Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the News...

Lately there have been quite a few articles about food allergies in the news.  My friend from college who I hadn't heard from in over a year sent me an article the other day on the allergy studies being done for peanuts.  I guess there are some people who will always remember my allergies and think of me!  

There have been articles lately about Northwest and Delta serving peanuts on their flights and the outrage this has caused (mostly in MN),  articles about the peanut studies being done, and about the prevalence of food allergies and the growing numbers of children being diagnosed. These are the main topics I have seen over the past few weeks.  One article I read this morning caught my eye as I was about to leave for work.

The article is from, a Connecticut news website, and is about a bill being introduced to create uniform guidelines for schools to manage food allergies in schools.  It is something parents should be aware of.  It is called the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act of 2009.  

I will add more about my thoughts on this later...

Yesterday I was out with another teacher at recess.  She told me that a new student was joining her class next week.  "He has a peanut allergy. I've never had a student with one of those before," she said to me.  I told her I had anaphylactic allergies to many foods, including peanuts (I'm new to this school and many people don't know about my allergies).  Then some students were arguing and she had to run over to them, and then it was time to go inside, and I didn't get a chance to talk to her about it anymore.  I want to tell her to ask me if she has any questions about food allergies.  Many of the teachers seem pretty unaware of allergies.  This is a big concern to me!  Teachers really need to be educated.  As someone in this field, I feel like it is especially important that more education happens for teachers.  If they know how to handle food allergies, then they don't have to be worried about having "one of them" in their classroom!  

To be continued... 

The Touch Test

The other night I went out to dinner with my Nana.  We went to an Italian restaurant I had been to before, but not in at least a year.  I gave the server my card and she came back and said I should be all set.  They only used pure olive oil, and no nuts.  She said the fish was cooked separately from the meat.  I was all set!  

When the food came to the table, I put a small taste on my fork.  I then touched the sauce from my chicken parm up to my lip and let a little sit there for a minute.  I can tell right away if I am having a reaction, so when I felt nothing, I tested a small bite.  It tasted great, and no allergic reaction!  

Ever since I was little, I have always done the touch test.  Basically this consists of touching the food lightly to my skin to see if I get a reaction.  My dad taught me this.  If I don't get any tingling or a hive, it is on to step two: the taste test.  When I taste test a food, I have a very small taste of the food.  Then I wait a few minutes to make sure I don't get a reaction.  I usually take these pre-cautious steps when I am trying something new.  It is a safer way, instead of going right in and taking a big bite out of some dish I have never had before.  

The first time I am out with someone and they see me do this, I often get asked, "Is your food okay?"  Then I have to explain what I am doing.  I don't mind this explanation though.  It makes sense, and could save me from ingesting a large amount of something I could have a reaction to.    

Monday, February 23, 2009

Part II of My Dad's Theory: In General the Nicer the Restaurant, the more willing to Accommodate

Going along with my dad's first theory, this next theory is also true. In general, the nicer the restaurant, the more willing they are to accommodate. Servers in nicer restaurants are used to dealing with a lot of requests. Since they know their customers are paying a lot of money, they want to help and work with you, to find something you can eat.

When I was staying in N.Y.C. one summer, I went to meet a friend out for dinner. He was taking one of his clients out, so he had picked a nice, upscale seafood restaurant. He remembered my allergies, but thought they would accommodate for me. He was right. I was able to get a delicious cut of steak with vegetables, and I didn't even have to worry. The server was very nice about it, and said I had nothing to worry about.

This is not always the case, but it has now happened to me quite a few times, where I have gone to upscale restaurants and had servers be perfectly helpful and nice about my allergies. I guess you just never know!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Dad's Theory: The nicer the restaurant, the higher the danger

My dad has always had this theory, which I often do find to be true. Usually, the nicer the restaurant is, the higher the danger for my food allergies. Restaurants that are nicer and more expensive, tend to also be able to afford nicer, more expensive ingredients for their dishes. That is why, when I look at menus for expensive restaurants, I always see 'walnut butter', 'encrusted with almonds', etc. It is unbelievable how many dishes they can think of with allergens to include!

