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!

Exploring a Unique Perspective: Non-Allergic Siblings

Have you ever wondered what it’s like for a non-allergic sibling? We teamed up with Allergy Girl Eats to explore this perspective!

Check out the article!

 


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Back-To-School Guide

Welcome back #FALFamily! We are so excited to share with you all the amazing projects we’ve been working on for you this Summer.

Are you ready for school to start?! Click here for our ULTIMATE BACK TO SCHOOL GUIDE, designed to help answer any and all of your questions! Enjoy 🙂


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SURPRISE

Happy #FoodAllergyAwareness Month #FAL Family! We’ve got a BIG surprise for you!

We’ve got you covered as you get ready to embark on your adventures and explore the world this summer!

AllergySmartz has just been updated to include 4 New Languages: Hebrew, Korean, Portuguese, and Turkish, and 1 New Allergen: Corn!

Usable without Internet connection, and equipped with 20 Spoken Languages and the Top 13 Allergens, AllergySmartz is the perfect tool to communicate your allergies to restaurant staff while dining abroad!

Be sure to download AllergySmartz and share it with your friends who want to travel this year! Happy Travels 🙂

Click here to Read More


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Thanksgiving 2016 Part 2: How Food Allergies Build Character and Make You a Stronger Person

Food in diverse cultures gets interesting as you move beyond mere sustenance to the ‘paradox of plenty.’

The scintillating aroma of the turkey, pecan pie, mashed potatoes, and the numerous other dishes that go on to making a Thanksgiving Day feast, are a reflection of the hosts’ warmth and hospitality.

While the ambiance is always refreshing, it is the bounteous food that can be intimidating for someone with food allergies.

As a teen or a young adult, the hosts’ fervor for one to sample countless appetizers, the feast at the Thanksgiving table leave one torn. It is a balancing act between saying a polite no to the hosts’ generosity or becoming very sick.

As a food allergy advocate, I cannot reiterate enough that when it comes time to confront a situation where you are unsure of the allergy friendliness of any food item, you MUST speak up.

Striving to understand the multifarious questions people have about food allergies, evaluating and responding in the most accurate and convincing manner, and learning to tactfully and respectfully condemn skepticism, while engaging with the host and politely advocating and reiterating choices you are making is absolutely essential in building a safe environment for yourself.

While food allergies seem and, to an extent, are an impediment in one’s ability to freely explore food culture, or dine at parties or banquets, I have come to discover a hidden positivity- It better equips one to build strong and ethical communication skills.

In order to be safe you have to say it as it is – honestly, accurately with a genuine reason namely, the specific allergy and its implications.

Being honest and unpretentious is a skill that will serve you well in all walks of life.

Consider another scenario: You are out dining with friends at a new restaurant, a test of your ability to be proactive and judicious. For someone with nut allergies a scoop of plain ice cream seems innocuous. Yet you aren’t sure of the risks of cross contamination. “Temperance” here is the key.

The word “temperance” comes from the Latin word Temperantia which means self-control. So when you say no to the ice cream it goes much beyond than the just not eating element. It represents self-restraint in actions and in speech.

In a dynamic world of a teenager with varying scenarios, be it a field trip, camping with your Scout Troop, attending a wedding reception, staying away from home at college or attending a party, the changing environment teaches persistence in problem solving, adaptability, resourcefulness and diligence to determine safe dining options. With advocating, some planning and empowering others around about your allergies you will almost never go hungry. While it may not always be something that you truly enjoy eating, contentment may come with some fortitude but is so instrumental in teaching resilience and grit.

Travelling abroad opens a new plethora of excitement. The trail blazer in you will raise curiosity, that sense of wonder and optimism knowing that cultural nuances will impact your dietary restrictions strengthens positivity of character, the respect for diversity and courage to take on the challenge.

To embrace a struggle and to extrapolate it to make you stronger is the elixir for all success.

