Coming Home (Film Review – Helsinki-Tehran, written and directed by Azar Saiyar)

When we were kids we would wait impatiently for my mom to come home from a night’s work in the morning.  Naturally, we swarmed her.

“Let me come home,” she would say, kicking off her clogs and removing her badge.

I always thought she meant she needed to take a shower to get the hospital smell off of her, which was probably part of it, and then years later I thought she meant she had just walked in so accosting her on the threshold wasn’t ideal.

My sister in law once told me she values her drive home from work.  If she was able to teach near her home she would miss it, the chance to unpack her thoughts from the day, to be silent after teaching elementary school children all day.  To switch from her teacher self to her self-self (my words, not hers, I promise she is much more erudite).

Mom has a “hospital voice” and I think I have a “work voice” too.  And a “court voice.”  And the voice when no one is listening.

I think I like that last one best.

When you’re always at work, there is no coming home in the classic drive home sense but instead I have moments, glimmers, of coming home and they happen randomly.  Sometimes it is late at night when I finally flick off the light in my home office/laundry room.  Sometimes it is the sound of my husband’s key in the door signalling that I can come home too.

And sometimes a song or a book or a film brings me home.

My cousin, Azar Saiyar, is a filmmaker.  She looks at things through her artistic lens and I think to myself the patience to view the world in vignettes is a gift.  Knowing she is a filmmaker but never having sought out her work (I don’t know why), I stumbled upon a film she wrote and directed featuring her father, my uncle, Aliakbar Saiyar.

Helsinki-Tehran from Azar Saiyar on Vimeo.

My Uncle Ali died about 4 years ago.  I remember getting the news and rushing to the carpet in our home that he had sent to my father, who gave it to me years later for my 18th birthday.  I touched the tassels, remembering how he would sit in our house and braid them absentmindedly on a visit, breaking only to gesture with his hands as he spoke animatedly to my father in Azari.

I moved my fingertips over the carpet and really felt the sensation of the silk beneath my fingers. My ears roared in that way they do when you have to feel something physical and not just emotionally because of the weight of it.  Thinking about how experience and memory can tie us together but here was something tangible that I could do to act as its own remembrance.

Azar made a film featuring my uncle that I watched this morning but it was made in 2009.  It is about being home, wanting to go home, perhaps taking our home with us through stories and dreams and memories.  It is the story of every immigrant who listens to the music of their childhood, who shares their stories with their children and grandchildren.

Watching it made me feel like coming home.

To know as the postscript to my Uncle Ali’s dreams of going to visit Iran again from Finland that he died there unexpectedly on a visit there is all the more heartbreaking.  Azar’s short film is beautiful and lyrical. I appreciate it so much as a parent, as a niece, and as someone that wonders about her own place in the world.

Food Find: Pascha Chocolate

I came home recently to find a box marked “perishable” on my doorstep and whisked it inside.  Those of you in Southern Nevada will know that the shipping window for perishables here is very limited and has already passed for 2014 (that is, until November or so rolls around).  I was so surprised to find I was the lucky recipient of some unsolicited chocolate!

In early 2013 I had read on my friend Colette’s blog Learning to Eat Allergy Free that there was a new allergy friendly chocolate and it was fair trade to boot.  I did not find Pascha Chocolate in stores at that point but was the lucky winner of a giveaway hosted by Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free at the end of last year and I loved what I received.  I wonder if I got into the system as someone that will gladly consume large quantities of chocolate and when I received the box this past week and realized I never had the chance to write about my take on Pascha Chocolate.  It was time to remedy that (see also: Disclosures).

Chocolate with Maca
Chocolate with a new to me ingredient: Maca

 

By the way, both Alisa and Colette are taking part in a new spin on ice breaking at this year’s FABlogCon – we are having a morning roundup of Saturday “breakout sessions” that will be limited mostly to groups of 10-15 per topic where you can really get some one on one insight from some brilliant folks.  Colette will be offering information on using that fancy DSLR you are scared to switch into manual mode and Alisa is going to be covering monetization across blogging, writing, and magazine platforms.  You’ll be able to register for the breakout sessions soon, I am having a hard time deciding which one I want to sit in on so I may claim planner’s privilege and hop in and out of sessions to “see how things are going.”

Beautiful packaging
Beautiful packaging

Ahem.  So, what did I receive?  Twitter recap to the rescue because most of it is already gone four days later. . .