I also know that nuts are supposed to great flavor enhancers. That is why I have to avoid any baked goods. Many have some kind of nut, nut oil, almond extract, etc. There may also be hidden ingredients that I would never have suspected.

Avoiding really upscale, high class restaurants, is the best thing to do with food allergies.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"We don't put pine nuts in our pesto...ya know...everyone is allergic to nuts these days"

I work at an Italian Restaurant once a week.  Over the years I have worked at quite a few Italian restaurants.  It is the safest type of restaurant for me to work at.  I don't usually divulge my allergies when I am working at these restaurants.  I think I would be thought of as a liability to them.  I know my comfort zone though, and I know what I can and can't do.  I know how to avoid situations I can't be a part of, and I have had enough experience with it, to not be too worried about my allergies when I am at work.  I know as a parent, this might sound a bit shocking, that I put myself in this kind of situation.  At my age though, I know my comfort zone. I know myself very well, and I know my limits.  

It is difficult getting jobs when you are younger that don't involve food.  I could never work at an ice cream stand (like my mom did when she was in high school during the summer), and I could never work in a cafe.  There are way too many nuts everywhere!  When I was 16 years old, this cut down on many jobs that I could get.  I was a camp counselor and a hostess at an Italian restaurant for most of the summers throughout high school and college.

The other night when I was at work, one of the owners was answering a question about pine nuts in the pesto and he said "We don't put pine nuts in our pesto...ya know...everyone is allergic to nuts these days!"  I was impressed with his awareness of this growing concern, and glad to know there were no nuts! 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ketchup & Why I Love It!

A main component of my diet (especially when traveling) consists of ketchup. I believe my love for ketchup developed from all the bland food I would get stuck eating! Ketchup can be added to anything- eggs, pasta, rice, meat. I commonly put ketchup on a food if I can’t use any other sauce. When I was traveling near the Mediterranean one summer, all I could find to eat were veggies, pita, and plain white rice.  I ended up using a lot of ketchup that summer for the rice!  I have tried to cut down on the amount of ketchup I use, but when I travel, it ends up being a pretty important part of my diet!

The Media Portrayal of Allergies

In the past few years, I have noticed a new character trait in the movies and on TV: food allergies. Although this seems to be a fad, the problem with this, is that more often than not, it is misrepresented. That is a huge concern, because people might think that food allergies are something to joke about, and don't understand the actual severity!

I know the list goes on, but the ones that I could think of off the top of my head were: Movies- Hitch, The Da Vinci Code, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. TV- Freaks and Geeks, a soap opera episode (not sure which one), and Michael on The Office saying, "If I was allergic to dairy, I think I would kill myself." Out of these examples, I believe only one of these was handled responsibly. The media really needs to do their research!

Summer Camp & Independence!

When I say I have traveled and I have done things that people thought someone like I couldn’t do, I mean it. Camp was my first real push into independence. My parents had the confidence in me that I could be responsible and take care of myself. It started off as just day camps, but became over night camps that lasted more than half the summer. I carried my epi-pen always. I was the one in charge of it from day one. Yes, my counselors were well aware of my allergies, but at that time, there was no one else with my allergies at camp or even anyone else I knew, so it was not a well-known occurrence to have such severe allergies.

I would go into the kitchen at the dining hall and ask to read the ingredients in all the food. The whole kitchen staff got to know me pretty well and the chef was great about showing and telling me everything to watch out for. They were even willing to make me my own food and keep my own yogurt in the fridge in case there wasn’t anything I could eat.

There were some activities at camp that I remember not participating in. Each year every bunk would go on an overnight or weekend camping trip, and I never participated in that. It always involved being in the woods in the middle of nowhere, so it was decided that I would stay at camp. This ended up turning into what I decided then, was in my favor. I stayed with the oldest girls bunk and did everything with them for the two or three days my bunk was gone. All the attention was on me because I was the little one with all the ‘big kids’ and because I had no older siblings, I loved the feeling of having some at camp! My bunk would come back dirty and complaining about their trip, and I would fill them in on what had happened while they were gone, and how cool the older kids were. Sure, I did miss the whole camping part of camp I guess, but it helped me to realize that there are ways to find other options that might be just as fun!

