is typically: “What do you even eat!?” I always find this funny to respond to; but I always reply with something along the lines of: “oh trust me, I eat.” I will admit that being allergic to wheat, eggs, and nuts can pose some limitations; though I realize not necessarily as many as others encounter with other allergies. There are, however, numerous food substitutions for allergens that allow you to not have a diet that is lacking important nutrients or yummy food options.

When trying to find replacements, in your cooking and baking, for common allergens, there are some commonly used options that are growing in popularity and can be found at many grocery and health food stores. Wheat flour is a very common in cooking and baking. This poses a challenge to those who have wheat allergies or gluten intolerances.  Numerous wheat-free flours are commonly available now for use. The challenge is getting an appropriate consistency with wheat free flour that best resembles regular wheat flour.  A combination of wheat- free flours is usually recommended to produce the best results when baking.  Different varieties of wheat-free flours include: white rice and brown rice flour, oat flour, potato flour, tapioca flour, and garbanzo (chick pea) flour.  Along with replacing wheat flour in cooking, there are many wheat-free products available in grocery stores and health food stores that include: breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, pizza doughs, etcetera. It is even more common to find gluten-free restaurant options and, with a little more searching, to find even restaurants and bakeries dedicated to being gluten free.

Dairy is another common allergen that is in many different foods. There are various possibilities for substitutions. For milk, there are a variety of dairy-free milks that are available. These include: soy, rice, hemp, almond, and coconut milk.  That being said, someone with nut allergies should exercise caution with almond and coconut milks depending upon their specific allergies.  For substituting butter, margarine may be an option for some; but many other foods are being used for butter in recipes which are considered to be ‘healthier options’.  This includes using coconut oil, applesauce, avocado, and canola oil in your baking in lieu of butter.  For substituting items such as yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese, dairy-free versions can be found at many health food stores and will often be made from a soy base.  Along with this, soy cheese and other vegan dairy-free cheeses are commonly sold; but these do not melt the same as regular cheese and, therefore, do not work in recipes where this is required.  Nutritional yeast is an item found in health food stores and it is a popular ingredient used in recipes requiring melted cheese (such as ‘mac and cheese’).

In terms of ice cream replacements, sorbet is a chilled dessert that doesn’t contain dairy. However, other dairy-free ice cream options are available—such as ice cream made with rice or coconut milk.

Egg can be a tricky allergen to replace in foods where it is the core ingredient; this is in dishes such as omelets and scrambled eggs.  Eggs are, however, key in baking either as a binder or leavening agent. But you can have various substitutes available that can also serve this purpose.  It is very common to find, in health food stores and some grocery stores, packaged egg replacer. This is a powder that, when mixed with milk, can be used specifically as a replacement for eggs in baking. Other egg substitutes that serve the ‘binding’ purpose in baking include: a half cup of mashed banana, ¼ cup of applesauce, 3-1/2 tablespoon gelatin blend or a ‘flax seed egg’ (1 tablespoon flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water, set for one minute).  For using eggs as a leavening agent, a good substitute can be combining 1- ½ table spoons of vegetable oil with 1-1/2 table spoons water and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Also see a blog post by Arianne which specifically talks about focusing on replacing eggs!

Peanut and nut allergies are extremely common and can make eating some Asian foods such as Thai a ‘no-go’. These allergies also get rid of the possibility of having that classic ‘go-to peanut butter-jelly sandwich’.  Some alternatives include a variety of ‘seed butters’ available that are made out of seeds such as sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. Soynut butter and peabutter are also common items now also found in grocery and health food stores.  Seeds can also be a great ingredient to use in salads and other dishes for a ‘nutty-like’ addition.

Soy is a tricky allergen to avoid. As you might have noticed, it is commonly used as a ‘go-to’ for other allergen substitutes.  That being said, more and more soy-free options are becoming available.  With items such as vegan cheese gaining in popularity, it is possible to find a soy-free version for those also allergic to dairy.  Soy-free margarines are also sold; but it does take some time to find what stores are the most soy-free friendly.  Butter is also an option for this if you are not also allergic to dairy.  For replacing soy oil, canola oil as well as olive oil are good options.  Some foods such as soy sauce are inevitably hard to replace; but there is always the option of searching out recipes to create your own version.   There are also chickpea versions of miso available (which is traditionally made from fermented soybeans).

This just highlights some common allergens that have different food substitutes available.  I always like to look at avoiding my allergies as a way to find exciting new ways to prepare food and get creative!  Feel free to share and comment below with other foods you struggle to find substitutes for or ways you have been creative with your food allergies!!

Caitlyn P.

 

A Wolf-Pack Mentality: The Buddy System and your Allergies

1024px-Canis_lupus_in_quebec

When it comes to growing up with a severe food allergy, or even growing into one like I did, an important thing to remember is that you don’t always have to do everything yourself. Over the years, I’ve inadvertently learned to use a buddy system with my peanut and tree nut allergies. I never formally decided it would be a good idea. It just sort of happened and, since it works so well for me, I thought I’d share my experiences with you.

When I was diagnosed with my allergies at the age of nine, I felt pretty helpless. Many foods I once enjoyed were now off limits. I was nervous about eating at friends’ houses or at birthday parties. However, as I (and my mother, who deserves much of the credit) educated my friends about how to manage the risks involved with food allergies, they seemed to absorb the information and promote it. My close group of friends growing up soon became my first-line of defence against potentially dangerous allergy situations. They were always the first to mention the severity of my allergies at restaurants. I never asked them to do this and I always mention my allergies when I go out even if no one else does; but they cared about my well-being and wanted to look out for me. To quote The Hangover movie, we became a “wolf-pack.” And, whenever one of my friends was around, I knew they would look out for me. They were all shown how to properly administer an auto-injector, knew where mine was located, and knew the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis. So my wolf-pack was always ready to jump in if I ever had a reaction (which, thankfully, I still haven’t had yet)! If you’re not convinced about the buddy system, let me share a few stories to show you what I mean.

When I was about ten, I was riding the bus to school. One of the students on the bus started to taunt my brother and I about our peanut allergies. As if words weren’t enough, he proceeded to take out a peanut butter sandwich and wave it in our faces. All the while he laughed and teased us. At some point, one of my friends stood up, grabbed the sandwich, and threw it out the window to end the threat. He kept his cool and, when we arrived at school, he was the first to tell the principal what had happened. Needless to say, the bully was suspended and never taunted us again.

Another time, when I was 18, I went to a New Year’s Eve party with my wolf-pack. It was at a friend’s house (whom I wasn’t too close with but knew from school). I knew the host didn’t know about my allergy because I never had the chance to talk to him about it; so I was a little nervous about what snacks would be laid out. When we got there, I was taking in the scene and my best friend popped around the corner with a serious look on his face. He told me not to go into the room he just came out of because there was a big plate of peanuts and cashews. Right after telling me this, he ran upstairs to talk to the host and his parents about my allergy. Minutes later, the plate was removed and the whole room was cleaned with all-purpose cleaner! I really couldn’t believe how accommodating everyone was and how quick my buddy was at managing the peanut risk.

In either of the above examples, I could have managed my allergy on my own; but the point I want to make is that, sometimes, it’s just easier to have a wolf-pack of friends to share the load. It’s a really good feeling when you know someone’s always got your back and is looking out for you. So what do you think? Do you have any wolf-pack experiences you want to share? If you don’t already have a buddy system, do you think it could potentially work for you? Post a comment below and let’s share some stories!

Dylan