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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

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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

When a Boy with a Food Allergy Walked into my Life: Girlfriend Edition

Chocolate covered almonds, peanut butter sandwiches, and M & M’s are a few of my favourite things to eat! For me, going a day without peanuts, tree nuts, or almonds was as rare as a black swan. I have been very lucky in my life to have no food allergies. On top of that, my family and my closest friends are also allergy-free. Needless to say, you can imagine how much my life flipped the moment I found out my major crush (who is now my boyfriend) informed me of his life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. This was also a relief for me, as I understood why we didn’t share a kiss after our first date.

The first time we kissed, and several times after, I noticed a trend. The question “have you consumed any nuts today?” along with an interrogation of my diet, was something I quickly got accustomed to. I’ve never been questioned before kissing someone, so that was a totally new experience for me. Talk about feeling pressured! This wasn’t a typical question that had a range of answers, it was either yes or no. I had to be 100% sure or else my boyfriend’s life was at stake. I became very well acquainted with ingredient labels on all products. This helped me to feel confident to ensure I was nut-free and kissable on days when I was visiting my boyfriend.

Woman trying to kiss a man and he is rejecting her outdoor in a park
Before kissing someone, ensure they have not eaten your allergen!

I began making a list of personal items that may contain peanuts and tree nuts, or could have been contaminated at some point (with the amount of peanuts and tree nuts in my life, you can imagine how long this list was). If there’s one thing my friends know about me, it’s that I love my chap stick. In all honesty, I use it hourly! So I chose to assume all previously used one were contaminated and bought new ones. I then marked the new ones with permanent marker to indicate that they were nut-free and safe from cross-contamination. As I used my old personal items that potentially came into contact with nuts, I eventually replaced them with nut-free products that would be safe around my boyfriend. After all, if things go well with this guy, my future will be surrounded by a nut-free environment so I might as well get used to that sooner rather than later.

I currently live at home and figured it would be important for my parents to be informed of my boyfriend’s food allergies. To help my parents have a better understanding, I named a couple of examples of tree nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds. It was a good thing I did, as my dad later questioned me about almonds. This gave me an opportunity to educate my parents further and since I had their attention, I brought up the topic of cross-contamination, such as clean nut-free counter tops when my boyfriend is visiting. My parents were put to the test over the holidays when they invited him over for Christmas dinner.

I made sure I went over the ingredients with my parents to certify everything was nut-free and I reminded my parents to stay away from items such as previously opened butters that could have been contaminated. I am happy to say that the dinner was delicious, and my boyfriend was able to enjoy an allergen-free turkey dinner.

Couple shopping in a supermarket

I thought the holidays was a big test, but that was nothing compared to the vegan pot luck get together my friends and I choose to organize. Vegan dinners tend to contain a lot of tree nuts due to their high protein content. As mentioned earlier, none of my close friends have any food allergies. During the planning phase, my friends and I went over who was making what dish. To tone down the anxiety my boyfriend may feel that night, I picked a main dish so the both of us could be confident knowing there is at least one thing we could eat, after all, kisses were on the line and going an entire day with my boyfriend and not being allowed to kiss him, seemed torturous! Next, I became the nut police, or at least that’s what my friends called me. I made sure each person was aware of the extent of my boyfriend’s allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. A couple days before the big day, I started giving some tips on reading labels, and foods/areas to avoid (such as pre-made salads) at the grocery store. I reminded my friends to pay close attention to their ingredients, and if they made a mistake, and accidentally contaminated their meal with nuts, to be aware of that so that I could inform my boyfriend of which foods to avoid. Not only was my boyfriend able to feel relaxed during our get together, but my friends also chose to support the new change in my life, and learned more about accommodating food allergies.

I had no idea the impact his food allergy would have on my life, but I found the transition to be much easier, especially when kisses are up for grabs.