Other Peoples' Reactions

As I get older, it seems my friends, or other adults who know about my allergies, get more nervous about them than I do. “Can I eat this peanut butter at the same table?” I often get asked. “Yes, it’s fine. Don’t worry,” I say. I am so used to people eating food I am allergic to in the same vicinity that I can’t worry about it anymore. It happens, even if you try to avoid it. People aren’t mind readers. I don’t wear a sign on me that says “Hi, my name is Allie. I am anaphylactic to peanuts, tree nuts, and fish. Please don’t eat any of those foods anywhere near me.”

I actually had a circumstance a few months ago, where as I look back, I would have handled it a bit differently. I was at an NFL game sitting in the stands, and the man sitting behind me two seats down was eating peanuts. He kept cracking the peanut shells and dropping them on the ground. He was pretty sloppy about it, and the shells were all over. I could even see peanut shell on my seat. I wouldn’t sit down the whole game. Now, I could have turned around and said to the man, “Hey do you mind being a bit more careful. I am severely allergic to peanuts. Thanks.” Instead, I kept quiet about it for the full four hours we were there.
How could that guy possibly read my mind and know that I was allergic. He couldn’t. It wasn’t his fault he was eating peanuts and making me uncomfortable. He had no idea. For some reason, I just didn’t feel like bothering him. I know I could have handled this better. I could have spoken up and said something to him. The problem is that sometimes I feel like maybe I am bothering someone by asking them to be careful. I don’t like bothering people, but I have a right as much as that guy, to feel comfortable sitting in my seat at a football game. Remember that!! 

At my age, I know my comfort zone.  I do what makes me feel comfortable.  Everyone has their own comfort zone.  The other morning my friends and I were all eating breakfast together, and one of them took out peanut butter to put on his bagel. He sat across from me, and while I knew it was there and I recognized the peanut butter, I also knew that I could easily stay away. Although I would always prefer to not be near the peanut butter, I am comfortable enough to stay where I am sitting.  If it bothered me, I could move my seat.  

My friend told me a story about how he went to a bar with some of his friends, and they had peanuts at the bar. They ended up playing a game with the peanuts and the next thing they were throwing peanuts threw the air. This would be a situation that I would not be comfortable in. It would definitely not be or feel safe to be in that type of environment.  

What it really comes down to as an allergic-reactor, is putting yourself in situations that match your own personal comfort zone.  As you get older, your comfort zone may change.  It is always important to keep yourself safe.  Becoming more responsible for yourself though, also means that you will start to decide what feels safe and comfortable to you with your allergies.  BUT, NO MATTER WHAT, CARRY YOUR EPI-PEN!  That will never be about comfort, that is always going to be important, no matter what age! 

Laziness & Exhaustion (Especially For My Other Allergic Reactors)


My biggest problem with going out to eat is getting lazy and not wanting to make a big deal about my allergies. I often go with dishes I have had at that restaurant before, and ask the server to double check that nothing has changed. It gets exhausting having to ask each time I eat somewhere what is in everything. Don’t get lazy though! It is always important to ask. If people in the restaurant give me a hard time, I go to a different one. There have been a few times where I haven’t felt confident in the wait staff, and that is not a good feeling. Trying the food you order and feeling unsure about it is not worth it. If the server did not leave you with a confident feeling that they knew what they were talking about, don’t eat until you feel confident that it is okay.  The best way to do this is ask for the manager, or go right up to the kitchen and ask to speak with the chef.  I have done both many times. BE ASSERTIVE! Trust me. It is much better to get the "okay" from the people who are actually supervising and cooking the meals!    

