Food Allergy Awareness Week – How Can People Help?

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Did you know that food allergies now affects 1 in 13 children? Or that every 3 minutes, someone ends up in the ER due to a food allergy reaction?

I don’t think I’ve had a conversation about food allergies without someone in the party going “No one had food allergies when I was a kid!” It’s true, and I’m not that old. Food allergies have increased by 50% since 1997. Fifty! Percent!

A decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about handing a kid a peanut butter cup at a party.
A decade ago, I had no idea that “gluten-free” was even a thing.
A decade ago, I would have never considered that one could bake a cake without eggs and glorious, glorious butter.

Now I’m that mom who is painfully aware of the server’s eyeroll when I ask “Do you cook with peanut oil?” I get that this is a topic that those who are not affected may want to ignore. But, I think it would be awesome – as a society – if we were all open to increasing awareness about illnesses, plights, and diseases that affect so many of us. (We don’t need to get into politics here, but off the top of my head – autism, racism, Down syndrome, depression, the list goes on and on.)

So, the question: how can people help? Here’s a very, very preliminary guide:

Basics (all humans, do this, please):

* Don’t offer a snack to a child without clearing it with a parent first.

* Wash your hands after you eat/prep meals. You may not see remnants from your peanut butter sandwich on your hands, but if you hug my child, and it transfers to her skin, she’ll have a reaction.

Be Food Allergy Aware | Scratch or SniffBonus points:

* Ask what you can serve at a party/get-together. We count on bringing our own snacks, but we *love* when friends ask what the girls can eat. Fruit platter? You bet. Allergen-free snickerdoodles from Trader Joe’s? Yup.

Some Ideas for Teachers/Businesses/Coaches/Room Moms:

* Most kids aren’t allergic to stickers, erasers, little paper crowns that say You Go, Girl. (What? I don’t know.) I can’t tell you how many times someone has passed out candy as a reward or a treat and I’ve had to intercept and say “Sorry, they’re allergic to this.” Which, you know, wouldn’t be a big deal, if you want to get all gruff and mean and say “not all kids deserve a trophy” but if my kid did awesome at swim practice, and they’re passing out treats, she should get a treat, too, you know? (Hot tip for my fellow allergy moms and dads out there, we keep pre-made cupcakes in the freezer and a bunch of allergen-free lollipops stashed away for such an occasion.)

* If you run a restaurant or a bakery or an establishment where anyone eats, educate your staff on what has what. “Do the cookies contain nuts?” I don’t know. “Do you cook with peanut oil?” I don’t know. “Do you know why Pharrell hasn’t aged in three decades?” I DON’T KNOW.

As we advance in technology and awareness (seriously, cat GIFs go viral in like 30 seconds on Facebook; maybe we could spread the word about food allergy awareness), I hope we’re all (me included) open to hearing other people’s stories and growing in compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Paper crowns for everyone!

Roo Ciambriello

If Scratch or Sniff founder/editor Roo Ciambriello could list all of her favorite things, they'd include her sweet little family, food trucks, and every AMA Snoop Dogg has done on Reddit. Roo is a copywriter out of New Haven, Connecticut, and loves writing fun stories on the backs of potato chip bags and cereal boxes in Whole Foods, Target, Nordstrom, Kroger, y mucho mas. Roo creates voices for brands, ghostwrites for celebrities, writes a personal website, and is (much to the chagrin of those around her) pretty active on Twitter. You can also find her providing commentary on advertising/branding at Adweek and eating fajitas on deadline days.

20 Comments to Food Allergy Awareness Week – How Can People Help?

  1. Kelly

    I love this article! I don’t have any diagnosed food allergies but I do have an intolerance to gluten and I appreciate when not only my friends/family make a small effort to have items that I can eat that are gluten free but especially when a restaurant takes my request seriously and remove all gluten items even when I didn’t expect them to be included in something. And I actually have my family addicted to the Blue Diamond nut crackers that are gluten free, they are in awe sometimes when allergen free food actually tastes good!

    p.s. I also would like to know why Pharrell hasn’t aged in 30 years! love how you think!

    • Roo Ciambriello

      I agree, Kelly! I so appreciate it when restaurants are on board, especially. One time I had the chef come out to our table and talk to the girls and just made up a dish for them. SO incredible.

  2. What a great reminder! We just had a guest over with dietary restrictions (nothing that would send them to the hospital) but it was crazy to try to figure out what to eat when I was too tired to cook something from scratch. Just this small experience makes me have alot of respect for those who have to be sure of what is in their food at all times!

    • Roo Ciambriello

      Yeaaah we mostly have to do everything from scratch around here. I’ve found some great stuff (like chicken nuggets that my girls can have), but they’re usually $$$.

