I was diagnosed with a peanut allergy around the age of 3. I am now 19 years old and still struggle to be comfortable with the simple act of eating out. Although life-threatening, my case requires me to consume the actual peanut to cause an anaphylactic reaction.
Deserts and any menu with the word “fudge” are my enemies and kick-start anxious feelings. It’s hard to eat out with friends and family. Although I’ve had amazing support and accommodation for my allergy, you can’t blame people (yes, even my own father!) for forgetting. So now I have the greatest responsibility for my health and safety.
In the early years of elementary school, I carried a medical bracelet. This would let people know that I have a peanut allergy and what they should do if I had an allergic reaction. I also carried a fanny pack that held my Epipen. As far as I know, most schools have a safe peanut/nut free environment. But I always had to remember to ask before taking any snacks that teachers or my peers gave out, like on Easter and Valentine’s day (Remember when kids would give out favours on their birthday?). I found it difficult to refuse food when it was offered, and if didn’t appear as if it would have peanuts in them. Nonetheless, at a young age I knew it wasn’t worth the risk.
In my first year of university, I had the opportunity to live away from home. I stayed in an off-campus apartment close to the university in downtown Toronto. As one might imagine, the first few months were hard. Trying to prepare my own meals while studying was a hassle. In addition to living with roommates, I felt bad for not being able to share certain kinds of food like Thai food (they have a lot of peanut-based meals). Finding a knife with peanut butter on it would scare the living daylights out of me. I always thought to myself, what if it wasn’t cleaned properly or cross contaminated with the food I ate? From then on, I did most of the dishes to avoid the issue. When grocery shopping, I always admired the companies that had “Made in a Peanut/Nut-Free Facility” written on their packaged foods. They made shopping easy, quick, and I was happy that people catered to those with these allergies. Tip #1: Always read the list of ingredients. If there’s no label, then you probably shouldn’t buy it. Tip #2: Know that you are taking a huge risk when the label says “May contain peanuts/tree nuts”.
Eating out with friends are probably the most worrisome events in my life. I never had any issue with telling the staff about my allergy. I was only anxious when they weren’t sure themselves what to serve me. Peanut oil is used in the strangest (I find) parts of meals. I once had a waitress tell me that it “could have been used” in a pasta dish. Another time, it was used to toast a hamburger bun? It was unappetizing to look at the lettuce wrap burger it became and it didn’t taste all that great either (of course, this is all in my opinion).
To anyone living with a food allergy like peanuts or shellfish, never be afraid to ask what’s in the food. Don’t feel like a burden because you are saving yourself. Let staff of a restaurant and new friends know of your allergy when you’re eating out. Don’t forget your Epipen. With me, you’ll never see me without a purse or side-bag. Stick with what you know is okay for you. Be 100% sure of the food you’ll be eating. You might think, do people really care though? I mean, it’s our own problem to deal with, right? But the public should care. There has been an increase in the number of children diagnosed with food allergies over the past few years. I am talking about lives that are taken away in a matter of minutes by the simplest act of eating.
If you didn’t already know, May is Food Allergy Awareness Month! Please show your support in spreading awareness on the seriousness of food allergies!
Do you have a food allergy? Share your stories in the comments!
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