– Cindy B

Growing up and Growing out of a Food Allergy

 

Beautiful girl is looking at unhealthy donut with appetite. It is situated on a table. Isolated on a white background

I’ve always maintained that while food allergies are an important part of me, they are not something that defines me. That being said, when you grow up avoiding certain foods because of food allergies it is a pretty big moment when you find out that you are no longer allergic to a specific food. Not to mention the new doors that are opened in terms of experiencing new food options. Though I may be dating myself, I can still remember the first food allergen I ever grew out of. It was 17 years ago… and I was six years old. I had grown out of my milk allergy after doing a “challenge test” at my allergist’s clinic and I had just successfully drank an entire cup of milk. My mom then thought that the next step to celebrate this momentous occasion was to give me chocolate for the first time— after tasting, I proceeded to comment on how gross it tasted.

Luckily my taste buds for chocolate have changed. I would have to wait 16 years, but I have also been lucky enough to grow out of another food allergy. My entire life I have been allergic to peanuts as well as tree nuts, but after another visit to my allergist this past fall I was determined to not be allergic to any tree nuts! While my peanut allergy remains life-threatening, I found this to be an exciting change in what I am able to include in my diet.

The first couple of times that I included tree nuts in my diet, I always had a friend or family member with me and it felt very strange to be eating a food I spent my entire life avoiding at all costs. However, it didn’t take me long to discover Nutella and I almost finished an entire jar in one weekend (with help of course…). Over time, it felt less strange to include tree nuts in my diet, and it probably made my friends more uneasy to see me eat tree nuts than it did for me.  When I reached this point, it ended up being fun to discover all the different tree nuts that I could eat, how I could use them in recipes, and finding different menu items I could have that before I had to avoid. For example, I also have an egg and wheat allergy. A lot of vegan foods that I eat are egg-free and luckily, tend to be gluten-free as well. Vegan recipes, however, commonly use different tree nuts as a key ingredient, so I no longer had to be worried about missing an ingredient such as cashew butter, almond flour, or crushed walnuts! It also took me a while to get out of the habit when giving my “allergy speech” to waiters at restaurants to just say “wheat, eggs, and peanuts” instead of “all nuts” when I was stating my food allergies. But this, like with all things, practice definitely makes perfect!

Despite having a new world of foods to try with the elimination of my tree nut allergy, I still found my vigilance has to be up in terms of avoiding the risk of cross contamination with peanuts. Depending on what tree nuts and tree nut products I end up buying at the grocery store “may contain traces of peanuts” is often still included on the label— making strict ingredient label monitoring a must! As well, I have to make sure while talking to individuals about my food allergies, including waiters at restaurants, to stress that my allergy to peanuts is life-threatening and cross contamination is a big risk.

While I still have to be on my food allergy “A-game,” growing out of an allergy can involve a lot of excitement and new food discovery! Have you ever grown out of a food allergy?  If so, how was the transition of incorporating this food into your diet, and what things did you still have to be careful about?

– Caitlyn P.

Hello new Food Allergy, my old friend

Cropped image of woman comparing products in shop
Double checking ingredient listings for your new (and old) food allergen is very important!

As many people who are at-risk for anaphylaxis may know, food allergies are something that can be both grown into and grown out of. In the best of cases people are able to effectively “grow out” of their food allergies, allowing them to be able to live with fewer dietary restrictions. However, sometimes people can attain new allergies throughout their lifetime causing them to go through the learning process of adapting to and becoming more aware of a new allergen.

I have been lucky enough to grow out of a few food allergies such as egg, shellfish, and seafood. About 8 years ago, when I was 16 years old, I had a mild allergic reaction to a hot dog I ate at a restaurant. I developed hives around my mouth part way through my meal. Knowing that none of my other allergens (peanuts and tree nuts) were in the food I was confused as to why I was reacting this way. I made an appointment with my allergist and explained what had happened. After thinking about it further I could remember times growing up where I would eat meatballs or chicken fingers and complain about the food being spicy because I had a strange feeling in my throat. Looking back, it was probably a mild allergic reaction because right away my allergist knew what I reacted to: soy protein isolate. This is a man-made manipulation of soy that is used as a filler in many reformed and frozen meat products. My allergist had found that many of his young patients with peanut allergies also had an allergy to soy protein isolate. He performed the skin testing and the hive was about two times the size of the one for peanuts!

