Last week was my dad’s birthday and Father’s Day, and at the center of my family’s celebrations was a chocolate and sunflower butter layer cake. My dad was really excited about it – before my peanut allergy was diagnosed my dad loved peanut butter, and since we’ve now eliminated all peanut products from our house, he has converted to sunflower butter. Try doing a search for chocolate and sunflower butter layer cakes (the kind of cake he requested for his special week) and you won’t yield nearly as many results as you would have by searching for peanut butter instead. Something I have learned about cooking and baking with food allergies, though, is that there are simple ways to make recipes more allergy friendly.
The recipe my mom and I chose to use for my dad’s cake was for a chocolate and espresso cake with peanut butter icing. Upon reading through the ingredients for the recipe, we realized that only the icing called for peanut butter and the cake was entirely peanut free. So we stuck with the cake recipe (which was from Damaris Phillips) and searched for a different icing recipe, ultimately settling on a recipe developed by the Sunbutter brand. To top off the layer cake, we sprinkled bits of chopped Suncups around the circumference of the cake instead of the chopped peanuts the original recipe had suggested. The result was a photogenic, delicious, and safe cake for our celebrations! So next time you find a recipe that looks great but contains your allergen, simply find other ways to make substitutions or even patch two or three recipes together.
1: number of previous blog posts to check out before you read this one
- 101: number of carved pumpkins on the wall
- 10: number of shopping carts filled with purchased pumpkins
- 1: number of UHaul trucks used to transport the pumpkins to my house
- 1: number of trips to Walmart (made possible by the aforementioned UHaul)
- 1: how many carving parties it took to carve all the pumpkins
- 57: how many friends and neighbors helped carve
- 126: number of carving tools used
- 0: number of stab wounds and lost fingers while carving
- 43: how many Halloween songs were played during the carving
- 2: number of pinatas the kids got to play with
- 4: how many sections of construction scaffolding supported the pumpkins
- 6: number of feet tall the wall stood
- 30: number of feet wide the wall stretched
- 900: how many LED light bulbs illuminated the wall
- 7: how many days the wall lasted before fruit flies took over
- 1: how many local publications featured the wall on the front page (!!!)
- 1,820: number of dollars raised in support of Food Allergy Research & Education
- 50,724: how many seeds are in 101 pumpkins (just kidding, I made that one up)
- 1,000,000,000: number of thanks to everyone who made this possible!!!
I have been a member of the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) Teen Advisory Group (TAG) for a few years, and this year I’ve had the privilege of being one of two Southeast regional TAG leaders. Earlier this year, the FARE national programs director encouraged all regions to do a service project, so we in Southeast TAG decided to do food allergy friendly food drives in our cities and towns. Here’s how the project I ran in my area went.
Since I am allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I decided to do a peanut butter alternative drive. I set up some cardboard boxes advertising the drive and asked a variety of grocery stores to display them in the fronts of their stores. Several larger grocery store chains that I approached declined to participate in my drive. Other grocers such as Earth Fare and The Fresh Market declined to allow me to conduct the drive in their stores, but instead generously donated jars of nut free butters. Local Charlotte NC grocer Healthy Home Market was willing to display my boxes in their three storefronts. The boxes were left out for six weeks and they each accumulated donations from shoppers. During the duration of the project, I worked with Parents of Allergic Kids (PAK), a local food allergy advocacy group, to publicize the food drive through PAK’s social media. FARE also promoted my drive on the Charlotte FARE Walk for Food Allergy newsletter. On walk day, October 22nd, I brought a collection box to the event and gathered even more donations.
In all, I was able to collect 56 jars of nut free butters such as WOWBUTTER, SunButter, and I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter. Initially I had intended to donate the jars to local food banks in my area to benefit needy food allergic individuals. However, the drive concluded just as Hurricane Matthew was pummeling the Southeastern United States, including my home state of North Carolina. Urgent requests for assistance to the eastern part of NC started pouring in. One of the leaders of PAK suggested that we send the donations to the affected areas and I agreed that this was a great idea. We sent the jars to a food bank that was able to separate and clearly mark the donations as appropriate for people with food allergies (see this post to help – there is still a need to help people affected by the storm!)
I presented my food drive project on behalf of Southeast TAG at the 2016 FARE Teen Summit in Milwaukee, WI on November 13th. Thank you to all who helped to make the project a success!
Recently eastern North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Matthew and has since been experiencing extreme flooding and subsequently, food shortages. This is making life especially difficult for food allergic people affected by the storm. Please consider donating food allergy friendly products to these members of our food allergic community – click here to find out how you can get involved. Thank you!
Bakeries pose challenges for food allergic people. Even if the delicious looking chocolate cupcake in the case doesn’t have nuts in it, the pastry next to it might be covered in peanuts. Since most bakery items are premade in areas where nuts are also handled, I have abstained from eating at bakeries since my diagnosis at age six. It’s much easier to find prepackaged items that are nut free, but I never encountered a bakery where I could eat everything until recently.
A couple years ago I heard about a nut free bakery in New York City called Eleni’s. My family stopped by while we were vacationing in the city, and never wanted to leave. It was such a magical feeling to know that I could eat anything in the bakery without worrying about my allergies. I ate several cupcakes at the bakery and bought some to go. Eleni’s also sells cookies at their only location in NYC’s Chelsea Market and the cookies are carried by other stores around the US (I have found them at stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls). The crispy cookies come in many different types (my favorite being the chocolate chip ones), and I always have a box of them on hand. I have been to NYC a couple more times since, and I am always sure to pick up a few cupcakes.
