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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