At that time, I had a lot of difficulties adapting to this new allergy since soy protein isolate was a newer and less well known ingredient in many foods. I found new products popping up all the time that contained it: salad dressings, cake mixes, fruit juices, and sauces. It is coming up in more and more places as it is a cheap way to boost the protein content and help bind products together. This was very challenging for me as I had to look for new words when reading labels on everything I ate. At 16 years old I had a good idea of what foods were safe in regards to my nut allergies but soy protein isolate is so unpredictable that to this day I double check ingredients constantly on new foods because I never know where I will find it!

Growing into an allergy can be quite difficult as it presents new challenges with finding safe foods, eating out, and all the other difficulties one at risk for anaphylaxis finds in life, at a time when you thought you had things under control. Although it can be tough, it has also helped me to become even more careful with the allergies I have had my entire life and make me that much safer when it comes to managing my allergies.

Lindsay S.

Nepal, Austria, Greece & Keeping on Track with Food Allergies

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This spring was quite busy to say the least. As I prepared to finish my Bachelor of Nursing Science degree, write my nursing licensing exam, and begin the search to find a “real person” job, I also found myself in the midst of planning a volunteer trip to Nepal for the beginning of June. I’ve volunteered abroad before and am quite interested in global health so I was very committed to the idea of taking some time to go on a volunteer trip before taking on ‘adult responsibilities’ in the ‘adult world’. Before I knew it, after I organized my trip to Nepal, I also tacked on a week of visiting relatives in Austria and then arranged a one week tour of the Greek Islands. Could you say that I had a bit of a panic attack thinking that after I got my first nursing job I wouldn’t have any free time to travel again? Absolutely. Was this a slight overreaction? Perhaps…but no regrets, right? Anyway, along with the challenges of organizing three very different trips there is always the challenge of taking appropriate precautions with regards to food allergies.

In the weeks leading up to my trip departure I did basic research on the cultures I would be visiting and what sorts of food I would likely encounter. In Nepal, their cuisine takes influence from India as well as China with their main meal being Dhaal Bhat (rice &lentils). With my allergies being to wheat, eggs, and nuts I was a-ok with that. I was familiar with Austrian cuisine since my grandparents would always cook Austrian meals growing up. That being said, before even booking my trip I knew their love of schnitzel doesn’t work with my wheat allergy and sausage would also pose a challenge. What I did have going my way was the fact that, when in Austria, I would be meeting with my cousins who luckily could speak German and would be able to help me find suitable food options.

Finally, the mediterranean diet would for the most part agree with my food limitations of wheat, eggs, and nuts. But it would still pose some risks in terms of cross contamination. After getting an idea of what foods I would encounter while travelling, I also did the routine task of contacting airlines and informing them of my food allergies. I will admit I did not pick my airline based on which ones were allergy friendly. Instead I looked at which ones offered the best deal. I then had to find out that some airlines such as Turkish Airlines did not accommodate allergies in anyway such as even offering a gluten free meal option to passengers. This at least tipped me off to be well prepared with snacks for my air travels.

Other preparations before I left for my trip included making sure that I had not only one auto-injector to take with me but in fact several stored in different bags so I had backup options in case one needed to be used or perhaps accidentally got lost. I also packed anti-histamine medication which I use for less severe allergic reactions and a few inhalers in case I had one of my in-frequent asthma attacks. Having travelled by myself to other countries before, something that I always like to bring is allergy cards. You can order these online through companies like Select Wisely.

These allergy cards are neat because you can have these pocket- sized laminate cards made to state your allergies as well as other phrases such as ‘I am having an allergic reaction please get me to an English speaking hospital’ in virtually any language. I naturally ordered a fresh batch of these allergy cards in Nepali, German and Greek. But the roadblock I encountered was that, although I ordered these cards five weeks before my departure date, because they were coming from the USA they didn’t actually arrive before I left. The real kicker is I flew out on a Saturday and my allergy cards arrived the Monday after! Oh well, c’est la vie! I found that a useful and convenient alternative for communicating my allergies was downloading the google translate app on my smartphone. By downloading this app I could use very simple language to communicate my food allergies and inability to eat certain foods and type this into the app. I then saved the phrases that were produced so I could easily bring them up when ordering food.

