Tag Archives: Lessons

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.

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“What’s in your food?” – Experiences with Food Labelling Abroad

When I was 19, I packed up myself, my peanut and soy allergies, and five EpiPen® auto-injectors, and moved to Finland. This was a goal I had set for myself when I was 12 and I barely slept from the day I received my university acceptance in January until I left in July. After 21 hours of travel, I ventured to the grocery store to find something – anything – to eat. My excitement was quickly squashed when I noticed the vague “may contain nuts” label present on so many foods. Did they mean peanuts? How was I supposed to eat with this vague labelling? Cookies, chocolates, breads, and even some pasta…and for some reason, things were labelled with “nuts and almonds.” Those are the same thing! Almonds are nuts! Not only was I dealing with reading in two new languages (Finnish and Swedish), but I was also dealing with new labelling laws in two new languages…and one wrong choice could have had drastic consequences. While I’m sure Finnish hospitals are wonderful, I didn’t particularly want to see the inside of one of them.
I lost 10 lbs in the first month, and anyone who knows me will tell you I didn’t have 10 lbs to lose. I quickly realized I needed to figure out these laws or let my allergies win and pack my bags to go back to Canada. I started contacting companies asking them to define what
nuts are included in their “may contain nuts” statement so I could better assess the risk for my allergies. Every company responded to me right away, and knew exactly what nuts were present in the facilities where their food was produced. Even a simple Facebook© message resulted in a straight-to-the-point answer where I clearly understood if the product was safe or not. With these quick responses, I soon started to question if I was better off in Finland than Canada.

From there, I explored restaurants. My Finnish friend insisted this bakery she loved would be allergen-safe. Bakeries are an automatic ‘no’ for me while I’m at home and I could feel my anxiety rising as I prepared myself to order a coffee with no cinnamon bun, as usual (perspective: that’s basically like ordering a poutine with no cheese in Canada). I nearly cried when, without missing a beat, the woman working behind the counter knew that the cocoa used in that cake *points to chocolate cake in the corner* had a “may contain nuts” warning on it, but that every other ingredient was safe and every piece of equipment was sanitized between making products. Yes, those traditional Christmas joulutorttu – puff pastries with prune jam, things I had eyed in the stores and accepted I would never get to try – were deemed safe.

The quality of service was not isolated to this small bakery. Every time I ate out I felt 100% safe and understood. All restaurants knew exactly what was in their food and what their food had come into contact with, whether it was a burger joint on the highway or a fancy restaurant in downtown Helsinki. The school cafeterias labelled allergens in all meals on large screens. Cafeteria food was labelled “contains a small amount of X” (aka, likely safe for intolerances) or “contains no X” (aka, likely safe for serious allergies). The cafeteria workers were incredibly precise with ensuring utensils only touched the food they were supposed to touch and that nothing dripped from one area to another. I skipped the days when peanut dishes were offered, but regularly ate the other cafeteria foods without any issues – and, most importantly, I felt safe whenever I chose to eat.

Originally, I wanted to write about the difficulties of food labelling abroad. Of course, I ran into issues in Estonia when I didn’t bother to learn any Estonian before my travels. I ran into problems in the arctic when a chef told me to just read the menu to see what was in the food (he thought I meant an intolerance). I also assumed that food in Denmark would be labelled in Swedish because food in Sweden was labeled in Danish. I quickly found myself buying a soda pop instead of a real meal to get me through my flight without a reaction because I couldn’t read any of the food ingredients. But through writing this blog post, I have come to realize that, for the most part, food allergies were incredibly well handled in Finland. Of course, you need to know the native words for your allergen. For example, I knew maapähkinä is peanut and soijaproteiini is soy protein before I even applied to move to Finland, and I knew how to pronounce them the best I could. Had I not learned those words, I would have had a significantly different experience. But other than the language barrier, no significant issues occurred. Travelling with allergies is possible, and sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find!

– Danielle B.

Flashback: How I Managed my Teenage Years with Food Allergies

Although it seems like many moons ago that I was teenager, it in fact has only been four years. Being a teenager is not only a period of significant growth and changes in your life but is also a crucial time for managing food allergies. It has been shown through various studies that teens are the age group that take the most risks when it comes to their food allergies. Therefore, developing a strong management strategy to carry throughout your teenage years is very important.

I think that the main factor that helped me manage my allergies in my teen years was the fact that I had a good foundation of management from when I was younger. I have always thought that it is crucial for parents to set a good example when a child is young and allow the child to gain independence as quickly as possible when it comes to them self-advocating about their allergies. By having a routine of always having my auto-injector on me, being able to speak to restaurant staff, and telling my friends about my allergies, the new challenges that came with being a teenager were a lot easier to handle.

Young Woman Standing in Sunset Light, Looking at Camera. Hair Fluttering in the Windi. Selective Focus, Bokeh Lights.

I think one of the biggest changes was moving from elementary school, which is often a very controlled typically “nut-free” environment, to high school where those regulations typically are not in place. I had to be aware of my surroundings in the cafeteria and be confident enough to tell those I was eating with about my food allergies if they had a food containing an allergen of mine. This was something I found difficult at first as I did not go into high school knowing many people. However, after a while it became much easier. I also made sure that my friends knew about my allergies as well so that if they noticed someone else with my allergen they spoke up for me too.

When in our teenage years we often start to go out without parental supervision and start attending parties. Always remembering to have my auto-injector on me was really important as I didn’t have one of my parents to remind me or to bring a back-up one for me. I made sure that I had one in a purse, one in my backpack, and an extra in the house so that I was always covered and it made it harder to forget. When attending parties, I was extra careful to make sure I had one on-hand as there was often food around and people would be sharing cups or accidentally take a sip of yours. This also taught me to be very aware of my surroundings when at parties to make sure that my cup was always with me and that I avoided any food that I couldn’t eat.

Overall, my teenage years went quite smoothly socially, academically, and when managing my allergies. It is important to take good habits from childhood forward into this time and keep them in place as you enter into adulthood.

– Lindsay S.