“FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK 2013…WOOT WOOT!!!!!” Yeah, it doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Spring Break 2013…WOOT WOOT”, but humor me. Food allergy awareness week is May 12th -18th. Well, obviously, every week in our house is FAAW, but for one week it hits your house too. Since people who have food allergies are already pretty aware, my goal is to help others get a glimpse into our world. This will be quite a challenge, and most people will not have any interest in participating, but I can’t wait to hear from those who do.
I saw an idea in a post on my support group’s message board (thank you, PAK Charlotte) for a subtract campaign. The idea is that people without food allergies subtract a common allergen from their diet to help gain an understanding of what it’s like. Sounds crazy, right? Why would anyone want to do that? I’ll tell you why.
The hardest thing for most of us to understand is that food allergies are about more than just food. By eliminating foods, we also are limiting other experiences. It’s something that is hard to grasp until you try living it.
The idea of this is not deprivation. If your kids are in a situation where they really want a special treat that they would normally get, go ahead and let them have it. Just make a mental note of what that situation might have been like if you had to tell them no because the ingredient list was not available to you. If you can’t think of anything to fix for breakfast that does not have the allergen you chose, go ahead and go with what you would normally eat, but take a moment to consider what it would be like to face that obstacle every day. Remember, the idea is to increase awareness and empathy, not to suffer deprivation. It should be an educational challenge, not a slow form of kiddy torture.
The scale of your “subtraction” is completely flexible. You might decide to eliminate one or more of the top 8 allergens (egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish) for a week, a day, or for one dinner. Obviously, if your kids don’t really eat shellfish, it won’t increase anyone’s awareness much to choose that one. Choose something you think you all will notice, then talk about it. Let them know you want them to think about what it feels like to be careful about the food they eat and the food around them. Again, don’t make them do anything they’re not ready for. If they need the ranch dressing in order to eat their vegetables, give it to them, but let them know it is not safe for people with egg, dairy, and possibly soy allergies. Pay attention to labels and think about what it would be like to have to read every single one every time you go grocery shopping.
Don’t think I’m getting off easy. I’m going to do it too. Even though we have eliminated 4 of the top 8 food allergens, there are many families with far more restrictive diets than ours. We will be eliminating one more. I’m going to go with one that seems difficult, as I’m asking others to do. Goodbye wheat!!!! I will let you know how it goes.
I’m not worried though, I’ll just stick to my regulars…hummus and crackers. Wait, no crackers. I guess I’ll just do a simple pasta salad. Errrrrr, no that doesn’t work. Do you expect me to survive on bread and water alone? Right, no bread. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have a beer…DOH!
All kidding aside, the most important thing is to talk about the experience. Talk about it with your family and with anyone you know who lives with food allergies. Ask questions about what they would do in certain situations you faced during your challenge. Let them know what you found difficult and what you found interesting. You might even notice some positives, like knowing every ingredient in everything you feed your family. We love hearing those too. Visit Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) for resources and information to get the conversation started.
Use the comment section below to share your experience. Even if it’s just one meal or if you thought about food allergies in a situation you normally would not think twice about. I would love to hear your plan and your comments as you go.
* A special thank you to our friends for letting me use sad face images of your sweet babes. They are all precious in any mood.