I thought that if NYC had a nut free bakery, Washington DC might have one too. It does- Dog Tag Bakery is a nut free bakery located in Georgetown that benefits veterans by giving them work experience and guidance. The bakery has a case full of delicious fresh pastries as well as cookies and brownies, and it sells bakery items online as well. The interior of the bakery is cute as can be; it’s decorated with red, white and blue and houses its own dog tag engraver.
So, next time you’re traveling somewhere, look up allergy friendly bakeries. You never know what you might find!
Prices of Epi-Pens have more than quadrupled over the past few years. The devices, which are one of only available treatments for food allergy reactions on the US market, are now costing hundreds of dollars. As a result, I now have only one set of Epi-Pens, compared to the two or three sets that I used to distribute between my house, the school nurse, and my backpack. For less privileged people, it can be difficult to even purchase one set with the price surge. On top of that, the Epi-Pens have a shelf life of eighteen months, but Epi-Pens that are new to the shelves are elusive, so food allergic people have to purchase new ones closer to every twelve months… and bear the elevated Epi-Pen price annually.
The price raise has recently been getting tons of media attention, with even Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaking about the issue. Public health experts and legislators alike worry about the accessibility of epinephrine for food allergic Americans. Thousands of Americans are speaking out against the price surge too by signing this petition. It is hugely important that food allergic people can afford epinephrine and that they should never be forced to use self made syringes, expired Epi-Pens, or even to go without epinephrine, so please take a moment to fill out the petition to protect food allergic people!
A few days ago I had a wonderful opportunity to volunteer at a local camp for kids with food allergies. The camp was called Camp ROAR (Really Outstanding Allergy Retreat) and participating kids were divided into three different age groups called Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Every morning for one week, the kids had discussions about food allergies, played sports, and did crafts. Kids brought their Epi Pens and other medications as well as a snack free of their allergens, and before and after snack the kids were asked to wash their hands so as to keep other campers safe.
When the group who organized the camp, PAK (Parents of Allergic Kids), asked me to volunteer, I was thrilled (even though I was only able to make it to one day of the camp). Throughout the morning I spent at the camp, I was so excited to see the kids being able to meet and talk to other kids with food allergies. When I was younger, food allergy camps were uncommon, if not nonexistent. In fact, I did not meet any kids with severe food allergies like mine until I went to FARE’s Teen Summit for the first time a few years ago.
It was nice to know that the campers would be able to experience summer camp without some of the usual dilemmas like having to have a different snack from everyone else or not being able to participate in an activity because it involves their allergens. I loved seeing them have meaningful conversations about food allergies. They were willing to share their stories at such a young age without being embarrassed or feeling different or weird. Camp ROAR really is really outstanding!
Traveling with food allergies is so challenging in of itself that the prospect of traveling in a tour group seems insane. It’s hard enough dodging unfamiliar cities with language barriers or cultural differences in an attempt to find a safe place to eat when traveling with a small group of family or friends, and the set itineraries and tighter schedules of tour groups only add extra obstacles.
That being said, traveling with food allergies and travelling with tour groups are not mutually exclusive. I recently got back from a trip to New York City with my choir, where we sang in a choral festival at Carnegie Hall (still internally freaking out). On this particular trip, there were almost thirty people including both of my parents. I have been on other group tours with and without my parents, and from all of these travelling experiences, I have gathered the following helpful hints for staying safe in a group.
- Communication is crucial. Tell chaperones, teachers, directors, travel agents, and anyone else involved in planning or executing the trip about your allergies far in advance, and remind them frequently so that they can have a better idea of what restaurants will be safe for you.
- Ask for the itinerary and call the restaurants that the group planning to eat at. Often times restaurants only offer a couple dishes from the menu to tour groups, so ascertain which of those you can eat, and if none are safe, ask if they can prepare a different meal for you.
- Do not be afraid to separate from the group and eat somewhere else if need be. On most of the group tours I have ever joined, I have had to opt out of at least one meal. This is difficult for me as a minor because I am usually not permitted to leave by myself. When my parents are on the trip, I have them take me somewhere else. If they are not, I arrange for another chaperone accompany me. (I only branch off when I know there will not be anything safe for me, not when I simply do not like whatever food is offered – especially because I am often not refunded for these meals).
- Plan ahead. If you know that you will only have one hour to grab lunch, research nearby restaurants the night before or the morning of so that when that hour starts you don’t have to waste any time. If you are staying in the same area for several days, eat at the same restaurant multiple times. For example, in New York I found a Greek restaurant that served delicious food and handled my allergy with ease, so I ate lunch there two days in a row.
- Always pack snacks. In case you cannot find any safe food, bring small snacks that you know you can eat and that can tide you over until there are more safe food options. I like to keep a water bottle, banana, and granola bar with me.
Traveling in a group is possible, as long as you are open about your food allergy and can be flexible and organized.
Happy Food Allergy Awareness Week! FAAW 2016 runs from May 8th – 14th. This year, I requested proclamations from my governor and the mayor of my city, and both came through for me! FAAW is being celebrated in other ways as well. Turn it Teal is working to build food allergy awareness by lighting up iconic buildings in teal (the color for food allergy awareness). Tonight (May 8th) the Empire State Building will feature teal lights and on May 13th Niagara Falls will be lit in teal as well. (See the full list of lighting around Canada and the US here.)