“So this Thanksgiving as you express gratitude remember that the highest appreciation for what you have is not to just utter words. The strength of persona that you have developed over the years, consequential to your food allergy and that you continue to hone every day is the silver lining in the challenges that the food allergies pose. Look back and marvel at how far you have come. Your biggest asset and strength is your power over your mind!!”

 


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Thanksgiving 2016 Part 1: A Letter to Family [RERUN]

As the holiday season approaches, it is imperative that we educate relatives on food allergies, and communicate the severity of an allergic reaction. While relatives do not wish to do harm to their loved ones, food allergies can be difficult to understand. Therefore, we’ve decided to rerun this post. We have received very strong feedback from the day it was first posted, and hope we can help even more people!


Here at FAL we want to educate as many people about food allergies as we can.

Sometimes family members are not very accommodating of food allergies, especially elderly relatives. It’s not because they don’t care, they do, they simply don’t understand.  Today, we have for you a letter template to fill out and send to relatives before you meet them. Here it is!

Dear [NAME OF RELATIVE],

There are few others in this world who love (NAME OF CHILD) as dearly as you do. We are thankful that you are such an important part of his/her life.

As you know [NAME OF CHILD] is allergic to [ALLERGEN]. Therefore, I wanted to discuss with you briefly what [ALLERGEN] allergies mean.

What the food allergy means is that [NAME OF CHILD] body treats even a minuscule amount of  [ALLERGEN] as an enemy. If [NAME OF CHILD] eats or is exposed to [ALLERGEN] he/she can get very sick.

[ALLERGEN] allergies are NOT a disease. [NAME OF CHILD] is a normal, active child.  

The signs of an allergic reaction are:

  •       abdominal pain or cramps
  •       diarrhea
  •       difficulty breathing
  •       difficulty swallowing
  •       dizziness
  •       fear or anxiety
  •       flushing of the face
  •       heart palpitations
  •       itchy red spots (hives) on the skin
  •       itchy/watery eyes
  •       loss of consciousness
  •       nasal congestion
  •       nausea/vomiting
  •       pain or tightness in the chest
  •       scratchy throat
  •       swelling of the face, eyes, or tongue
  •       wheezing

Sometimes, exposure to an allergen could cause the windpipe to swell up, and the blood pressure to drop dangerously low.  This could develop just seconds after exposure to [ALLERGEN]. An allergic reaction is an EMERGENCY…it needs to be addressed IMMEDIATELY! If left untreated, it could be fatal within minutes.

When we meet, we can talk about what the course of action is, if this were to happen to [NAME OF CHILD].

It is for this reason that I view and handle [NAME OF CHILD] diet very differently.

While at times it may seem I am very overprotective of him/her with regards to food, or it may seem I am not letting [NAME OF CHILD] savor and enjoy food like other children, I HAVE TO DO THIS in order to keep [NAME OF CHILD] safe.

I am requesting your support for while we are together, so that while having a good time, together we can do everything to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction.

For reasons due to allergy, he/she may miss out on a family recipe or other goodies. Regardless of the food, he/she always enjoys being around you.

If you would like to cook using a recipe that is allergy safe for [NAME OF CHILD], please let me know what you need. I will get the allergy safe ingredients. Having food cooked by [RELATIONSHIP OF CHILD TO RELATIVE] is always so special and I am sure [NAME OF CHILD] will always treasure this.

We are looking forward to the visit. Thank you for honoring this request.

Warm regards,

[PARENT/GUARDIAN NAME]


PLEASE SHARE TO RAISE AWARENESS…YOU ARE A FOOD ALLERGY ADVOCATE!!

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Chocolate Mice, Cauliflower Skulls, and Strawberry Ghosts!!

A night of Jack-O-Lanterns, ghoulish displays of ghosts and goblins, black cats and witches on broomsticks, are hallmarks of Halloween! The excitement in kids as they countdown to wearing their creative costumes, and trick-or-treating is palpable for weeks leading up to Halloween.

Unknown to most, however, for a child with food allergies there is much trepidation. Milk, peanuts, tree-nuts, and more in candy/party treats impose a threat.

