By: Barbara Schwartz
Everyone knows someone with a food allergy. Maybe it’s the reason your child can’t bring peanut butter to school. Maybe it’s your friend who is afraid to eat at a restaurant or even at your house. Perhaps it’s a coworker who faithfully brings her own lunch to work every day. But for the person whose child has a food allergy or the friend with a food allergy, the world can be a scary place.
As we move toward the holiday season where every celebration seems to involve all kinds of tempting treats, I’m here to offer some hints and hopefully some understanding.
What it is
A food allergy can be life threatening, where even a small amount of that food cooked into something else, can kill a person. When someone with a food allergy ingests something they are allergic to, several things can happen:
- They may have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (No fun in and of themselves, but especially uncomfortable when at a holiday gathering.)
- They may break out in itchy hives.
- They may have trouble breathing.
- They may have trouble swallowing.
- They may go into anaphylactic shock with is life threatening and requires immediate emergency attention: an Epi-pen and a call for 911.
If a person who has a food allergy is coming to your house for a celebration or out to dinner, here are some of the things that person is thinking:
- I need to eat before I leave and have snacks with me in the car.
- I need to make sure I have Benadryl and my Epi-pen with me.
- I really feel embarrassed every time I have to explain to someone why my child or I are not eating.
- I really wish people would stop asking me if I can have just a little bit.
- Maybe I just won’t go in order to avoid the whole embarrassing situation.
People with food allergies often feel isolated, especially at this time of year. It starts with Halloween. Many food allergic children can’t eat candy and feel left out. Once we get to Thanksgiving, we often don’t know what we can eat unless we’ve done the cooking ourselves. Even when a well-meaning host insists that there is no milk in the mashed potatoes, she may not realize that butter has the same allergen as does milk (casein.) Cheese has casein, too. So does ice cream. Christmas and Hanukkah, with sweet treats galore, are as tough as Thanksgiving.
If You’re Hosting
So as a host/hostess or Halloween homeowner, what can you do? There are a few easy steps that you can take to make your guest feel welcome and safe.
- On Halloween, there is a Teal Pumpkin project. The teal pumpkin signifies that there are food-free treats here. You can find the teal pumpkin or window cling at many craft and party stores. A nice one can be found on Amazon, just click here. It’s easy to go to the local party store and buy a package of Halloween pencils or little Halloween trinkets like plastic spiders.
- If you’re inviting someone who says they have food allergies, ask them if they would be more comfortable bringing some of their own food. They may be ok with you telling them your ingredients list (save ingredient labels), but they may be very relieved that you understand enough to not be offended if they arrive with a bologna sandwich!
- Finally, don’t be offended! If we come to your gathering and we opt not to eat, it’s because the pleasure of your company is far more important to us than the food. Eating may make us nervous, especially if we have suffered serious reactions in the past, and then we will not enjoy ourselves. We just want to enjoy your company!