The 2020 holiday season is different this year. Most of us can’t celebrate with family or friends like we could last year. While people with food allergies love to see these people like everyone else, the upside is that we don’t have to worry about the stress of the food at holiday gatherings. I’ve been allergic to peanuts my entire life. The one thing present at every holiday gathering is food. When a global pandemic isn’t happening, Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, New Years, and 4th of July are all days where people come to eat.
- The problem is never avoiding my allergy. I have always stayed away from food that doesn’t have a label or that wasn’t made by a trusted source.
- The problem is dealing with friends or family members that want you to eat unsafe food. Sometimes this is because they are unaware of your allergy. Sometimes this is because they don’t understand the severity of your allergy.
- Lastly, sometimes this is because they say “they double checked” to see if your allergen was in the food. While they intend to be welcoming, it can be disheartening for the person with allergies to have to turn down their nice offer.
That is why I wanted to share how I navigate the three previously mentioned situations. These tips can also apply to other social situations regarding your allergy as well.
So how do you handle friends and family that don’t know about your allergy? For most people, it takes self-control to stop them from eating a cookie from a friend. For people with food allergies, the thought of the emergency room bill and the price of new epinephrine auto injectors is good enough to turn down the offer. When someone that doesn’t know about your allergy offers you food, I always say “that I don’t want one right now”. Especially if I interact with this person a limited number of times, it’s not necessary to educate. However, if this is someone that I interact with frequently I will take the time to teach them about food allergies.
During the holidays, especially this year, this type of interaction doesn’t happen often because you are with close family. However, I experience this frequently on dates. Someone without food allergies would never think that a kiss could accidentally cause your date to go to the hospital. Especially because dates often involve going out to eat, I talk about my food allergy with my date after I notify the waiter about my allergy. This is one way that you can casually bring up your food allergy without making it your identifying feature. If we go back to the cookie example, when a friend asks why you don’t want a cookie, you can use that moment to talk about your allergy. In the end, even the person with the food allergy has left the social interaction on a positive note.
We've all had people in our lives that don’t understand the severity of our allergy. The best way to interact in this situation is to educate. Unlike how we casually bring up the conversation with people that don’t know about our allergy, it is important to be direct. If you are trusting your grandparents to cook holiday dinner, it is necessary to teach them how to read labels for allergens. I’ve had plenty of times where my grandmother has made a recipe only to find out that the recipe is unsafe when I read the labels of the ingredients.
To completely lessen the risk, you could compile all the ingredients yourself and then have that person cook the recipe. By doing this, the person cooking can feel good that they provided you food and you know it will be safe to eat. A way to completely eliminate risk is to bring an alternative food item along. The benefits of this strategy is that you will have something safe for your allergy and the cook doesn’t have to make extra food. It’s a win-win.
Sometimes someone will try and go the extra mile to make you feel safe and welcome. I have had several times where friends will try and make a special treat that they swear they double checked on my allergen and prepared just for me. While I appreciate their support, I still have to say no. It’s not that I don’t trust that individual, it’s that I don’t want to take unnecessary risk. When a single bite of a food could send you to the emergency room, it is better to lean on the side of safety.
During my first semester of college, I had to quarantine because I had close exposure to multiple people that tested positive with COVID-19. During that time, I had some amazing friends that would drop food off at the hotel I was staying at. One day my friend Ariel was picking up a burger for me from my favorite burger place in town. She wanted to get me a shake. I politely declined. However, she promised that she would make sure that it was extra safe. I still politely declined the offer because I had never had a shake from this restaurant and didn’t know if it was safe or not. She got me one anyways.
I appreciated her kind gesture, but I knew I couldn’t eat it. When she found out that I didn’t eat it, she became frustrated with me. I tried to talk to her about the severity of my allergy, but she still didn’t understand. It took a month and one allergic reaction to change her mind.
My friend Ariel has a pineapple allergy. One day she got an energy drink from her boyfriend that knows about her allergy. After taking only a couple sips, her mouth started feeling fuzzy and she started developing hives over her body. While this was a mild reaction, she realized that even when people do as much as they can to make something safe for an individual with food allergies, sometimes the best option is to politely decline the offer. Another solution I have developed to this common problem is to ask my friends to bring pre-packaged food that I know is safe. This satisfies their giving behavior while also keeping the food allergic individual safe.
I hope my experiences and suggestions with food allergies will help others during this holiday season and other times of the year.