  3. Verlin

    I am 48 and have anaphylactic reactions to tree nuts. I was 20 before I had even met one other person with severe allergies. This was pre epi-pen days, so my dad made many crazy drives to the ER. My one son (sad cry) has the same reaction to peanuts. Times have changed SOOOOO much since I was dealing with this as a kid. Mostly for the better, but some worse. In Grade 1 a teacher more or less forced me to “try a cookie because Janie’s mom made them and they’re fine; I’m sure you’re not THAT allergic”. Yup, off to the hospital. My own grandparents didn’t even really believe it could be that bad and got me to “try” things with just a little bit of nuts in them (hospital here we come). Can you imagine that happening in 2014? In terms of your kids, I would say that when kids are young, of course they are going to want to get a treat like everyone else at school/swimming, whatever, but I can honestly say that once I hit early teens, I didn’t care that I couldn’t have what everyone else was having – it was just “the way it was” and didn’t bother me at all. I actually don’t like it now when someone makes something special for me or my son, as I don’t necessarily trust that they’ve thought of all the potential issues (cross-contamination, blah blah), but then I have to decide between interrogating them as to their process or taking a chance and eating it. My go-to line is “I’m saving my calories for wine”, but your girls won’t be using that one for a number of years. Sorry for the long comment. I guess I’ve been holding all that in for a while. ;)

    • Roo Ciambriello

      Hahaha, happy to give you a place to share, Verlin. “I’m sure you’re not THAT allergic.” Gah!

    • Sarah

      My mother-in-law is 60 and also has anaphylactic reactions to nuts…the stories she tells me just blow my mind. People just straight-up didn’t believe her allergy was a real thing and would try to sneak her things with nuts in it because they thought she just didn’t like them or it was all in her head. It’s really amazing she made it past childhood!

      I will say that I think things in Canada around allergy awareness are a little more advanced than you guys in the states. I recently read an article…maybe you pointed us to it Roo…which basically said “it’s not mine or my child’s responsibility to accommodate your child’s allergy.” In Canada we’ve had nut-free schools for well over a decade and no one questions accommodating these types of restrictions in a classroom or workplace setting. I think the one exception might be scents. Wish people would realize that others can be sensitive to the perfumes they wear!

  4. Meg

    Careful with the stickers, actually. My sister has a severe latex allergy and reacts to some adhesives!

    • Roo Ciambriello

      Thanks for the heads up, Meg!

  5. Katie

    Am I the only one who thinks this font is really hard to read? I had to copy and paste this article into Word…

    • Roo Ciambriello

      Really? It’s a Google font, Katie. I wonder if there’s a browser glitch. Thanks for letting me know!

    • Sarah

      I also find it impossible to read….I super zoom in my browser

  6. My kid is allergic to corn. In our times, we had no idea of what food allergy is. The new generation seems to be growing allergic to almost all food stuff. Don’t know the reason of this this phenomenon. I would love an article on this this next.

    • Roo Ciambriello

      It’s crazy, isn’t? Wish we had all the answers.

  7. Jodi

    I think the problem, as with most things, is the media. We’re always hearing about the latest ‘fad’ diet, and I think in people’s minds they equate allergy/intolerance with a ‘fad’. Like it’s just become fashionable to have food intolerances or food allergies, in the same way its fashionable to go Paleo, or no carbs or whatever. All the celebs are doing it!

    My daughter has an intolerance for dairy (as opposed to an allergy), and it drives me CRAZY how people (even my own family members) don’t think it’s real, or that i’m just some crazy controlling mum who doesnt want my kids to enjoy life. Just last night we were up all night with her with a really hard, sore tummy because yesterday we were at a family gathering where everyone assured us all the food was dairy free…and obviously something was not. She also suffers from asthma and exzema and it all seems to be linked – so cue the asthma attack and a day off from school today. We’ve had three trips to the ED in the last two months with severe asthma.

    We also make sure we always have dairy-free cupcakes and treats on hand so she doesn’t miss out at parties.

    • Sarah

      I think individuals present their food preferences this way all the time so that people will take them more seriously/be more willing to accommodate them. I don’t know how many people I know who have “gluten intolerance” when really they’re trying to avoid gluten because they think it will help them lose weight. That sort of mentality makes it so much harder for those with legitimate allergies and intolerances to be taken seriously!

  8. Maria

    Thank you so much for posting this, Roo! I’m 30 and have recently been diagnosed with a citrus allergy (reaction is angioedemic now, but seems to be progressing). Before that, I worked at an elementary school’s after-school day care. Allergy awareness is so important. There are still too many people who don’t know that even “just a little bit” of something can send them to a hospital.

    P.s. I sympathize with Verlin. I’ve had people tell me that my allergy is “all in your head.”

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