Whenever I try food for the first time, I sometimes think I am getting a reaction, like an itchy throat, or my mouth will get dry and I will cough a bit. Then my heart beat starts jumping up through my throat because I have made myself so concerned that I may be allergic to this food, that I think I am getting a reaction, even though I am not! That reaction is all in my head, but sometimes it is unavoidable!  I find the best way to try to have these moments of panic pass, is to take some deep breaths, ask again if I feel apprehensive, and try a tiny bit on my hand, then lip.  I would only ever try the food, if I knew it was okay.  If there are ever any unclear ingredients, I will not eat.  


It really is exhausting! I think that is the best way to describe it. When I am traveling, that is when my allergies become the most tiresome. Every meal becomes a bit less enjoyable, just knowing it will be a process to eat. There is no great advice for the exhaustion, besides saying I understand, and having patience is important. It is a part of traveling, and a part of the unknown, but everything else about traveling makes this part worth it to me.

When I was young it was the most difficult to understand. People usually get grouchy when they are hungry and over-tired. Unfortunately, us lucky allergic reactors, get the joy of having extended periods of time where we may not find food we can eat. This is something that happens when I travel. It may be hours before I come across some food that I can eat. It is difficult, and I have definitely had my mini temper tantrums in my mind because I am so hungry! I deal though. I wait it out, pretend I am not bothered by the fact that it has been eight hours and I have not found one thing that seems safe enough to eat! What can I do? I try to prepare by bringing food with me, but honestly there is only so much I can carry, and I can try to be prepared, but it does not always work out. So I wait…until finally we arrive somewhere… and I see… fruit, or something packaged where I understand the ingredients!

It makes you very tough. You have to be your own biggest fan, and tell yourself how great you are being, because often as you get older, you are not with people who could ever possibly understand. If you are lucky you find friends and travel companions who are sympathetic, but you have to be your own advocate. Only people with allergies can really understand the difficulty and frustration of sitting on a plane for fourteen hours and not eating anything. It tries on your patience, and you want to scream from hunger pains and the growling lion inside your stomach, forcing the person next to you to look over at you and wonder why you are not eating because your stomach is so loud!

Don’t be afraid to dream big about the places you want to go and the adventures you want to have, because you can still do it. Knowledge and strength are both important aspects in believing that you can. You need the knowledge to know how to take care of yourself in case of an emergency, and you need the strength to believe in yourself and your abilities to handle a situation!

Monday, February 16, 2009

My decision: ITALY!

I came to a job decision!  I am moving to ITALY!  I will teach at an international school there, starting in the fall.  I'm very excited!  Now that I have made this decision, it is only the beginning of all of the details I will need to figure out with my food allergies, before I leave.  It is a country where I do not speak the language.  I will need to figure out how to get around language barriers, and find foods to eat. I have traveled to Italy before, but I will be living in an area I have never been to.  I think it will be a great experience for me to grow on many different levels.  It will certainly be a test of my independence, and will be an even greater test of my ability to find food and adjust to a country where the first language isn't English.  This should be an interesting challenge!  I will write more about my questions, concerns, and how the process is going soon!

The International Job Fair

I have never been to a job fair like this before!  There are around 80 schools represented from many different countries, and around 500 candidates looking for positions.  Usually this ends up being plenty of schools for the number of recruiters, but this year, that is not the case.  The economy is affected world wide, and it is definitely showing here.  There are not very many elementary positions.  I was lucky to get three interviews.  One interview was with a school in Cairo, one was with a school in Italy, and one was with a school in Colombia. I had interest in other schools too, and left recruiters notes in a mailbox with my resume. The recruiters can then leave me a letter of interest and information about their schools in my mailbox.  The interviews went really well, and I was offered a job right away by two of the schools.  Now I have to make a decision...