I even found myself enjoying the coffee variety and I don’t drink or like the aftertaste of actual coffee.  The coffee flavor makes me think of my mom.  She works nightshifts as a registered nurse (labor and delivery) and has done it for many years so coffee is her mainstay.  There’s something comforting about the aroma of coffee and chocolate that says “mom” to me.  I wonder if my kids are going to smell frying onions in olive oil as adults and think of me?

The 100% cacao chocolate chips are a wonderful addition and the chips will be coming out later this year.  I am so glad to have a 100% alternative to Baker’s chocolate (which is not totally safe for milk allergic families given the “may contain” warnings on the packaging) for baking and cooking).  I tried the 100% chips in my vegan chocolate chili recipe (a lot like this recipe, just with chocolate and agave in the mix) yesterday and it was nice to not have to chop chocolate since the chips melted in perfectly.

Pasca Chocolate Chips
Chocolate Chips Coming Soon

My favorite of the bars was the 60% with Maca variety and I have to say I like the infused flavors much more than the varieties I’ve tried in the past with Goldenberries or Cacao Nibs (two of the types I received from Alisa’s giveaway, which were very good as well).

The children are not fans of darker chocolates, especially E, but I love seeing allergy friendly chocolate diversifying.  Even Pascha Chocolates suggests their 55% bars for the younger set and R did like the 60%.  These options are vegan, peanut free, tree nut free, and more with a great texture and taste.  Hope to start seeing these in stores locally, be sure to comment if you’ve seen them out and about so I can track some down.  Highly recommended.

Mylan Summit 2014 (and My Trip to Washington, D.C.!)

I’ve created a new Disclosures page to cover in greater detail what Mylan Specialty covered for the trip I’m about to discuss as well as other benefits I’ve received related to this blog.  Their provided disclosure is as follows but I didn’t think it covered everything a reader might ask about so feel free to scroll to the bottom of the disclosures page for more detail (though there is a spoiler in there about the DC leg of my trip that I covered myself):

I disclose in any communication made by me about EpiPen® (epinephrine) Auto-Injector and/or the Mylan Specialty Blogger Summit that such communication is at my own discretion and based on my own opinion.  I also disclose that my travel expenses were compensated by Mylan Specialty in exchange for evaluation and feedback on information presented during the meeting.

It is odd to say on the one hand my opinions are my own (they are) but in reality I do think I left the summit with a more favorable opinion of Mylan Specialty than before.  I don’t think it was because I had my travel covered as much as the act of traveling there and meeting with people passionate about food allergy awareness and advocacy in conjunction with their product (the “EpiPen”) did impact me.  I can see now why Jenny‘s story of starting the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference began with her experience gathering with other bloggers at a prior incarnation of the summit.  When she approached me about helping her bring the conference to life, she even said that she wanted the experience of connection and education to be available to not just the invited few but a broader audience.

It was such a boost to visit with some wonderful advocates on April 10th and 11th.  They say much of business is conducted before or after actual business hours in the form of relationship building but like true multi-tasking food allergy moms we made every minute together count.  Studious notes were taken, suggestions were made, and there were more than a few laughs thrown in for good measure.

So!  My husband points out to me that there’s the regular, concise way of saying things and then there is the “Homa” way.  I’m going to go with the latter though never fear, I won’t be pasting my type-written notes from the summit for readers to get through.  Thank heavens for small favors, right?  I won’t overload any of my e-mail subscribers with this full post because it is l-o-n-g so here’s the debut of my first ever “read more” tag on the blog, something I really can’t stand on other sites but I’m hoping you will click through and I promise it isn’t a pageview grab or anything.

Continue reading

The Stories We Tell (or: Legalities in Labeling)

In what is not an uncommon experience for food allergy gumshoes (I was going to say Food Allergy sleuths, but that is the title of my friend Jessica’s fantastic blog and I don’t want to encroach on her territory!), I was told just last month that if I had any questions about the safety of a food item, I should just not purchase it.  Last year the version from a restaurant was “we don’t know what is in our food, you shouldn’t risk it.”  To hear from a seller of shaved ice that I could not see the labels for his syrups and that I should not purchase anything was puzzling because water and sugary syrup is not a bad market for sweet sellers.  You’d think they’d want to include more people.

But I don’t mind being told that someone doesn’t want my custom, it is just that the blame often lies with over lawyering.  It also comes up when discussion gets to stock epinephrine (access and administration).  Now, that gets under my skin a little bit.  Seems to me I need to clear the air on this one for myself and my sister/brother attorneys, as I promise that the knee jerk reaction people have (to think lawyers are stirring the pot or being polemic) is not entirely true.  I believe that litigation and the adversary system can hone and focus practical issues in an ever changing world of challenges to health, happiness, and safety.

