Problem free Prom

Problem free Prom

This past weekend I had my junior prom, and in addition to planning my outfit, hair and makeup, I had to plan for meals.  The event included a sit down dinner which was provided by the venue where the dance was held.  So, about two weeks before prom I talked to the teacher at my school who was responsible for planning prom.  She knew about my allergies already, but it was good to remind her and ask her about prom in particular.  She relayed to me that every year she asks the dining service to serve a completely peanut and nut free prom since these allergies are so common.  However, she gave me the contact information for the food services representative with whom she had been in touch, and she called her to tell her that this year there would be a student with severe peanut/tree nut allergies.  I was told exactly what food would be there and that it would all be safe for me.  Going in to prom, I felt confident that I could eat all the food.  The food was served buffet style, and when I got my food I asked one of the servers about food allergies and she told me that she had been told that everything was peanut and nut free.  The food was delicious, and I did not have any kind of reaction.  Dessert was also safe for me, which was a fabulous treat because I’m not used to being able to eat any dessert (especially chocolate) that I want.

About a dozen of my friends had an after prom sleepover party at my friend’s house, so I had to think ahead about food for that too.  When we planned the party, I talked to my friend about what food she would have, and she made sure that she had things in her house that were safe for me.  I also brought some cookies and breakfast muffins that I knew were safe.

With a little advanced preparation and communication, I was able to have a normal and fun prom.  Planning ahead is completely worth the effort – nobody wants to end up in the E.R. on prom night!  🙂

Aside

Great Grandma vs. Mangoes

Food allergies have gained significantly more publicity in the past decade, it seems.  Food manufacturers have become more aware of food allergies in their labeling practices and since the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which requires ingredient labels to mention any top allergens present in the food, was passed the United States in 2006.

Food allergies are nothing new, however.  Before all of the publicity, legislature, and support for food allergic individuals became readily available and accessible, these people had to get by somehow.

My great-grandmother was born in 1906 and she had a severe mango allergy.  Her allergy did not cause her too much trouble as she was growing up in Iowa.  However, when she moved to Central America and had a mango tree in her front yard, she had to be more cautious.  Being more vigilant was no easy task in a time when not many people had heard of food allergies, and those that did know about them did not understand them very well.


My great-grandmother knew that if she touched the outside peel of a mango, a rash would appear on her hand.  One time, my grandmother left her purse, which she had been carrying after eating a mango at school, astray, and my great-grandmother picked it up to move it.  After touching the purse, though, her hand had the same rash.

She understood that touching the outside of a mango always initiated a reaction.  She wondered, though, if she could eat the inside of the mango if it did not have the peel on it.  One day, while home alone, she carefully removed the peel and tasted the inside of the mango.  Shortly after, the maid came home and found her passed out on the floor and called an ambulance.  (She was eventually okay.)

The great-grandmother’s attempt to eat a mango seems absurd to food allergic people today, but in that time in made perfect sense since she did not fully understand her allergy.  I wonder now how many people throughout history whose deaths or illnesses were credited to imbalances of the bodily humors or tendencies to become weak or ill actually had food allergies.

Pan De Muerto ☠

Pan De Muerto ☠

On November 2, which is the Latin American holiday El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), my family tried a new recipe,”Pan de Muerto”  (Bread of the Dead).  El Dia de los Muertos is time to celebrate one’s loved ones who have passed away.  People offer presents to their ancestors including food, as well as toys for children who have passed.  It is not a sad holiday, but instead is a happy time of remembrance.  In Mexican bakeries during this time of year,  it is common to find Pan de Muerto, a round, sweet yeast bread decorated with pieces that resemble bones and dusted with sugar.  It tastes delicious with hot tea or Mexican hot chocolate.

The recipe is free of peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and soy.

Here is what ours looked like:

pan de muerto

Find the recipe that we used by visiting the blog “Mexico in my Kitchen”

The Great Wall of Pumpkins

The Great Wall of Pumpkins

When I was little, my mom read about a neighborhood in my city that builds a gigantic wall of illuminated jack-o-lanterns every Halloween.  My family and I went to check it out, and we were amazed by what we saw.  The wall made a huge impression on me.  When I grew too old to trick-or-treat, my family and I decided that we wanted to build a pumpkin wall of our own.


