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est. march 5, 2020

Message to Readers

Thank you so much to sunny.v for the amazing review! You helped me so much!

The main thing I need to do now is to make sure I'm within word count range! And I need a really awesome title! If anyone has ideas, please let me know in the comments! <3

To Eat or Not To Eat: Living with a Food Allergy

June 16, 2020

    Every time I step into a restaurant, I wonder if I will leave it healthy or poisoned. As a teenager living with a food sensitivity in a very culinary society, even one misstep can lead to sickness. Though food safety progress has been made, I must tread lightly to ensure my safety. 
    I was diagnosed with celiac disease at age five. Celiac disease is different from a food allergy because of the autoimmune response involved. If I eat gluten, which is in some grains, particularly wheat, barley, and rye, my immune system attacks itself, which can lead to a series of problems if left untreated. However, avoiding these ingredients isn't the hardest part. People with celiac disease are often so sensitive to gluten that even a crumb that falls into their glass of water can trigger a response. This is called cross-contamination, and can often be more miserable than direct contamination.
    Communication is crucial in making sure that people living with food allergies are safe, but it is often what restaurants and people are lacking. I was in New York for Thanksgiving four years ago and my parents were excited to take us to a  gluten-free restaurant. We were going to get their Thanksgiving special, which consisted of turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, much like our traditional Thanksgiving meal. Our waiter came to take our order and my mom went down the customary checklist to see if it would be safe for me to eat. "Do you clean your cutting boards? Do you serve anything that isn't gluten-free? You're a dedicated gluten-free facility, right?" The waiter assured us that everything the restaurant served was gluten-free, except for a case of beer in the back of the bar. My mom went on to grill him about the meal we planned to order and he assured us that it was all safe for me to eat. "So, the Thanksgiving Special, with the turkey and the mashed potatoes, is one hundred percent gluten-free?" The waiter was shocked. I remember that he seemed appalled that we would even consider a gluten-free rub on turkey. By making a single dish with the allergen, the place was no longer a dedicated facility. If my mom hadn't pressed on about the meal, I would have gotten extremely sick. That experience scared me and caused me to be more cautious about my allergy than is probably healthy.
    When I get contaminated, I feel like I've gotten the flu. I throw up, have headaches, and feel too tired to do anything. My immune system attacks my villi, the structures in the small intestine that absorb nutrients, which can lead to a nutrition deficiency. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to recover. My longest bout of sickness was around six weeks. Six weeks of exhaustion, congestion, and indigestion. Still, that is a cakewalk compared to what happens if someone with a more serious allergy gets exposed. My father's co-worker was camping with his daughter, who had a severe allergy to peanuts. It was dark and she ate something that would normally be peanut free, but wasn't. She went into anaphylactic shock and passed away. I was upset and scared when I heard about her death. Even though I'm not in danger of anaphylaxis, this story only fed into my fears. A tiny misplaced ingredient robbed a teenage girl of her life, which could have been saved by a simple cardstock sign over the food that warned her of what it contained. Could I have my health stolen from me too?
   Thirty two million Americans live with food allergies, and yet incidents like this happen far more frequently than they should. Every year, 200,000 people in the United States require emergency attention because of a reaction to food. Our communities have made huge strides toward a safer society, but people with food allergies, especially children, still face intolerance on a daily basis. One third of children with food allergies are bullied as a result. There was even an incident where a child with a severe allergy to dairy passed away as a result to being chased with milk by his classmates. When I heard of this, I was horrified. This boy in grade school, fallen victim to ignorance and cruelty, made my heart ache and my face burn. My community is always supportive of me, not limiting me to my disease. I'm not just the gluten-free girl; I'm also a writer, a believer, a dreamer, an achiever. This boy died as an outsider, the allergy kid, instead of as his complete self. Did he want to be an astronaut? An artist? An acrobat? His allergy shouldn't have stopped him, but, somehow, someone twisted fate so it did.
    Another issue that food sensitive people face is the cost of living. Families caring for someone with a food allergy spend $25 billion each year. I've noticed that gluten-free food is much more expensive. This doesn't worry me now, because my parents are very supportive and our whole family is gluten-free, but I am concerned about when I move out and go to college. How will I be able to pay for a living space, tuition, and student debt, all while dumping my minimum-wage paycheck into food that is up to 145 percent more expensive, all to keep myself safe?
    Food allergies also have an emotional impact. 92% of parents say that they fear their child's safety some or all of the time. 75% say that it causes anxiety for their family, not just the person with the allergy. It can also lead to some conflicting views within the family. My mom, for example, is very protective and lives by the motto "better safe than sorry." If I ask her if something is safe for me to eat, she often responds with, "Is it worth it?" To me, it's never worth getting sick, so I often miss out on food opportunities that are probably safe. In retrospect, she told me, she wished that she had been less paranoid, since her over cautiousness has rubbed off on me. My dad, however, thinks I should expand my horizons and try new things. I don't want to live my life in constant fear, but it's hard to reset the way that I've thought since my diagnosis eight years ago.
    Another issue I experience because of my allergy is lack of trust. My librarian once tried to pressure me into eating ice cream, even though I assured her several times that I couldn't. She kept telling me, "You'll be fine," and "What's the worst that will happen?" Those things are easy to say when it isn't your health on the line, but that experience really stressed me out. If someone offers me something and tells me it's gluten-free, I still double-check the ingredients and grill them for information.
    The trust thing goes both ways, though. Sometimes doctors don't trust me when I swear that I haven't been eating gluten. I have elevated levels of gluten in my blood and have since I was five, even on a gluten-free diet. I have had nurses look at me skeptically and ask me if I was "cheating." My mom reassured her that I would never do that and that I prioritize my health over food pleasure, but the nurse didn't believe me. "Teens cheat all the time," she went on, "and they don't tell their parents." I knew my mom still believed me, but it hurt that a nurse who I didn't even know had already pegged me as a liar.
    Staying safe with a food allergy is difficult sometimes, with social pressures, cost of living, constant fear of getting sick, and even bullying, but I feel confident that the world will grow to prioritize food allergy safety. We're only a few ingredients away from a safer, more inclusive society and, if we work hard and don't forget to clean the oven to prevent cross-contamination, the final product will be amazing.

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  • Anne Blackwood

    You could use a title that's a piece of dialogue expressing the concerns of someone with an allergy, like "Why can't I eat in peace?" (but probably something better than that).

    6 months ago
  • sunny.v

    the conclusion’s looking so much better! titles, titles...i’m not sure, but i do agree that i feel this deserves a title with a lot more punch!

    6 months ago