thesilversiren: (Default)

I have a 3 year old son with major allergies. At roughly 2 months, he had severe eczema and when it didn’t start to clear up, we went through a series of doctors and at 6 months he was diagnosed with severe allergies to: soy, dairy, peanuts, wheat and eggs.

While society has become better about food allergies- many restaurants list allergens, food labels are more clear than ever and schools in general are more understanding. But every so often, I see public comments that remind me how little people really understand about food allergies- especially severe ones.

Last month, Chicago Tribune’s “Ask Amy” column shared this letter and response:

Dear Amy: Recently I threw a baby shower luncheon for my sister-in-law. One guest called to tell me that she is a vegetarian, and another guest called to “inform me” that she is on a strict gluten-free diet. I didn’t mind their giving me this information, but what upset me was their “you need to accommodate me” attitude. I didn’t know either lady, and neither offered to bring a dish that would suit her needs. It took a lot of extra work for me to make the dishes to satisfy their diets.

My mother-in-law told me that I should have stuck to my original menu and let the “special” guests worry about their own needs. What do you think is proper?

— Hostess Who Gave the Mostest

Dear Hostess: Sometimes you just can’t win. If guests with special diets can’t consume the offerings at a meal, hosts feel frustrated and wish they had been informed ahead of time.

If people contact you before an event informing you of their special dietary needs, it is kind of you to extend your generosity by trying to provide whatever food they can eat.

You could easily cover both the vegetarian and the gluten-free diet by providing a vegetable and a fruit salad.

I agree with you that preparing for special diets stretches your hospitality; you might have prompted these women to adjust their attitudes and also assist you by asking, “Could you give me some suggestions about specific dishes you can eat?”

If a suggestion is beyond your ability to provide, you should be honest and say so.

While this is fairly sound advice, there’s a problem. My mother’s a vegetarian, and quite often she’s shown up to family parties to discover that the only thing she can eat is the plain green salad when there’s quite the spread elsewhere. Or maybe a crudite platter. When we were planning my wedding, it was shocking how many places felt satisfied to serve a vegetarian guest a sad plate of vegetables as their entree. And while she does eat seafood, quite often people will prepare them with bacon and sort of expect her to pick around the bacon.

The easiest solution for a hostess is to say that they’re not familiar with cooking that sort of cuisine, and ask if it would be possible for them to bring their own entree. And say, “I understand it’s asking a bit of you, but I’m just not familiar with it and don’t want you to wind up only being able to have the side salad.” For most people, the honesty would be appreciated.

Honestly, I offer to bring food for my son when we’re invited somewhere (and even when we dine out at a restaurant I’m not familiar with). It’s ridiculous for me to assume that someone could easily accommodate his needs. But that’s me.

Then there’s dining out. Consider these two tweets posted by Chef Rick Bayless (@rick_bayless).

While I find myself constantly frustrated by attitudes of chefs against alternative diets (quite often allergens are hidden in foods, and it’s not unusual to find meat items hidden in dishes that seem vegetarian), I have to say that I’m proud of Rick Bayless for his attitude. He was extremely right in being honest with the guest in saying that because they use peanuts in many dishes that the entire kitchen was likely contaminated.

The guest on the other hand… I can’t think of a single person with a severe food allergy who would take this attitude. Or to insist that a restaurant have epi-pens on hand. I have to assume that this was someone who was hoping to shake him down for some money, and not just your average person with allergies.

My son’s allergic to soy. I wouldn’t dream of taking him to an Asian restaurant, or expect that somehow they would be able to make their dishes without soy (granted, he’s allergic to many other foods, but I’m trying to simplify my point). When I pick a restaurant to eat at with my mom, I usually see if they have a menu posted on their website and ask her if there’s anything that looks good to her. And after the Thanksgiving 2007 debacle (where she was brought a minestrone soup that was made in beef stock), I usually call to make sure that what appears to be a vegetarian dish is actually vegetarian.

…Now I’m getting sidetracked. This was going to be about etiquette. I propose that those of us with allergies/special diets (or who care for those with them) follow a few simple rules.

1. When invited to a party with a meal, call well in advance to make sure that the host/hostess is aware of your food limitations. If you have several, it might be difficult for the host to accommodate you. Be prepared to offer to bring a dish or two that you can enjoy.