So after months of planning and prepping for my trip it was finally time for departure. For my time In Nepal, I was living in Kathmandu and the work I was doing involved volunteering with the largest women’s health NGO in Nepal. I got connected with this group through a volunteer liaison organization that provided room and board for those coming to the country to volunteer. This provided some obvious perks such as not having to find my own accommodations as well we had all of our meals provided for us by an in-house cook. I knew in Nepal it was customary to eat rice at most meals (usually at least two meals a day), but when I had my food allergies explained to the cook I could see her eyes bulge as I am sure she began to ask herself ‘what else can I make for this girl besides rice, rice, and more rice!?’

I will admit.. I ate ALOT of rice when I was in Nepal. Breakfast usually contained of fruit and some form of rice, rice donuts, fried potatoes or even fried rice noodles (I believe the cook was trying to get creative as I could not eat things like toast or egg). Lunch typically involved fried rice prepared with some fried vegetables and potatoes or beaten rice (another form of rice quite popular in nepal…usually fried). Dinner again usually consisted of dhal bhat (rice and lentils) with curried vegetables. If you want a true picture of Nepali cuisine don’t just use my blog as a source they DO eat food beyond rice including their famous stuffed dumplings called Mo-Mos as well as various noodle dishes but as I definitely experienced rice is their main staple grain.

While my day-to-day meals were always allergy friendly I did eat out from time to time and had to be careful with ordering my meals. It was tempting not to eat out in Nepal since for $3-4 american could get you a LARGE meal of your choosing. In terms of ordering safe, I always try to stick to foods I can identify as likely being allergen free and then reconfirming when placing my order. In Nepal this involved ordering a lot of curries and traditional plates of dhal bhat that came with curried vegetables, pickled vegetables, your choice of meat as well as potatoes. It was here that I would bring out my phone and show waiters my pre-typed allergy message. The organization I worked for was stationed in Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) and I was surprised how many people in Nepal could speak or understand some English. That being said, allergies are next to non-existent in Nepal so while some educated Nepali people know of allergies this is not something they encounter regularly like we do in North America. Therefore it was important to always re-evaluate the waiters understanding while placing my order and even confirming again when the order arrived.

While I found it easy to avoid food allergens when eating out, I actually found it harder to avoid allergens at my place of work. The volunteer organization that I worked for had its main branch located in Kathmandu. However, due to the recent earthquakes that struck Nepal, we were going out to areas around the Kathmandu valley and working in health camps. Regardless of whether we were at the main branch or out in the field, lunch was always provided for the staff (something commonly done in many places of work in Nepal). These would be simple lunches of Mo-Mos (dumplings) or packets of dried noodles which are extremely popular in Nepal (yes, exactly like the ones you ate in grade school). That being said most days I could not eat any of these lunches and instead brought my own.

Some of the staff did not speak English so, when I politely declined their offer to have some of their food, it was hard not to feel completely rude. After a couple of these offers, during which I received strange looks for not wanting their food, I brought my phone with me to work so I could communicate to everyone that it wasn’t that I didn’t like their food but literally could not eat it. They definitely understood and even on my last day of work made me a special lunch with only foods I could eat— just one small example of the incredible kindness and hospitality of the Nepali people. I am thankful to say I did not have an allergic reaction while in Nepal and in fact was more successful at avoiding my food allergens than avoiding drinking untreated well water…but that is an accident and a story for another time!

After the trip of a lifetime to Nepal, I flew to Austria for a week. Here I will admit I was fortunate that, for about 2/3 of my travels, I was with cousins who could help with translating food allergies when ordering or helped with reading ingredient lists. While on my own I still didn’t find it too difficult to order food and communicate my allergies. I attribute most of this to the fact that I was in tourist centres like Vienna and Salzburg where it wasn’t hard to find those who spoke English. When it came to buying food at stores, when in doubt, I simply would look for a friendly stranger who spoke English and could help me translate what the package said. I had the google translate app ready to go but found I didn’t need to use it often at all. Again I was fortunate that Austria proved to be a trip that was reaction free!

