More recently and closer to my heart, I have a friend with a similar story that happened over Thanksgiving. They were invited to eat at their family’s house and the mom had informed everyone, including the host, of her child’s severe allergy ahead of time. Snacks were put out prior to the meal and the child’s food allergen was placed directly in front of her. The mom and child tried not to panic and nicely explained again about the child’s allergy and asked if it could be removed. Unfortunately, harsh words were spoken and my friend and her family chose to leave since the family member refused to remove the allergen. My heart ached for my friend and her child as she shared this story with me. Her child’s feelings were so hurt, and she couldn’t understand… “Why is a particular food more valuable to her relatives than her life?” Those words rang out to me. Why is it that people cannot make the connection between food and death for people with food allergies? I don’t know if people realize that this is the message that is being conveyed to kids when people act like their allergy isn’t real. Believe me, as a mother of a child with a food allergy, I wish it weren’t real. Sadly, food allergies are on the rise and everyone needs to recognize and accept it as normal now. As my friend and I carried on our conversation we began to try and contextualize the situation to make it more relatable for others. We came up with a scenario that expresses how we feel when we are in these situations. I do not intend to offend anyone by this analogy, but simply help others relate and understand how food allergy kids and their parents feel when when there is a blatant disregard for a child’s well being by simply placing a food allergen near a child even after being informed that it could potentially be life threatening.
Suppose you are invited to a celebration and as you all sit down to partake in the meal, a loaded gun is placed at the table. You express your concern for this potentially
dangerous weapon, but your concern is politely ignored or even disregarded as you are being overprotective or dramatic. After all, this is a common item for the family that you are sharing a meal with, so they see no harm in it being there. You of course start to feel quite uncomfortable as plates are being passed around and platters are being knocked into it. You and your spouse share “the look” across the table. Your child stares up at you with fear in her eyes. You have talked to your child about the potential dangers guns have and to stay far away from them. Thoughts of “what ifs” start running through your mind, what if it accidentally goes off, not likely for a gun, but as a food allergen sits on the table there are many ways to cross contaminate: another dish, food item, or utensil. Then somehow it’s placed right in front of your child and no one means for the gun to fire but it accidentally does. No matter how careful you are accidents happen and the gun firing may or may not leave your child with a fatal wound but it could. No one means for a person with a food allergy to suffer an anaphylactic reaction, but it happens. We know guns can be dangerous and deadly just like food allergies are dangerous and can be deadly! Are you seeing my point of view now? Please understand that this analogy is not meant to point out how dangerous guns may be, but more to point out that having a gun on the table is essentially safer than having a food allergen on the table in front of a person with an anaphylactic food allergy.
The anxiety of not knowing if, or more likely when, my child will react to the potential threat is what this is like for us every time our requests to remove our child’s allergen are ignored. It’s like you are placing a loaded gun near them with the potential that it could fire and kill my child. By simply honoring our request to remove the allergen you not only are setting an example that the person’s life is important to you, you are making sure each and everyone involved knows that they need to be extra careful. Because some people are so unwilling to budge in their views on food allergies and refuse to listen to parents and children with food allergies many of these kids are growing up afraid to share their food allergies with others so as not to be criticized or judged. It is already difficult for these young people to navigate this world. Let’s not add to it by insinuating that someone with a food allergy is a bother or somehow less important than a particular food item.
So, the next time you hear of a request to omit a particular food due to someone’s allergy, please picture that loaded gun at the table and realize you aren’t a jerk, and of course you value someone’s life more than peanuts and pineapple. Realize that people die each year due to anaphylaxis caused by severe food allergies. All it takes is one wrong move and it could happen to someone you know. Don’t be responsible for that. Be responsible for advocating for that person and help ensure they live a long and happy life knowing that their family loves and cares for their well being no matter what.
Natalie D’Alessandro is passionate about food allergy awareness as her son has a severe food allergy. Her husband Derek is the creator of the EPI-TRAK app, so those with food allergies always remember their epinephrine devices.
Follow EPI-TRAK on:
Photo credit: Sabrina Cornelius http://www.jcorsolutions.com