2. When dining out, be prepared to ask questions about the dishes. So it might be wise to avoid cuisines that feature a lot of your allergens, and wise to contact the restaurant well in advance with questions. And be prepared for chefs to not understand food allergies/special diets.

3. Be patient. While you’ve learned all about your diet/allergies… it’s not always common knowledge. Many people seem to confuse allergies with a dislike of the food, and don’t understand that there are serious reactions. And most people believe that gluten-free means you can’t eat anything at all.

Any thoughts? Things you would want to add to the list – or things you disagree with? I know I don’t speak much about the Little Kidlet’s allergies, but it’s a big part of our life… and something that I’d like to hear about from you.

Originally published at American Whitney. You can comment here or there.

thesilversiren: (Default)

My youngest son is 2 3/4 years old. When he was 6 months old, he was diagnosed with a long list of allergies. We had started to suspect that something was wrong when he was about 3 months old, suddenly he was covered with eczema.

Our pediatrician urged us to try basic remedies- to change to hypo-allergenic lotions, and bath him more frequently. Nothing changed. She referred us to a dermatologist who put us on better lotions and had us eliminate fragranced items. When he didn’t get much better, she referred us to an allergist.

He was 6 months old by that time, and two years later, it sometimes amazes me that it’s the same kid. Sure, he can’t have dairy, wheat, soy, peanut or eggs. But there are plenty of things that he can eat- especially in his toddler mindset where he only eats a handful of foods. Tortilla chips? Fresh fruit? Turkey meatballs? He loves them.

His skin is clear. Unbelievably clear. His feet are a little scaly- after 2 1/2 years of scratching, it’s become a habit of his to scratch when he’s tired. But it’s clear. He can run around in grass barefoot and not have to be wiped down afterwards (he used to get itchy while in the yard). He can play with the in-laws cats and not need a bath afterwards.

We used to have to give him a daily dose of allergy medicine, and now we only use it for the occasional allergic reaction.

He hasn’t outgrown all his food allergies. He had some eggs at Thanksgiving last year and started to break out in hives. He had some crackers with soy and broke out in hives. He has some regular crackers (wheat and soy) and broke out in hives. But we haven’t found any new allergies, and he’s living quite happily with the food restrictions we have. I couldn’t ask for more.

Has it been easy? No. When he was a baby he had a hypoallergenic formula that we could only get from a medical supply company. His allergies eliminate most premade meals, forcing me to make things. We have to bring foods to restaurants for him, since I’m never sure what might have crossed paths with something that seems safe. We still travel with Benadryl and epi-pens everywhere. But it isn’t impossible.

Originally published at American Whitney. You can comment here or there.

thesilversiren: (Default)

My youngest son has food allergies- one of them being nuts. I stumbled across this article on the NY Times website today and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

I will concede that some parents’ need to protect their children has done several things. By blanketing children with antibacterial creams, immune systems have been weakened. By shielding children from potential allergens for too long, we’re only increasing the odds they will become allergic.

But nut bans at school aren’t about preventing children from becoming allergic. They’re there to keep children who already have anaphylactic reactions to nuts from becoming gravely ill or possibly dying. (Realistically, shellfish allergies are more common than nuts- but how often do school age children eat shrimp for lunch?)

Unless you’re the parent of a child with allergies (or have food allergies yourself) it’s highly likely that you’ll think that banning peanuts from a school is overkill. While my son’s allergy to peanuts is fairly minimal (while he doesn’t eat them, he’s come into contact with it, and didn’t have an anaphylactic reaction. However, through going to our allergist and the various communities I’ve become friends with those who are. Even the proximity of the allergen can be enough to start a reaction, nevermind what ingesting it would do. I’ve heard horror stories about reactions while on planes, knowing that they still had hours to go before they could land and get to an ER.

Also, with a school setting, you have to remember that not all kids understand the concept of food allergies. I have mild ones, and growing up had kids thrust their lunches in my face or dare me to have it, because it wouldn’t really make me sick. Realistically, banning the allergen from certain areas is much more efficient than trying to educate lots of children.

Dr. Christakis’ comment about these being overreactions only continues the miseducation of the masses. Please, even if your child doesn’t have allergies- at least take the time to learn about caring for a child with allergies. Odds are, a friend or classmate will have a serious food allergy. Knowing how to cook for a child with an allergy and signs of what to look for is extremely helpful, and their parents will thank you.

Originally published at Whitney Drake. You can comment here or there.

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thesilversiren

July 2011

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