For my final stop in Greece, I found it slightly more difficult to order food than in Austria. I obviously didn’t have family right there to translate, as well I found English wasn’t quite as commonly spoken here. That being said, while travelling the Greek islands, many of the cities are tourist hot beds so you will find someone working in a restaurant that does speak some English.

Another thing I found was that sometimes the personality of servers in Greece were such that, depending their mood or how busy they were or maybe just how they were feeling that day, this would dictate their promptness for allowing you to order with a ‘special request’ (i.e. a allergy safe meal). Despite this I did appreciate that they always did pay attention to my actual concerns and were very good about making alterations as necessary so I could eat safely wherever I was.

Even on my last night in Greece I was dining with some people in Athens and after having one of the best dinners of my trip the waiter/owner of the restaurant brought everyone at our table a piece of a pastry. I graciously thanked the man but explained that this was also something I could not eat. He of course understood and then came back a few minutes later asking if I could eat watermelon. After I said I could, he came back with an entire chopped up watermelon for our entire group! One of the greatest experiences of my travels had to be seeing the generosity and thoughtfulness of people are all across the world!

Yes, it can definitely be extra work and an added responsibility when travelling with food allergies. But I am a firm believer that it is not something that should hold you back from allowing you to gain life- changing experiences and travelling around the world! There are so many other things to consider and precautions to take when travelling with food allergies. While I tried to take precautions that made sense to me, feel free to comment below with tips and tricks you use to stay safe while travelling!

Caitlyn P.

How Your Parents Treated Your Allergies Then and Now: Once a Parent, Always a Parent

Blog Pic Nov

I was three years old when my family found out I had a life threatening food allergy to peanuts and nuts. Now, I don’t remember much from that fateful day, but the bits and pieces I’ve gathered seem to allude to the following: I ate a cracker with peanut butter on it and immediately went into anaphylactic shock. My parents rushed me to the hospital because they had no idea what the heck was happening to me.

Afterward, the doctors broke the news to my family that I was anaphylactic to all nuts and peanuts (my life story and my family’s were sent down a very different, but interesting path). At the beginning, my parents did everything to keep me safe; and I mean everything. My saint of a mother spent hours baking everything from cakes and cookies, to ice cream and bread. There were no regulations for food safety, and few companies could guarantee a safe products free of cross-contamination. So our food options were limited. Collectively, my family and extended family decided to clear our houses of all of my allergens (and my brother’s when we figured out his allergy) to limit the chances of either of us having a reaction.

They painstakingly created one space where I could feel completely safe to eat anything found in our kitchen. On top of creating meals, snacks, and even birthday cakes for fellow classmates, my mom helped create support groups for fellow parents of children with food allergies. She also become an integral part of the organization AAIA (Allergies, Asthma Information Association) and spread the message about food allergies to our local school board (to eventually make my school nut-free before its time).

Through it all, my mom and dad did everything in their power to make me feel included in events, safe and, most importantly, normal. It can be so hard on a child’s self-esteem to grow up with a food allergy, and my family did everything in their power to both help me be comfortable with my allergen and to be vocal about informing and educating people. BUT, that did not stop her from telling anyone and everyone about my allergies, sometimes in the most pre-teen embarrassing way, or announcing to any room that would listen that we had a quote “Special Alert” – me.

Fast-forward 20 years to my adulthood. My mom is still taking time to make homemade foods for me when I visit, informing anyone who will listen about food allergies, and is still taking time to discover new and safe foods for me. My family is still my pillar of support when it comes to new or lasting issues I have with my food allergies regardless of distance between us. My food allergies have been consistent in my life and my family’s for such a long period of time that they are no longer a constant topic or issue for us. Over the years we’ve found restaurants that can accommodate, safe places to travel, and resources to make our lives easier.

My parents still choose to not keep my allergen in their home, and not to eat them even while travelling. I guess some habits never go away. And between you and me, it makes me smile every time I think about it. My mom still ever-so subtly prompts me to inform servers and chefs about my allergen before I even get a chance to sit down when eating out. She still makes me re-read ingredients after she reads them and still insist on joining me on every trip I take to the allergist. My parents have always been a beacon of love and support in my life, from allowing me to spread my wings and experience life, to helping me create values and roots to come back home to.

Arianne K.