7 Things People With Food Allergies Have to Every Day
I wish I could say living with food allergies is easy. It is not. Routine activities like eating out, going to a party, or simply getting out of the way, I'm having a safe meal to eat.
It also doesn ' t help that many people. I can not tell you how many times I have to remind the same individuals, or even the same server on a given eatery, about my life-threatening peanut allergy. As annoying as it can be, it keeps me on my toes and reminds me that I'm not responsible for anyone, except me, to be responsible for what I eat.
Don't get me wrong, it's not all bad. Food allergies, 46 processed food products from my diet (thanks, citric acid allergy). But every day comes with restrictions that the average person probably will never have to experience.
So, here's what it's like to be in my shoes for a day. Hopefully getting a taste of what my food allergy-ridden world is like you can not help you navigate your own, or help you. 51
1. I’m basically always wiping down surfaces with a disinfectant wipe.
Hey, it's not a bad idea for everyone. Contaminants containing stubborn food particles, such as peanut dust, could be on even seemingly random surfaces, like workspaces, airplane trays, and seats at baseball games, so this is an absolute must for some people to avoid an allergic reaction.
Also, after touching random things, you must be sure to clean your hands, so wipes come in handy. Plain water or hand sanitizer may not effectively remove allergens from the skin, so I have to have access to soap and water and have commercial wipes on hand at all times.
2. I carry a lot of baggage.
You never want to be out and about with food allergies and not have the things you need. For me, this is the reason why I have not been able to do this properly.
I also carry safe snacks everywhere: Because I am a chocoholic, my favorite snacks that I keep in my purse are Cybele's Free to Eat Chocolate Chunk Brownie Cookies and Safe + Fair Abby's Chocolate Chip Cookies.
3. I get caught up in very long conversations with food establishment staff.
Convos with hosts, servers, and chefs can be exhausting, but they absolutely have to happen for my safety. I have had conversations that were extremely positive and left me feeling very comfortable with my dining experience, and others that have ended with me leaving the restaurant without eating.
The best way to ensure that the conversation results in a safe meal. I go as far as to give them a chef card that lists my allergies, since I have more than one. My server can then present this card to the chef, instead of to regurgitate the list, which could result in the server. (You can find a chef card templates that are easy to fill in, print, and cut into individual cards.)
I also emphasize the need for clean utensils to be used when cooking my meal and stress that there can absolutely be no cross-contamination.
4. I read ingredient and food warning labels even when I've read them before.
Ingredients in products do change, and ingredients can be listed differently from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, if you are allergic to peanuts, you should avoid food with lupine listed as an ingredient. If you are allergic to MSG (monosodium glutamate), it's often referred to simply as "glutamate" on ingredient labels.
Warning labels in the same product family can vary too. Hershey's Milk Chocolate Nuggets, for instance, have a "manufactured on the same equipment that processes almonds" warning, whereas the 1.55-oz. Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar does not. The good news is that all of them are.
5. I remind myself that I could suffer from an allergic reaction on any given day.
No one wants to live in constant fear, but there are some things I know that I just shouldn’t do. For one thing, I can’t let myself believe that just because a certain food is safe at a variety of places that it is universally safe.
For example, I recently had a scare involving tortilla chips. There are plenty of tortilla chips that I can eat safely, but these were cooked in peanut oil, and I had no idea before I ingested about 20 of them. Luckily, I am A-OK and didn’t have to administer the EpiPen (though I did spend a few hours at the hospital), but it was a good reminder to never allow myself to get so hungry that I eat without asking the necessary questions. Sometimes, I want food fast—but fast can often mean mistakes, which I can’t afford with my food allergies.
6. I spend a lot of time on food because of the "safe" foods that are usually the most expensive.
I was diagnosed with the majority of my 20+ food allergies in adulthood. So I have got to know slowly through some serious budgeting and scrutinizing of my bank account that a larger portion of my money is now going towards food.
I now have to add food (and a shorter ingredient list) given some of my allergies. While this is not necessarily a bad thing for my digestive system, it is for my wallet. I have found that grocers like Whole Foods offer more allergy-friendly brands than the typical grocery store, but these products are generally higher priced for smaller quantities.
To save money, I buy my favorite items in bulk and constantly check for sales. I also visit the websites for my favorite products to sign up for their email list to get coupons. It pays to do your research before you shop.
7. I am always in the habit of hunting for creative recipes to get out of a meal-planning rut.
Food Network Food Network, Allergic Living magazine, and Simply Ming, which is the website of the chef and television host Ming Tsai. I am constantly scouring those sites and videos, looking for recipes that I can adapt to my needs. It's not the quickest task, but it's well worth it when you're taking a bite of some tasty new dish.
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) also offers helpful cooking and baking tips on its site that have helped me how to substitute certain ingredients in recipes for some of my allergens when I need to.
Kendra Chanae Chapman is an entertainment professional and the blogger behind the food allergy blog Nope, Can not Eat That Either, which focuses on life as a twentysomething African American with food allergies. Chapman has a BFA from the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University.