From Being Different to Becoming Unique

The international diversity of metropolitan cities make them a mecca of culinary innovation. The combination of a dynamic food scene and a preference of most to dine extempore often poses a huge challenge for teenagers with food allergies.

Every time friends decide to delve into exotic cuisine, it is a recurring dichotomy, between a premonition and the hankering to blend in.

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Dining out with food allergies, in new settings seems like solving a jigsaw puzzle which is laid out differently every time. In managing my tree nut allergy, I have learned and grown from my countless interactions and dealings with situations and people.

I have learned to be gracious without trying to please. The feedback of my own actions as they form a loop in my brain have taught me traits that have positively impacted me in more ways than one. Advocating for myself and working against the odds has made each circumstance an opportunity to learn and teach.

I am a “people person”.

When I was fifteen and learning to navigate the social world without my parents accompanying me, I found myself arriving at friends’ sweet sixteen parties with sweaty palms and a racing heart. As I went through my sophomore year I began to reflect. After careful rumination, I was convinced that the anxiety was purely associated with the uncertainty around the food. The primary goal of parties is to socialize!  What every host or hostess most desires are gracious, vibrant, and lively party guests.

Convincing people about the severity of food allergies isn’t easy. In their defense, most people at best have only encountered finicky eaters or those with religious restrictions. So, the fact that even trace amounts of an allergen can be deadly if consumed directly or through cross contamination, seems illusory to them. I have learned to share perspectives, clarify  preconceived notions, and if we still disagree be able to appreciate others’ viewpoints, knowing that pleasing others should not impact my decisions.

Dealing with my allergies has taught me decisiveness and that if one is reluctant to assert viewpoints you are bound to miss out on opportunities and amazing experiences.

Obtaining allergy information is imperative to minimize the risk of a reaction. While to an onlooker it may seem like sweating the small stuff, it was necessary I do so, and has taught me to be detail oriented. Each time I successfully assert with grace and grit that ‘I can’t eat nuts!’ it is empowering – an affirmation of my willpower and determination.

The character, strength, inner security, and unique interpersonal skills I have learned have had a very positive influence on me. As I burnished latent potential, it helped me rise in ways I could never have imagined!

Managing food allergies is a work in progress. I could never have imagined that saying “NO” would be so empowering!

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