Monday, June 29, 2009

Food Allergy Snapshots

Sometimes I’m amazed at the places I go and things I do that make me think about life with food allergies. Here are a few snapshots of things that brought food allergies to mind in the last couple of weeks:

  • On the Metro in Washington D.C., as well as on TRAX here in Salt Lake, you’re not allowed to eat or drink anything. That’s a blessing for food-allergy sufferers – one less place to worry about getting spilled on or sitting in crumbs.
  • At a birthday party, the mom served Italian Ice from a new place in Layton called Zeppo’s – it’s milk-free, egg-free, and nut-free, and quite yummy!
  • Another friend called twice to check on ingredients for a birthday cake to make sure the two allergic boys there would be okay at that party. Don’t you love friends who care?
  • In the ultra-cheesy movie “The Game Plan” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (not my usual movie fare, but it was late and I was too lazy to find the remote), the big climax is when his newly discovered daughter suffers an anaphylactic reaction to nuts in a dessert that he fed her without remembering that she’d mentioned her nut allergy earlier in the movie.
  • At the Utah Arts Festival, a vendor was hawking free samples of those roasted almonds – and my son was nervous about standing at the art booths next to the vendor’s stand because the smell made him worry he might have a reaction. (He didn’t.)
  • Southwest Airline’s peanut policy makes me nuts. (Ha.) They hand them out to every passenger without even asking. I had to be quick to tell them not to give us any before they plopped them down on my tray. On a longer flight, they also offered other snacks as an additional treat, but nearly every one had a nut warning.
  • Hershey’s Dark Bark recipe makes great chocolate for making S’mores:
    1 (8-oz.) package of Hershey’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, broken into pieces (if you can’t find Hershey’s baking chocolate, substitute 3 T Hershey’s cocoa melted and blended with 1 T shortening or oil for every ounce of baking chocolate); 1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. shortening; 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract; 2 cups confectioners sugar.
    Grease 9x9-inch pan. Set aside. In medium bowl, microwave chocolate and shortening on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until mixture is melted and smooth when stirred. Add vanilla extract. Gradually stir in sugar. If mixture becomes too thick, knead with clean hands. Spread out in prepared pan. Cover tightly. Refrigerate until firm. Break into pieces. Store, well covered, in refrigerator.

What are some of the places and events that have made you think of food allergies this week?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sightseeing in Washington D.C.

Last Monday, when I should have been posting a new blog column here, I was walking around the Mall in Washington D.C. with my son and his friend. We’d gone to Baltimore to visit that friend and his family for a few days, and we’d decided to sneak in a super-quick jaunt to D.C., too.

In six hours, we managed to meet up with my high-school friend Shari, wander around Capitol Hill, visit the Supreme Court Building, marvel at the ornate beauty of the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building atrium and reading room, stroll through the National Art Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, and dash through two of the 19 Smithsonian museums – the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History.

It was a fast and furious spin through some of the most remarkable buildings in our country that represent so much of what makes up the U.S.A. – our laws, our government, our history, our literature, our science and technology, our creativity, and our land’s natural wonders. I didn’t plan it that way – but when I sat down and thought about what we’d seen, I realized we’d somehow encapsulated a stunning sampling of America’s greatness in a single day’s adventure.

My son’s only frustration was that I kept hurrying him through the museums – he would have happily read every plaque and studied every exhibit… and we’d still be in the first room of the first museum if I’d let him. So I’ve promised him that in a few years we’ll go back and spend an entire week in Washington D.C., hitting more monuments and museums. At the top of his “next time” list? The National Spy Museum.

I’m so grateful my son has inherited my love of travel. And the older he gets, the easier it is. I have to pack fewer toys to keep him occupied, for example. And, of course, he’s unlikely now to grab random food and taste it while we’re at someone else’s house. He knows to read labels. He knows what foods to shy away from. He even reminded me to use Wet Wipes to wipe down his arm rest, tray table, and seat belt on the airplane before he touched anything (and on, where they give everyone peanuts whether they ask for them or not, that’s important!). At 10, my son’s becoming an equal participant in his own safety, and that’s a wonderful thing.

It makes me feel like all the years of teaching, protecting, and warning him are beginning to pay off, preparing him for the years ahead when I’ll have to let go and rely on his own sense of self-preservation to keep him safe. As comforting as that is, however, I’m in no hurry for those years to get here. I have to admit, after our fast-paced day in D.C., the mother in me still loved it when he curled up on my lap – all 90 pounds of him – and fell asleep on the Metro ride back to Baltimore.

