The Importance of Food Allergy Awareness (or: Why We Walk)

Rice Flour play dough
Rice Flour play dough

I really try to stay positive here since I view the recipes, activities, and stories I share as a keepsake for my children someday but even I am not positive all the time.  The world isn’t always a positive place either.  In fact, a dear friend texted me a few weeks ago to vent that there was a discussion on the social networking site, Facebook, that had her angry on my behalf.  Apparently the hot button issue was food bans in schools and the usual arguments were rearing their heads like “my child likes peanut butter and jelly” or “that is all people can afford to send to school” or “what if people’s religious beliefs dictate that they eat peanut butter?”  I know even parents of food allergic kids are divided on the subject of food bans, it isn’t an easy thing.  My personal approach is that nuts are such a narrow aspect of food that the limited burden of eliminating them from school campuses is outweighed by the substantial safety benefit, not to mention the inclusion of more children in learning environments.  I know this is informed by my legal background both in reading portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and in risk assessment that takes place in products liability cases but the concept of balancing burdens and risks is not new.

I mention all of this because I want to, no, have to believe that many of the comments that come across as hurtful in their disregard of children or even adults with food allergies comes from a position of ignorance.  “If people just knew we aren’t talking about sniffles, we are talking about anaphylaxis and death, then they would join in the fight,” I would think to myself.  Of course, something came along that made me doubt that position:

“I was on an airplane once where they told us we couldn’t have peanuts because someone on the plane was deathly allergic. I ate my peanut m&ms anyways because I am a selfish a**hole and I hate flying, and my only condolence [sic] when flying is peanut m&ms.”

How do we combat perceptions like the one above?  Here is someone that was informed that a person would be put in danger by the presence of peanuts on an airplane and did not care.  I generally don’t try to convince irrational people but what would you say to an attitude like this?  (Or this criminal act I recently read about on the Onespot Allergy blog?)  I was pretty angry but then thought about the friend that was angry for my sake when she read this and the other comments on the subject of nut bans.  I thought about what her caring and consideration meant to me and that though there was not much I could do about all the potential bullies in the world, my family and I are fortunate to have some pretty special friends on our side.

My daughter started once a week half day pre-school three weeks ago just to see how she would handle it and to see how the school would accommodate her allergies.  I planned and prepared and planned some more.  I wrote a six page allergy plan (a special thank you to Jenny Sprague over at Multiple Food Allergy Help, she read my draft and gave me pointers as well as suggesting I buy a SafetySack, which is a child proof bag for epi-pens) and talked in depth with E’s teacher.  I still cried at leaving her there, wondering whether she would be okay even though the school is nut and egg free (a nut free campus was a must for me, I can breathe a little easier knowing E’s worst allergen should not be present).

Rice Flour play dough

I pick E up each time before lunch is served so one little classmate asked why she couldn’t stay.  “E has food allergies and comes home for lunch,” I said.  He asked, “what are you having for lunch today?” and I responded, “rice.”  His face lit up and he said loudly, “We have rice for lunch too!”  Children just “get” it.  It is almost like they have to be taught to exclude – at age four this little boy had more heart and presence of mind than many adults.  He wanted to make my daughter feel safe and welcome and tried to think of how he could accomplish that.

While focusing on the positives it is important to be aware as food allergy advocates that there will be attitudes we cannot change, that the phrase “life-threatening” just leaves some people emotionless.  Much like other drives for awareness, there are numerous layers to shining a light on food allergies.  I’d like people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of food allergies so children can be diagnosed as soon as possible.  I’d like people to know how serious food allergies are, that they don’t just involve ingestion but can involve any contact with an allergen, even in non-food products.  I’d like people to know that I am not interested in telling them what they can or can’t eat at home, or in a restaurant, but in environments where there is a public interest in access for all, like schools or on public transportation, I expect accommodation.

My daughter, the niece and granddaughter of fantastic teachers, wants to go to school and I will not keep her home just because someone else would rather send a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school instead of some healthy alternative.  This coming Saturday, October 6, 2012, we will be walking for food allergy awareness and to raise money for FAAN here in Las Vegas.  With each passing year the FAAN walk feels more crucial and I think it is because I see how far we’ve come and how far we still have yet to go.  I think it will be a wonderful event, last year’s funds went in part to helping provide training in the Clark County School District regarding food allergies.  I am proud to walk and continue to raise awareness.  Thank you again for everyone’s continued support and I hope to see some of you on Saturday!

(Edited to add: Check out Caroline’s post on Grateful Foodie about the walk and the booth she’ll have there!)

3 Comments

  1. I know for me I was completely unaware to how serious allergies can be before I met you. If I read a food label that said, was produced in factory with nuts – or something along those lines, I would just shake my head and think “we never used to have allergy problems…sounds like someone got sued…”. Now I am totally ashamed for even having those thoughts. But still, I have that basic question: Why are allergies so much more common now?

    • Oh please don’t feel bad – I used to wonder about those labels myself! There are a lot of theories about what has happened – there is a documented increase and some speculate that the rise of GMO and cross-contaminated food is to blame. The food we eat now is not like the food our parents ate. There’s the environmental hypothesis but also the hygiene hypothesis that wonders whether all our anti-bacterial pursuits are keeping kids unexposed to things that will strengthen their immune systems but for us I don’t think that was the case. There’s also the stat that if both parents have a history of allergies their kids are just about guaranteed to be allergic somehow and OTHER studies say it follows gender so if mom has allergies her daughter will – I know I have psoriasis which is immune related and my side of the family is pretty allergy ridden too. Oh, and people didn’t know or report it way back when either, I have anecdotes from people that they were sick when they ate milk as a kid so they just avoided it and it got better. Lots to think about and look into. Some therapies have promise now as well, we may see some cures or at least reductions in severity made possible in our lifetime, if not our children’s. I can dig up some actual data if you’d like, Janelle, I know I am not the best at describing all this!

  2. Pingback: Living with Food Allergies Blog Carnival - Stacy Molter

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