We bought some construction scaffolding, planks of wood, black spray paint, and outdoor Christmas lights and constructed the six foot tall structure in our front yard.  In the first year, our wall held roughly two dozen pumpkins carved and donated by my family and our neighbors on our street.  The next year, the wall held closer to thirty pumpkins.  This year, it displays sixty carved pumpkins.  We even hosted a carving party for friends and neighbors in which we provided pumpkins to be carved (we were able to buy them in bulk with a price break at a big box store).

From the beginning of the pumpkin wall project, we linked it with FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) so that we could raise awareness about food allergies and the difficulties faced by food allergic kids when trick-or-treating.  We asked people to donate a carved pumpkin and/or a small monetary donation.  As the wall grew, my food allergy story spread to more and more people.  The word circulated around my neighborhood and every time someone stopped to stare at the wall, I would tell them about food allergies, and how they had always been difficult to handle on Halloween.  Now our pumpkin wall has become a treasured neighborhood tradition that also supports a good cause!


Aside

A Yummy Fall Recipe: Butterscotch Scones

In past few years, I have come across a few companies that offer baking chips that we food allergic people can actually use.  Companies like Vermont Nut Free Chocolates (tree nut and peanut free) and Guittard Chocolate Company (peanut and gluten free) make butterscotch, dark chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate, among other flavors of chips.  They can be used to make chocolate chip cookies, but here is another recipe in case you’re looking for some variety.
 Butterscotch Scones – yields 12 scones

This recipe is adapted from the Susie Peck’s ‘Pewter Rose Butterscotch Scones’ recipe as told to reporter Jennifer Lover.  
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg

1/3 to 1/2 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen

3/4 cups butterscotch chips

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees.  COMBINE flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  BEAT egg lightly in a measuring cup with ounce markings and add milk to 6 ounces.  GRATE butter using a coarse grater into the flour mixture and toss with a fork until combined.  Add beaten egg and milk, reserving 1 tablespoon of the liquid.  STIR gently to combine.  Add butterscotch chips and stir carefully working the dough as little as possible.  TURN dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and fold it a few times (about 6, the heat of your hands can melt the butter).  Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough to about 1 inch thick.  Cut into 2-inch triangles.  TRANSFER scones to an ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and brush tops with reserved milk mixture.  BAKE until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.  Serve warm.

It’s the Great (Teal) Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

It’s the Great (Teal) Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

When I was a kid, I went trick-or-treating every year on Halloween, but I never ate any of the candy I collected (tragic, right?).  Much of it had nuts or peanuts in it, so I gave it all to my friends who did not have food allergies and who were always more than happy to get the extra candy.  My parents always bought safe candy for me (thanks mom!) to exchange with the candy I had collected so that I would not feel excluded from all the Halloween fun.  (Our go-to supplier was always Vermont Nut Free Chocolates.)  There never seemed to be a ton of awareness for kids with food allergies on Halloween, although I did have some neighbors who were always sure to buy nut-free candy because they knew about my allergies.  Food allergic kids trick-or-treating today have a great new opportunity.  Last year Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) launched the Teal Pumpkin Project (teal is the official food allergy color).  Participating households paint and display a teal pumpkin, which is the sign that non-food treats (such as key chains, bubbles, bracelets, coins, stickers, etc.) are available.  Get involved and learn more by going to the Teal Pumpkin Project.  All you need is a pumpkin (it can be big or small, real or fake) and a can of teal spray paint (release your inner graffiti artist!).  And stock up on non-food treats!

Come Fly With Me…

Come Fly With Me…

Recently, bipartisan legislation championed by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) has been introduced that can make air travel much easier for food allergic passengers.  If the bill is passed, it will require airlines to carry epinephrine auto-injectors and train crew members to be familiar with how to recognize and handle a reaction.  Read more about the bill and how it was created here.

  
The next step is to get the bill passed into law.   You can help by going to FARE’s Advocacy Action Center and setting up an account (it takes two seconds, I promise).   They provide a template letter (which you can customize if you want) and they send it straight to your senators.  

Here is the template letter:

Dear [your senator],

As a resident of your state, and someone who is personally affected by life-threatening food allergies, I am asking you to co-sponsor S. 1972, the Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act of 2015, that would improve airline policies regarding food allergies. Like other entities that serve the public, airlines need to be prepared in the event a passenger has an acute allergic reaction during flight.

This legislation was initiated and championed by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the leading advocacy organization working on behalf of the 15 million Americans with food allergies, and addresses the key concerns raised by the coalition of groups FARE convened in the Fall of 2014 to address improved airline accommodations for food allergic air passengers. This coalition includes Allergy and Asthma Network, Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, and the No Nut Traveler group.

The Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act of 2015 directs the GAO to conduct and submit a report to Congress on air carrier policies relating to passengers with food allergies. The report will cover a range of topics important to the food allergy community, including the content and variability of existing accommodation policies, as well as how those policies are applied, how staff are trained to carry them out and how passengers learn about and utilize them. The study would also explore the incidence of in-flight reactions and emergency landings, costs of emergency landings, and the resources required to develop model accommodation policies.

The bill would require the addition of epinephrine auto-injectors to aircraft within 180 days and calls for crewmembers to be trained on how to recognize the symptoms of an acute allergic reaction and how to administer auto-injectable epinephrine as the first-line treatment of anaphylaxis. Schools in 48 states now stock epinephrine auto-injectors, and according to a 2015 study, more than 300 lives were saved during the 2013-14 school year because of the administration of this medication, often by teachers and other non-medical personnel.

The bill also directs the Federal Aviation Administration and individual airlines to clarify within 30 days that the 1:1,000 epinephrine ampules that are currently included in emergency medical kits are intended to be used for the treatment of anaphylaxis. 

On behalf of the thousands of food allergic families in our state, I implore you to co-sponsor this legislation that will make it easier for the millions of Americans with food allergies to avail themselves of air travel. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

[insert your name]

Aside

Yay ADA!

Today is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The act helps eliminate discrimination  so that everyone can have a chance to lead an independent life without being excluded and is meant to give equal opportunities to everyone.  Why am I bringing this up here?  Because according to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), food allergies may be considered a disability under federal laws such as the ADA.  It covers those with physical or mental issues that affect one or more of the body’s systems.  Food allergies are included in the term ‘disability’ because they can affect the respiratory, digestive, or circulatory systems.   The ADA and other federal laws require public and private schools to accomodate children with food allergies so that they can receive an education while staying alive.  The ADA makes the lives of so many people, including mine, much easier!  So Yay ADA!!

Summer mEMORYs

Summer mEMORYs

Summer residential camps can be intimidating for many food allergic teens and their parents.  They scared me until I recently participated in the Emory University Pre-College Program.  But now that I have successfully completed a two week residential course, I am confident that it is possible to navigate these situations.  Here’s how I did it!

Before even applying to the program, my parents contacted the program representative and talked to her at length about my peanut and tree nut allergies.  We were assured that I could be accomodated and we were happy to hear that the dining hall which provided the meal plan was peanut and tree nut free (and also shellfish free!).  We also learned that students would be allowed to eat off campus at Emory Village and we researched the restaurants there and found some viable options for me (Starbucks, Chipotle, Zoe’s Kitchen).   We found out that there was a refrigerator in the dorm which I would be free to keep my own food in.  Just in case however, I packed safe food such as granola bars, crackers and candy from home to take with me.  I also brought my chef card to use when dining off campus.  And of course I brought a back-up set of Auvi-Qs, a copy of my food allergy emergency action plan, and my health insurance card.

Upon arriving, I told the Residence Life staff, my RA, my roommate and my instructors about my food allergies.   Everyone was extremely kind and helpful when they found out about my allergies.  My RA immediately started to make signs asking people to please not eat peanuts in the hallway near my room.   The Residence Life staff helped me find out if boxed lunches and catered food were safe for me during off campus field trips and if not, helped me find alternatives.  My friends always made sure that I felt safe wherever we went, and did not eat at places where I could not.

The entire experience was successful because of good communication and advanced planning.   My food allergy didn’t run my life and my parents didn’t worry the whole time.  It’s great to know I can do it again next summer!   

  

 

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Little Rae’s Bakery

My family recently traveled to Seattle for a summer vacation.  Before we left for the trip, we researched Seattle’s nut free options for food and dining.  In doing so, we came across Little Rae’s Bakery.  This bakery is completely peanut and tree nut free, and their delicious products are sold in many cafes and markets around Seattle including Pike Place Market. Their bakery items and sandwiches are wrapped in plastic wrap and are easy to pack.  While in Seattle, we called the bakery to ask a question and staff worker Maureen was so sweet and helpful.  It was great to be able to relax and eat safe food while out whale watching on a boat far from shore, hiking high up on Mt. Rainier, and also on the plane ride home.  We tried their sandwiches, cookies, brownies, pumpkin bread, and croissants throughout our stay, and enjoyed every product.  So, if you ever find yourself in Seattle, be sure to try Little Rae’s Bakery’s products (even if you do not have food allergies) because you will not be disappointed!