In law school I took a products liability course and if you ever want to fear just about every activity or item known to modern man, it is a great class to take.  (The professor was the fantastic Pavel Wonsowicz (now at UCLA) and I mention that because he was brilliant and hilarious.)  At any rate, there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to public perception of tort (a civil wrong as opposed to a criminal one) law as I learned even at that stage in school because I know all too well some of the stereotypical cases used to imply that we are a litigious country.

I’ll mention, for example, the “McDonald’s coffee case” (Liebeck v. McDonald’s).  In short, the public heard in snippets about the perception that a woman received a big payday because she spilled coffee on herself after obtaining it at a fast food drive-thru.  The disturbing untold element is that the Plaintiff’s case looked at what the company knew about how hot they intentionally made their coffee and the foreseeability of harm to customers or that they arguably ignored warnings in the form of hundreds of prior complaints about scalding coffee.  Does, for example, their claimed desire to have coffee stay hotter longer as drive-thru customers make their way to their destination tip the scales when compared with the increased risk of third degree burns like those suffered by the octogenarian Ms. Liebeck?

When you start breaking down your assumptions about motivation and responsibility, you start to understand the struggle between the letter of the law and the spirit.  We can know instinctively that people should be careful with a cup of hot coffee but as a society where does defaulting to personal responsibility end?  Can/should corporate entities be allowed to enjoy protection from liability, profit from consumers, and then not be responsible themselves for the strategic decisions made in product delivery and development?

Swinging back to the food disclosure issue, if a customer with food allergies were to eat at a restaurant without informing the staff of their disease and experienced a reaction, generally we could say that a reasonable restaurateur would not anticipate that their patron could have a reaction.  Even so, could we argue in the face of the epidemic of food allergies that a restaurant should be on notice in a general sense and therefore make affirmative disclosures about the contents of their food?  And while I’m asking questions, what would be so bad about disclosure of ingredients to shift the burden of deciding whether to consume an item onto the consumer?  Refusing service is not the only way to protect against liability, after all.  In the labeling context, the manufacturer that labels with a default “may contain milk” warning, for example, is refusing to serve the milk allergic customers in the same way the restaurant that tells me I should not risk purchasing their food for my child.

The decision to exclude in this case is most likely an economic one.  A great read is Jonathan B. Roses’ 2011 Food and Drug Law Journal article entitled “Food Allergen Law and the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004: Falling Short of True Protection for Allergy Sufferers.” (You can download the full pdf here.)  Roses writes:

Because of the expense of analysis required to determine if trace amounts of allergens are present in foods, or the risk of contamination in a food production or processing facility, manufacturers have a substantial cost-savings incentive to simply place precautionary warnings on all their products, ensuring protection against potential allergy litigation.

Volume 66 No. 2, pg 229.

Oddly enough, the manufacturer or food service entity may be concerned with monetary risks but I submit that it might be even cheaper to engage in safe food handling and appropriate disclosure because the benefits would reach beyond just avoiding being sued by someone secondary to an allergic event.  A little prevention and mindful safety could prevent food poisoning, even.

For all the fear of litigation, Roses’ article indicates that only 6 cases from 1992 to 2000 regarding anaphylactic reactions.  Id. at 232.  This could be because of extensive settlement and the fact that the case law that is out there can be contradictory.  If a person has a rare allergy, it might not be foreseeable that the allergen would require disclosure but if the person has a common allergy, courts have found that the allergic individual should foresee that a given food item contained that allergen.  Id. at 234.  Take a minute to digest (unintentional pun!) that contradiction and you’ll see the way we chip away at concepts to create law.  A new case occurs and we look to the prior ones to see what precedent was set.  Often the case law is such a mess than there has to be legislative intervention to change the way things work faster than would be the case through the progression of court cases when they frequently end in settlement anyway.

I have been working on this post, turning over my approach in my mind over and over only to not have a satisfactory way to distill my unease into clear terms.  Brevity has never been my strong point but the benefit of a blog as a writing space is that I don’t have to write something comprehensive, I can mull and ponder and post at my own pace.  Tort litigation is not the only thing on my to do list as it intersects with food allergy, but much like the famed McDonald’s case, it is my hope that if you encounter the argument that a policy is the product of “frivolous” litigation, there is more than meets the eye.  Much like the incomplete food allergy label there’s a bigger story lurking in the wings.