*I just want to also add what I did for food this weekend.  I stayed with two of my friends at their apartments.  I packed a cooler with food in it, and planned my meals ahead of time.  I didn't want to stress my friends out unfairly, by feeling like they had to feed me.  I was also at the fair for the majority of the day, each of the three days.  I left the cooler in the car (it was freezing outside, so everything stayed cold).  When I had time, I could always run out to my car in the parking garage and grab whatever I wanted.  One of the afternoons, I had leftover beef stew.  I asked the restaurant at the hotel where the fair was, if they would heat it up for me. They were really nice about it, and put it in a bowl for me at one of the tables.  I really appreciated it!  This weekend just showed how important it is to plan food out ahead of time.  I had plenty of food and was never hungry, because I figured out a way to eat my own food, and not have to worry about finding food I wasn't allergic to.  

Sunday, February 15, 2009

<3 Valentine's Day Dinner <3

Last night for Valentine's Day, I went out to dinner at a wonderful upscale Italian restaurant right in the city.  My boyfriend called ahead about the reservations, and asked if they would be able to accommodate my allergies.  They said they would be able to!  Fabulous!  

When we arrived at the restaurant everyone was incredibly helpful and friendly.  The server we had was wonderful about my allergies.  He made me feel like I barely had to say anything.  He seemed to already understood the severity.  I gave him my Chef card.  He came back and said that everything was all set.  I didn't feel nervous or uncomfortable at all.  Our reservation was pretty early (that was all there was left), but I think it worked to our advantage because they weren't stressed with orders in the kitchen.  The food was flavorful and delicious.  We were very satisfied by the entire experience!

After our lovely Italian meal, feeling extremely full, we met some friends out for drinks at a classy jazz club some blocks away from the restaurant.  After walking in my high heels for what felt like about five miles, we finally arrived in time to take the seats our friends had saved for us at the bar.  

Even after a few years of practice, I still find going out for drinks to be a bit daunting.  I don't usually trust any mixed drinks.  There are too many different mixes and liquors.  I haven't tried enough different alcohols to make sure I am not allergic to some component of a mixed drink. I also worry about cross-contamination.  I often choose either beer or wine instead.  I still worry sometimes if I don't know the beer, and tend to stick with the ones I know.  I am concerned less about wine, but do realize that some wines are now being labeled with fish and egg warnings on them.  The first time I actually saw these warning was when I was living in Australia.  Last night, I chose to get an individual sized bottle of champagne that I had drank there before.

It was nice to have a fancy night out with no allergy worries!  This is not a frequent occurrence, so when it does happen, it really makes the whole night that much more relaxed and enjoyable! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Adding To The List Of Unfriendly Consumer Products...

I was flipping through my FAAN newsletter this month, and guess what I saw?  Scotch-Brite scrub sponges with walnut shell in them!  Tissues, sponges...what is next?  According to the studies done, people who are allergic to tree nuts, are supposed to avoid contact with these sponges.  Makes sense!  My question is why is it necessary to add allergens to random products, when there are other moisturizers, or in this case, abrasive aids?  When allergies are rising, why does it seem that there is also a rise of allergen-containing products?

I have a few concerns with this sponge.  One concern is going out to dinner.  I would guess that the odds are not high that a restaurant would buy these sponges to use, but they could.  They could then use them on their dishes, and although the chance would be very small, there is still some possibility of a reaction.  Another concern is eating at friend's houses.  It is more likely that a product like this would be bought by a household I would think.  In that case, if I were to go to my friend's house and eat something, not realizing they used that sponge to clean their dishes (at my age, there are many friends of mine who don't have dishwashers in their apartments), I suppose I could get a reaction and not even realize the source!   

These products seem unnecessarily dangerous.  In that same newsletter, there was a consumer alert from a woman who found almond oil in organic dish soap.  Definitely not a big surprise! This is certainly something to be aware of.  More often than not, sweet almond oil, or something of the variety is used in soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, make-up, and other beauty products.  I just wanted to reiterate this again, because it is important to read the ingredients of EVERYTHING, not just foods!  These examples emphasize the importance of always staying aware!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Contemplating International Job Decisions...