It’s nice to know that he still needs me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Making Up for What's Missing

Last week, I went to the UFAN Salt Lake City chapter meeting. The speaker was Sharlene Coombs, a Registered Dietician at Primary Children’s Medical Center. She’s one of the few pediatric dieticians in this area that knows a lot about food allergies and how to ensure a child with food allergies is still getting the nutrition they need.

It’s a common problem – and one we tend not to think about as much when our child is first diagnosed with food allergies. There’s so much emphasis on what the child can’t eat, that we forget to think too much about what they’re missing when we cut out those foods.

The obvious example is if we eliminate milk, of course there will be a reduction in the amount of calcium the child is getting. That one’s easy to spot. You can supplement calcium with calcium-fortified fruit juices, but that doesn’t supplement the Vitamin D that is also missing. Hmm. I hadn’t thought about that Vitamin D problem.

We humans get a lot of different types of nutrition from a wide variety of foods. If we start eliminating some of those foods, we start missing out on different vitamins, minerals, proteins, and maybe even the healthy bacteria that live in our stomachs and aid digestion.

So what do we do about it? A great place to start, said Ms. Coombs, is by tracking the foods our child IS eating every day. There are websites that can help you do that – you enter the food you or your child eats every day, and the website will calculate where you might be missing out. The "My Food Pyramid" website is a good example. Go there, then select MyPyramid Plan to get a general idea of how many calories and servings of different food types you should be eating. Choose MyPyramid Tracker, and you can enter all the foods you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours to see where you’re missing out on vital nutrition.

From the information you gather, you can begin to see where you might be deficient in certain vitamins or other nutrients, and you can begin to research ways to add those nutrients back into your diet.

If you need more help, you can go see a dietician like Ms. Coombs. She recommends that you go armed with a list of everything your child has eaten during the previous three days, including the little extras like sugar sprinkled on fruit, the margarine on that piece of toast, etc. Then the dietician can get a better image of how the child eats and what might be missing in his or her diet.

Not that we needed more to worry about, but it’s good to know that there are tools (and experts) who can help us find ways to keep our children healthy.

And it won’t hurt me to find out what my own diet is lacking, either. (I’m guessing MyPyramid won’t much like that half-bag of potato chips I ate yesterday.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rethinking Manners

I was having lunch last week with a couple of dear friends, Pascale and Peggy. They laughed about showing up in my blog because of our lunch, so of course I have to comply! Of course, if they really didn’t want to show up in my blog, they shouldn’t have made really insightful observations about adults with food allergies! But they did, so now they’re fair game.

Over tasty salads and iced tea on the patio at Red Butte CafĂ© and in between discussions of bike races and kids’ sports, Pascale told me that since she’s learned about food allergies from me, she has started asking her guests about food allergies whenever she invites friends over for dinner or a party.

And she’s surprised at how often her guests admit to food allergies – even people she’s known for a long time and has invited over before. They didn’t offer the information on their own. She had to specifically ask them before they’d admit to it.

“Why didn’t they just tell me?” she asked, a little exasperated. “If they would just tell me, it’s easy to change a recipe or make something different! I’d much rather cook something they can eat, than cook something they can’t eat and then feel bad when they don’t touch it.”

You know, most of us don’t think about it that way. Like I wrote about back in April, we were brought up to have manners. You know the ones:

“Don’t ask for food. If the hostess offers you food, you can have some, but don’t ask.”

“If you don’t like something, just say ‘No Thank You’, and don’t make a big deal out of it.”

“Eat what’s on your plate. No complaining.”

So it’s understandable why we adults assume we shouldn’t tell the hostess that we have food allergies. It would be rude, we think.

Guess what? It turns out it’s not the same thing at all. Think about it. There’s a difference between a taste preference, which you can perhaps overcome by trying a tiny bit and smiling through your gag reflex, and a food allergy that can threaten your life.

The more I’ve thought about Pascale’s comment, the more I realize that informing your hostess of your food allergies before the party isn’t rude. In fact, it’s polite. Why? Because getting there and then not eating the food will leave the hostess wondering why. Did you hate the food? Did you hate her cooking? Did she put too much spice in it? Are you mad at her? Even if you tell her about your food allergies at the party, after she’s cooked everything, she’ll still be embarrassed. Part of being a hostess is seeing everyone eat and enjoy your cooking. Another big part of being a hostess is supposed to be anticipating your guests’ needs. If you don’t know those needs, you can’t accommodate them, and it kind of sets everyone up for failure. And embarrassment.

I’ve never really thought about it all this way. And if Pascale’s experience is typical, a lot of adults with food allergies probably haven’t really thought about it that way either. So on behalf of well-intentioned and good-hearted hostesses everywhere, the next time you’re invited to a party, don’t wait to be asked. Go ahead and mention your allergies. She’ll be glad you did.