Sunday, January 23, 2011

Are food allergies, diets and being different causing alienation?


Today’s Chicago Tribune actually had two articles about the increase in food allergies and the social impact on kids as they try to fit in.  Some of the ‘ways around’ were also discussed.  As I was reading this article, I realized similar issues exist when you are an adult avoiding certain foods.  While cross contamination is not an issue for an adult who chooses a healthy diet, it is a choice, not something you were dealt (food allergies, celiac, eosinophilic esophagitis), some of the socially alienating issues still apply.  Of course the degree of alienation is not as extreme as for a food allergic child or teen who really wants  to fit in.  Additionally, it’s very different to deal with something out of choice vs. what life has dealt you. And a trace of dairy won’t kill me, but it can kill (or at least make very ill) someone who is truly allergic or has EE.

Even if you are not dealing with these issues directly, a little compassion and understanding goes a long way.  Pity or sympathy is not what you should offer.  Don’t break the person’s spirit and make them feel like they are less than you.  Although well intended, I hear “Oh poor Jordan, he can’t eat normal food, what can he eat?”  First of all, he is not poor; his diet is superior to the typical child his age who can live on convenience processed foods.  As a result, he is less likely to develop health problems form processed food and yes, the evil casein.    These two common situations really apply in all food situations-whether by choice or not (some people try to eat healthy although their friends like them unhealthy).

Restaurant situations  - Jordan can only eat in one restaurant right now at least 20 miles from our home (P.F. Chang so far seems to be the only place that can handle cross-contamination).  And even then there is always the speech to the manager and the tension that something will get messed up.  But it’s worth it to see the look on Jordan’s face that shows ‘yes I’m normal too and can eat out.’  So what can friends and family do to not make things worse?  First, no pity.  Being considerate and not bragging about how great their dish is that contains the allergen is much better.  For example, a friend or colleague should not brag about how great a certain cheese tastes when there is a person with a dairy allergy sitting at the table.  Common sense?  Not really…. I’ve had ‘friends’ that have tried ‘tempt me’ with dairy laden desserts in front of Jordan.  I chose not to eat it, Jordan can’t.  We’re not telling people not to eat dairy and we don’t go into a lengthy speech how unhealthy it is; free will.  However when I encounter such a situation, I’m forced to go into detail about why I chose not to have casein from a factory farmed cow who is forced to stand in its own feces. It’s not good for the cow and it’s not good for me (but good for ConAgra).

School functions – for some reason everything in school is rewarded with dairy (pizza and ice cream).  You reach a goal, time for a pizza party.  Actually it’s the same thing in corporate America.  Want people to come to a special lunch meeting?  Order pizza.  Not much consideration of the fact that we aren’t all alike.  As an adult who chooses not to eat dairy (it does make me somewhat sick, but I won’t die from it), I’m used to it and ignore it.   A vegan, food allergy person, or even someone on a strict Kosher diet cannot have pepperoni pizza.  And the so-called ‘vegetarian pizza’ doesn’t solve the dairy or gluten issue.  So for school functions I run my parallel kitchen and send treats to class that everyone can have so Jordan can feel normal; finally eating what everyone can eat.  I stay up all night baking but it’s worth it; the kids always love what I send.  They don’t even think that there is no dairy in those cookies, cupcakes or popcorn.   They go back for seconds and Jordan loves every second of this-feeling normal again.  Adults at parties are a bit different.  They can say “Oh how can you have such and such with no dairy?” “Oh how awful it must be to be you.”  “Oh this pizza is delicious; I feel so bad for you.” They form expectations that a dish with no dairy or whatever allergen is going to be bland and boring.  So with adults, I don’t even announce that there is no dairy (or whatever allergen) in whatever dish.  Of course if they thought about it, seeing Jordan eating obviously implies that it doesn’t have the offending allergen.

So building awareness among friends, family, school and work is the best one can do regardless of what your role is in this food-driven world.

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  1. People are very inconsiderate in general. It really never occurred to me to feel sorry someone with any health or mental disease (at worst, I was angry, but not at anyone in particular).

    Unfortunately, we live in the glorious land called the Midwest. Although I know someone who lives in LA who has a food allergen and they still run into problems, the limitations in the Midwest are painfully obvious. There is a reason why people on the West coast and East coast poke fun at us Midwesterns, and it's not entirely unfounded.

    fyi, the whole thing about pizza. People are idiots. My friend makes what he calls a "Cheeseburger Pizza." Now, first off, he buys raw dough from a pizza shop, but you can make dough yourself to what works best for your diet. Secondly, no tomato sauce (which is good for me, because tomatoes make me break out in hives), but mixes ketchup and mustard together (to however tastes best for you). From there, it's a free for all. Typically he uses ground beef and cheese, but these can be easily substituted for non-dairy cheese. Lettuce, onions, etc., you're choice.

    Let me tell you, it's delicious, and very forgiving with substitutions. How dumb can people be not realize you don't have load a pizza with 101 toppings to make it taste good. It just turns it into a pile of garbage.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful comments and explanation of dealing with food allergies. I really feel for the children in my class who have food allergies -- I put notes and postings out daily. I have an addendum on the monthly notes which go out telling each child their day to bring in snack, explaining the food allergies in the room and the foods we cannot have. Yet each month I get those foods brought in. The tension it creates with parents who refuse to understand and say things like "can't that child just sit alone and eat something else" is something I just don't understand. The negative feelings this creates for the allergic child angers me. I keep explaining the situation to the children, and they seem to understand it, then the parents refusal to listen causes problems.

  3. First of all, don't give up. You are fighting a battle, some that stem from ignorance and some that stem from selfish people with not much going on in their lives. I've been battling this (really is the right word) for years. In the earlier grades I volunteered at every party. Some people were outright inconsiderate and mean and some were great. I would volunteer on the party planning committees to make sure they don't throw allergen foods around etc. I'd rush to school with non allergen hot chocolate so Jordan cold also drink it at a poetry party.
    People just want convenience and unfortunately don't care. Awareness is so important and I'm trying to build that in the community. But the ones that chose to ignore it or make an issue out of it are out there.
    The worst experience I had was with one of Jordan's teachers a few years ago. She set up games with Dunkin Donuts (which Jordan can't have), taught Math with food (this wasn't preschool) and she wold constantly mess up. She would make comments like "Jordan is better off not coming on this field trip' (I still volunteer for every field trip). This woman made Jordan literally sick. I've tried to increase her awareness, but she simply didn't want to be bothered and was probably rejoicing when Jordan moved on to the next grade.
    Whether it's health, personal choice or religion - not everyone eats the same diet. People need to understand that and stop pushing their styles of eating on everyone. When it's a health issue-then they need to realize the consequences their inconsiderate actions have.

  4. Deadful Penny, the midwest is a difficult place with these issues. Choices are so limited. And worse than that-the suburban midwest where standardized franchise restaurants rule. They find a way to even make healthy food unhealthy.