I am in the process of figuring out potential jobs for next year.  This weekend I am participating in an international job fair for teachers.  Teaching internationally is something I have wanted to do for many years, but is certainly a substantial decision!  As I go through the list of potential schools that I will meet and interview with, I'm aware that my allergies are a consideration in the location I may end up.  I have lived abroad before, but never in a country where English is not the first language spoken.  More than likely, if I do end up getting a job abroad, it will be in a country where English is not the main language.  This adds more complexity to the situation, but certainly does not deter me from looking at jobs in these countries.  I'm excited by the possibilities, and look forward to writing more about the experience and decision making process!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Jokes That Aren't That Funny!

"Hey, what did you put in the sauce?" I asked my friend, as we sat down the other night to eat dinner that he had just prepared.  "I put tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil, etc... and fish oil of course," he said jokingly.  There it was...the allergy joke!  

Throughout my life, I have encountered many variations of these jokes.  Very often when people feel uncomfortable about something, it is a natural part of human nature to make a joke about it.  There have been so many in fact, that I have my favorites (hint the sarcasm)-- the ones that stick out in my brain because I have heard them over and over, from many different people, over many years!  I'll do a countdown of my top three favorites...

Joke #3: "What do you eat?"

I know the list sounds long when someone asks me what I'm allergic to, but in reality, the food I can eat is a much longer list!  I suppose when you rattle off multiple allergies, it can sound like there is nothing else really left to eat.  It does seem though, that even when I start to list the foods I can eat, people are so consumed with all that I can't, that they don't even really hear me.  After my list of allergies, it is also quite often followed by a response like, "Oh, I love those foods!  I can't imagine living with out them.  I think if I had allergies I would just eat them anyway."  Right there, is a clear indication that the person does not understand that eating them is definitely not an option!  Yes, of course I would eat it too, if it couldn't potentially send me to the ER!  People who can eat anything though, have a hard time grasping that food can truly do that to someone.  

To me, the following scenario seems more strange.  I was watching a commercial on TV for a grocery store in my area.  In the commercial a mother is walking through the store, putting food in her cart, and not even looking at what is in it.  After that commercial I was thinking, "Wow, most people can just walk into a grocery store and put anything they want in their cart, without spending any time looking at what it contains!  That's all they have to do!"  It does still astound me though that people can do that.  I sometimes forget that is actually the norm, and that most people don't stand around reading everything before buying it.  I don't mind grocery shopping, but it can certainly feel like a much longer errand, when I am reading everything before I put it in the cart.  The only other people who might be looking at that box are people who are on a diet, besides that, everyone is free to pick whatever they want!  It's amazing! is.  People are lucky.

Joke #2: "Well, at least you will always stay skinny!"

I love this one.  Really?  Do people really think that because I am limited on a variety of foods I can't eat, that that is what prevents me from gaining weight?  I don't think so!  I've always been extremely athletic, and a healthy eater.  That is what gives me a healthy body size.  It has nothing to do with not being able to eat certain foods!  There are plenty of (although growing fewer) unhealthy foods I'm sure I could find to eat if I wanted to.  Of course in a society that places such a high value on being skinny (according to most television, magazines and other media), this would become a joke!  

Joke #1: Survival of the fittest- "Wow, it is amazing you can still survive, considering you are certainly not the fittest or best equipped for surviving with all those allergies!"- Or some other fabulous variation...

Last, and certainly not least, this joke has always really bothered me!  Yes, I suppose a few hundred years ago, when there was less food, and even less resources, people with allergies probably would not have survived.  But, at that time, if people did have allergies, they probably didn't even know they had them.  Allergies have grown into an even bigger issue (most likely partially due to the environment), which back then was not a concern.  

How do you or your child avoid these jokes?  

At this point I do seem to have a formula answer to each of these.  Jokes are unavoidable though, but the way I respond to them is in my control.  I can either get upset about it, answer with some witty reply, or brush it off with all the other jokes from the past.  I usually choose to either answer with wit, or brush it off with one of my standard answers.  If someone really doesn't know about allergies, I also sometimes actually try to explain the severity, but only if I truly have their attention and won't scare them off.  It depends on the circumstance, but many of these encounters are first or second interactions with someone.  It's better not to scare them off right away, and build on their allergy knowledge as you go along!