Be your own agent and surveil every piece of candy!!

Below is a collage of allergy-safe halloween treats, some sweet, some savory, and some positively disgusting! These will be sure to spice up your party and keep everyone safe!

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NOTE: THESE WERE NOT DEVELOPED BY FOODALLERGYLOWDOWN. THIS IS A COMPILATION OF IDEAS FROM VARIOUS SOURCES.

Those of us affected by food allergies are a TEAM! Add yourself to this great resource from FARE:  www.foodallergy.org/teal-pumpkin-project/fever-map#.WBDSzJMrLcF

It’s a crowd-sourced map for the Teal Pumpkin Project, which allows you to add your home and show that you are handing out allergy-safe candy to your trick-or-treaters. You can also find out which homes near you have registered, and be sure to stop at them!

That’s not all. Here are some past FAL Halloween Posts:

Teal Pumpkins for Halloween

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Courtesy of FARE

For all my candy lovers! Do you find yourself not being able to eat half the candy you collect while Trick-Or-Treating? Look for Teal Pumpkins in your neighborhood! FARE launched a new program in 2014 – they are encouraging families to put out Teal Pumpkins if they have non-food treats to offer!

If you offer these treats yourself put out a pumpkin to alert the other allergic-kids in the neighborhood! Thanks for your support!

Check out FARE for more information here.

Allergy-Safe Halloween Treats!

Halloween decor

Photo Courtesy of Penn State News

Hey Everyone! I’m so excited by the wonderful response I received about my last post. I’m thrilled so many of you are planning to do a Teal Pumpkin for Halloween this year!

For some inspiration, I thought I’d share some ideas on Allergy-Safe treats you could offer. For one, Dum-dum lollipops are free of the Top 7 Allergens – so those might be a good idea to keep around! In terms of non-food treats, packs of pencils, puzzles, party favors, nail polishes, books, small stuffed animals – all things you can find at your local dollar store!

I like to think in terms of what I might put in a goody bag – those treats are usually inexpensive but still super fun!
Enjoy!

HALLOWEEN COOKIES

I’m so excited for Halloween! (As you can tell by all my Halloween themed posts🙂 )

These NUT FREE Halloween cookies are SO delicious and only have Wheat and Egg as major allergens!! They are wonderful for any event from costume parties to snacking while watching a scary movie! Enjoy🙂

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PLEASE SHARE TO RAISE AWARENESS…YOU ARE A FOOD ALLERGY ADVOCATE!!

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Handling Food Allergy Bullying & Long-Term Resolutions

With kids back in school, we cannot reiterate enough how crucial and how imperative it is that food allergy bullying is STOPPED, and children know how to handle it in an effective manner.

Last week, we shared a story about bullying that hit close to home. This blog is a follow-up on that. While excerpts are shared in this post, the full story can be accessed here.

The target in our story: my sister (when she was in second grade), struggling to keep the enemy in peanuts away from her, as the bully brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich towards her mouth. There came a point where she felt she couldn’t defend herself anymore, at least without the help of her school staff.

She mustered courage, got up and walked straight to the School Counselor’s office, just outside the cafeteria. She recalls shaking like a leaf, nervous and frightened, not just about thwarting a severe allergic reaction, but also losing popularity with the other friends, for being that “weird kid” who goes to the counselor.

GOING TO THE COUNSELOR IS NOT “WEIRD”

I am glad my sister’s school counselor sorted things out.

She rolled out the Restorative Justice Program.

It’s purpose was to give the bully:

  • a deeper understanding of the impact of her behavior

  • an opportunity to take responsibility for the harm she caused

  • an understanding to harness empathy

  • to chance to work on a way to restore the damaged relationship.

After a verbal and written apology from the girl and a note to her family the incident was history as far as my sister was concerned.

————————————————————-

Impact of bullying incidents in a child with food allergies are :

Distress and anxiety…While certainly real, these feelings are counterproductive. They impede problem solving.

