The Post Where I Vent About Food Allergies and Insensitive Jerks
There are many things in life that annoy me.
Bad grammar. Overuse of exclamation points. Tailgating drivers. Slow drivers. Brown M&Ms.
And, people who refuse to understand the seriousness of food allergies.
It's been almost three years since Olivia was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame.
In those three years I have become a food allergy advocate for Olivia (and for all the other kids out there who were dealt this very unfair hand). I read all the labels. I do all the research. I warn the waitresses about Liv's allergies. I demand that they tell the kitchen about the allergies. I worry that something might get past the defenses and I'll have to EpiPen my 10 year old in the middle of a restaurant (or my kitchen).
I hope for a cure and know that one might never come.
And I shake my head in total disbelief every time I hear someone say "what's the big deal?" or "it can't be that serious" or "how can YOU still eat peanut butter if Olivia is allergic?"
Let me explain it all again....
The "big deal" is that Olivia has three very serious food allergies. Has she ever experience anaphylaxis? No. Does that mean she'll never go into anaphylaxis? No. She could eat something tomorrow that she's eaten before and JUST LIKE THAT I could be grabbing my EpiPens and calling 911 at the same time.
We do our best to avoid all the known allergens - peanuts, tree nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, coconut, and many many more), and sesame. We avoid restaurants that aren't safe. We avoid ice cream shops where there's a risk of cross contact or cross contamination. We have to tell Olivia "no" and then comfort her when she cries because she can't eat the same dessert everyone else is eating.
We think back to all the times pre-diagnosis when she would eat peanut butter and then wake up vomiting in the middle of the night. We think about how lucky we were that she never had anaphylaxis after eating peanut butter pre-diagnosis. I think about the time we took her to a hibachi restaurant for her 7th birthday and how sick she felt that night (presumably from the sesame seeds that we didn't know were dangerous). We think about how many times she could have had an allergic reaction at school with NO EpiPens in sight. We always think about the "what if" moments.
We don't allow Olivia to eat anything made with peanuts, tree nuts, or sesame. Nor do we let her eat anything that is processed in a facility where those allergens are present. We ask questions at the bakery, we order "nut free" cakes knowing in the back of our mind that there is always a small risk that something got through the "nut free barrier."
There is never a guarantee that something that says it is "nut free" is truly nut free. Mistakes will be made. It's often a matter of putting our faith in the labels and trusting that they're accurate.
Do Olivia's allergies mean we don't keep peanut butter in our house? No. We have a jar of it in our pantry, within Olivia's reach. She doesn't touch it and we do our best to not eat it when she's home. We don't keep nuts of any kind in the house, but there are items in our pantry and freezer that she can't eat. And we make sure that she avoids those items. And (OHMYGOD) yes, sometimes I eat peanut butter. When Olivia is home. And I make it a point to not touch her or anything she is using in the kitchen.
And it's not just peanuts and tree nuts that are an issue. We also have to deal with sesame which is a sneaky bastard. I can only buy Panko bread crumbs because there is a sesame risk in most other bread crumbs. We don't order from certain pizza places in town because they use sesame seeds on their crust. Sesame doesn't have to be listed as an allergen according to the FDA because it's not one of the "big 8"...so there's a big guessing game involved with sesame.
I read the label of every food item I'm buying at the store that I know Olivia will be eating and do a small victory dance when I find something "safe" that I know she loves (like powdered sugar doughnuts).
It's all about the labels and avoidance. It's how the world of food allergies work. If you eat pecan pie on Thanksgiving, Olivia will not give you a kiss. If you eat a peanut butter sandwich you can't play with Olivia until you wash your hands. If we have almond chicken with our Chinese take out, keep it away from Olivia's food.
We all have jobs to do to keep our food allergy kids safe.
And this includes dining establishments. There are restaurants where I am 100 percent comfortable taking Olivia because we know they are safe and take food allergies seriously. There are also restaurants where we won't dine (Five Guys, Chick-Fil-A) because they are not safe for Olivia's allergies.
When I can visit a restaurant (or other dining location) and have a conversation with the wait staff and/or kitchen staff about Olivia's allergies and receive an intelligent answer in return, then I know we will come back to that establishment.
When I question a dining establishment about their food safety and possible cross contact issues and I'm told that food labels are essentially "fake" and only exist because the LAWYERS MADE THEM DO IT...well, let's just say I go into my Mama Bear mode and I will do whatever it takes to protect my daughter. Including bringing safe food into that establishment until they change their policies and procedures.
Also, I want to punch them in the face.
I don't expect a 'peanut free zone' everywhere we go with Olivia. Hell, our own house isn't 100 percent peanut free. But what I do expect is respect and civility and understanding and compassion.
To anyone who thinks food allergies aren't a big deal and that my requests for food labeling and a reduction in cross contact in the kitchen is stupid, imagine you have a food allergy.
Put yourself in Olivia's shoes for just one day - and make it a day when you're at a friend's birthday party and everyone else is eating cake and ice cream and you can't eat it because the cake is from an "unsafe" bakery and the ice cream has a "processed in the same facility as" warning. Imagine how you would feel. Left out. Singled out. Different. Now multiply that by EVERY SINGLE DAY. Then maybe you'll understand what it's like to have a potentially life-threatening food allergy.
Don't tell me that my child should eat somewhere else. Don't tell me that food labels aren't real. Get educated and start working to protect kids with food allergies. Otherwise, you're just a big jerk.