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Disclaimer: I’m a Nevada licensed attorney and solo-practitioner but this is in no way legal advice or intended to create an attorney client relationship.  The State Bar of Nevada does not certify any attorney as an expert.  

Stock Epinephrine in Nevada Schools and Onward to Restaurants and More

Today, thanks to a heads up from Caroline of GratefulFoodie.com, I was able to attend the Nevada Legislative Committee on Healthcare Interim Legislative Session hearing.  In Nevada, we only have legislative sessions every other year.  Last year was a great year for food allergy advocacy as Senator Debbie Smith championed Senate Bill 453 regarding Stock Epinephrine in Nevada Schools.  The bill eventually passed with unanimous votes in both branches of the state legislature.

pre
Getting Ready to Start

This was not my first time on the fourth floor of the Grant Sawyer Building near downtown Las Vegas but it certainly was my quickest visit as our contingent was called up right after the public comment section of the meeting.  I was able to visit a bit with representatives from Mylan (makers of the “Epi-pen” epinephrine auto injector) and their Nevada lobbyist as well as the co-leader of our local Food Allergy Parent Education Group, Susanne Stark, Senator Debbie Smith, and Chef Keith Norman of the South Point (and most recently board director at FAACT).

SenS
Senator Smith Addressing the Committee

Senator Smith began by letting the committee know about the success in the last year with stock epinephrine in Nevada. She poignantly told of how when the bill passed we did not know when it would be needed but now we did (Andrue Casado being one of the lives saved). The work is not yet done, she cautioned, because access can extend to restaurants.  Colin Chiles of Mylan would next expand on this point by referencing other states where unique situations were covered like New York summer camps and Alaska hunting guides carrying stock epinephrine.

KandS
Susanne Stark and Chef Keith Norman Speaking About Expanding Stock Epinephrine

Susanne followed with her account of the uses of stock epinephrine in private schools that were open to acquiring it and how in Clark County, Nevada alone there had already been 20 uses of stock epinephrine since the bill passed last summer.  Keith spoke about his experiences in food safety and the need for epinephrine in restaurants and the like.

Kacey
Kacey Larson Offering Testimony from Carson City via Video Feed

Attention turned to Kacey in Carson City, brandishing the front page of the Reno Gazette Journal featuring Andrue Casado and how his life was saved when he had his first ever anaphylactic reaction at school in Reno. After some closing remarks by Senator Smith, the committee chimed in with their words of support and personal experiences with food allergy. Senator Jones and Senator Dondero Loop had direct family connections. Senator Jones’ wife recently had an anaphylactic reaction and Senator Dondero Loop’s family member navigated food allergy at a time when epinephrine autoinjectors were not prevalent or the norm.

From Left to Right: Senator Debbie Smith, Homa Woodrum, Keith Norman, and Susanne Stark (Courtesy of Susanne Stark)
From Left to Right: Senator Debbie Smith, Homa Woodrum, Keith Norman, and Susanne Stark (Courtesy of Susanne Stark)

We laughed at taking a “selfie” after the hearing but I think it is a great way to make sure everyone is in the photo. Thank you for sharing this photo, Susanne! I care deeply about each of these great individuals and get chills just thinking of the difference each of them is making in their work. Senator Smith for her work for Nevada, Susanne (and her co-leader Debbie Bornilla) for the parents and the community in Las Vegas as a support group leader, and Chef Keith for making so many happy and safe.

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After the hearing Susanne raised the question to Mylan’s representatives about expiration dates on epinephrine (we were advised to feel free to return Epi-Pens with shorter than one year until expiration when issued as the pharmacy can readily exchange them for “fresher” stock).

Excitingly for me, Colin informed me the Mylan headquarters in Pennsylvania are a great space as I am traveling tomorrow to Pittsburgh to see it for myself at the invitation of Mylan. I was not sure if I could/should accept the opportunity when it was offered to me a few weeks ago but I think what I learn could be useful to the work we are doing in Nevada. Granted, this will require a lot of disclosure on my part as my plane trip, transportation, hotel, and meals are being covered and that does create the appearance of bias but hopefully longtime readers will know that I value my editorial independence. I look forward to sharing my experience especially since it will be my first time away from my children overnight (well, except for the night I was in the hospital in labor with my son and my daughter was home with my mother in law).

I will miss my kids tremendously and am very nervous about all the new social situations but there’s a sliver of excitement about the trip and getting to see the other attendees at the “Mylan Summit” April 10-11. Here we go!