Embarrassment and feelings of victimization…These feelings reinforce social isolation.

Resentment of the restrictions…In children while understandable, this can be toxic and it needs to be addressed.

Impede self-reliance…This is critical in developing a safe social environment in children with food allergies.

————————————————————-

Therefore, in my mind a better approach would be for us to:

  • Design and implement a school-based Food Allergy Awareness Program, perhaps run by the PTA.

  • It is imperative that we use the support of the school counselor, cafeteria staff, and teachers.

  • At the Middle/High School level, an Allergy Advocate Club would also be a great idea.

  • Be proactive…be the change you wish to see in the world.

 

PLEASE SHARE TO RAISE AWARENESS…YOU ARE A FOOD ALLERGY ADVOCATE!!

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Food Allergy Bullying: Et tu, Brute?

My sister’s narrative of a cold winter afternoon in second grade has stuck with me…for it was not just a horrific experience for her, but is perhaps another story of “Cafeteria Mayhem” for many children with food allergies.

As she walked in for lunch with her best friend, little did she know that her trusted crony would leave her a victim of the “mean girl phenomena” or quite simply put- BULLYING!!

Back then, my sister was allergic to peanuts. That afternoon lunch started off somewhat atypical. Strangely, this friend, an otherwise allergy-friendly kid bought a PB&J sandwich. That was unusual and had my sister on the edge.

As the girl broke a piece of bread smeared in peanut butter, she turned towards my sister and said “I’m gonna force-feed you peanuts today!”

Frightened, my sister tried to move away, although still seated. This potentially lethal piece moved closer to her as she arched over.  Her dilemma was how to protect herself, while conforming to the cafeteria rules of “sitting in your spot.”

Arguably, seven year olds don’t always make the best decisions. But, in their defense sometimes even if they know what is best for them the regimented, stereotypical rules in school do not give children the latitude to do something drastically different.

As my sister struggled to keep the enemy in peanuts away from her, there came a point where she couldn’t arch back any further.

She mustered courage, got up and walked straight to the School Counselor’s office, just outside the cafeteria. She recalls shaking like a leaf, nervous and frightened, not just about thwarting a severe allergic reaction, but also losing popularity with the other friends, for being that “weird kid” who goes to the counselor.

Eleven years later, I assume that her friend was impulsive and the act was not a contemplated, conscious attempt to harm my sister. But for someone with severe peanut allergy this was an ultimate in betrayal by her closest friend. This arrogance and a conspiracy of sorts, could be summed up in three words…Et tu, Brute?”

I am glad my sister’s school counselor sorted things out.

She rolled out the Restorative Justice program.

It’s purpose was to:

  • give the bully a deeper understanding of the impact of her behavior
  • to provide her an opportunity to take responsibility for the harm she caused
  • to harness empathy
  • to work on a way to restore the damaged relationship.

After a verbal and written apology from the girl and a note to her family the incident was history as far as my sister was concerned.

————————————————————————–

Bullying incidents in a child with food allergies are likely to cause:

Distress and anxiety…While certainly real, these feelings are counterproductive. They impede problem solving.

Embarrassment and feelings of victimization…These feelings reinforce social isolation.

Resentment of the restrictions…In children while understandable, this can be toxic and it needs to be addressed.

Impede self-reliance…This is critical in developing a safe social environment in children with food allergies.

Therefore, in my mind a better approach would be for us to:

Design and implement a school-based

Food Allergy Awareness Program, perhaps run by the PTA.

It is imperative that we use the support of the school counselor, cafeteria staff, and teachers.

At the Middle/High School level, an Allergy Advocate Club would also be a great idea.

Be proactive…be the change you wish to see in the world.

PLEASE SHARE TO RAISE AWARENESS…YOU ARE A FOOD ALLERGY ADVOCATE!!

Tweet us @AllergySmartz//Instagram us @AllergySmartz//Check us out on Facebook at facebook.com/AllergySmartz//Email us at allergysmartz@gmail.com//Or comment right here on WordPress!