Netflix recently released a new docu-series, “Rotten” about the hidden forces that control food in America, and my documentary obsession immediately caused me to binge the six episodes. (I needed to know if I could add it to my binge-worthy documentary list!)
Episode two caught my eye. Scientists, farmers, and consumers alike form a picture of the American peanut industry, along with the other top eight food allergens for humans: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy, wheat, and fish.
According to the episode, as many as eight percent of American children have a food allergy. I must have won the lottery because I have not one, but two of those allergies: peanuts and soy. That’s right, I’ve never had a Snickers bar, Thai food, Reese’s, most granola bars, and the list goes on.
Yet, more than all the foods I miss out on, the thing I long for the most when it comes to my food allergies is the compassion and understanding from those who do not know what it’s like to struggle with a life-threatening allergy every day. I live every day in constant caution because of something that could be a minor inconvenience to someone else. While allergy symptoms exist on a spectrum, my symptoms and many others afflicted that come in contact with their allergen can enter into anaphylaxis. This potentially deadly allergic reaction causes the body to attack itself from the inside out, causing the entire body to swell, vomiting, closed throat, and inability to breathe.
Next time you encounter someone with an allergy, try to think about these things they approach with caution on a daily basis just to keep themselves alive.
1. Eating out
By law, restaurants are required to cater to allergic customers in order to keep all consumers safe. However, most restaurants may not welcome “picky” customers by refusing to customize their menu, or in many instances assure allergic eaters they “should” be okay. I’ve been rushed to the ER because restaurants did not know their meat was cut with soy filler, or that their nut ingredients were processed with peanuts. Even at home, most ingredients from the supermarket have the allergen disclaimer, making buying new products- from nuts to TV dinners to ice cream- a potentially dangerous situation.
2. Kissing and touching others
People with allergies do not have to actually eat the food to get a reaction. Simply touching the food, smelling it, or even kissing someone who has eaten it can trigger a reaction. On more than one occasion, people have died from kissing their partners that have eaten their allergen, even after brushing or wiping their lips.
If my boyfriend eats his favorite trail mix around me, I not only leave the room because of the overbearing smell of the peanuts, I can’t hold his hand until he washes them, or kiss him for the next few hours until I’m confident any remnants of food are long gone.
3. Finding allergy-friendly locations
As a child, my family’s favorite restaurant was Roadhouse Grill, that place where free peanuts were everywhere, and peanut shells covered the booths, floors, and table. Guess who would leave every meal with hives up and down my thighs and forearms?
Other places off-limits to allergic people are ballparks with peanuts, airlines that serve peanuts on their flights, bakeries with wheat flour in the air, and not to mention every restaurant the cross-contaminates and makes their food unsafe for their customers.
In elementary school, my classroom went peanut-free in an attempt to create an allergy-free zone for me. A simple PB&J at my table could make me gag from the stench, and don't get me started on Halloween candy with nuts in them. I became very unpopular among my classmates or parents because I dictated the food they could pack their children for lunch. The animosity grew so great, one of my classmates packed peanuts for a snack only to throw them at me as a prank. His protest of my allergy sent me to the nurse. Needless to say, it has not been and still is not easy to find places free of allergens.
4. "Do you have your EpiPen?"
An EpiPen, for tose that don’t know, is a six-inch syringe filled with epinephrine, or better-known as adrenaline. During an allergic reaction, the only known antidote is a stabbing of this shot, filled with adrenaline to get the muscles relaxed and blood pumping. Anywhere we go, whether food is involved or not, doctors urge the EpiPen to go everywhere with us. That’s not only inconvenient to have to carry it at all times, but even more concerning for those that cannot afford the life-saving medicine and forego purchasing the shots.
5. Explaining the severity of a food allergy
Thanks to Hollywood stars, allergies have become a fad, with gluten-free diets and dairy-free lifestyles. While people have the right to eat in any way they choose, it’s frustrating to explain to others that yes, we actually have a food allergy, and no, we don’t eat it because a diet said not to. We don’t eat it because it can kill us.
Those that want to be gluten-free can do as they please- do your research, though because many say that getting rid of gluten does not help weight loss - but to say you have an allergy as opposed to just not wanting it in your meal is extremely different. In one instance, they can just toss the toast or bun, but for people with allergies, contamination by gluten can cause huge health risks, and serious chefs sanitize and compartmentalize their kitchens for these very customers.
Next time you meet someone with a food allergy- and chances are, you run into them every day- be a bit more considerate as to how their allergies affect them. It can make going out to restaurants impossible, dating awkward, and trying new foods deadly. Cut them some slack if they're a little picky. You would be too if you couldn't eat some of the most delicious foods like Snickers or bread or cheese!