Monday, March 26, 2012

Real-Life Hunger Games

by Kelley Lindberg

Along with a few million of my closest friends, I went to see the movie The Hunger Games this weekend. For those of you who may have been living in a hut on deserted island lately, the story is how 24 teenagers from 12 once-rebellious but now subservient and poverty-stricken Districts must fight each other to the death until only one remains – all for the entertainment of the wealthy citizens who won the long-ago war.

One concept that struck me as odd in the book and the movie is that one or two of the Districts secretly train their youth for years, in the event that one of them is someday called upon (or volunteers) to fight in the Hunger Games. The winner of the games wins extra food for their District for a year, so each District has a vested interest in seeing their youth win.

But most of the Districts don’t do that kind of training. So the heroine and hero, Katniss and Peeta, and the rest of the contestants have to spend a few days in intense crash-courses in survival and weapons skills. Because Katniss is smart, used to hunt for food, and has a strong survival instinct, she carries the day. But I keep wondering – why didn’t her District teach their children more about such skills while they were growing up? Sure, it’s technically illegal, but couldn’t they have found some way to impart at least some fundamental skills, like the richer Districts do? If Katniss and other children like her were better trained in how to protect themselves, how to find safe food, and how to survive in a hostile environment, maybe their survival would have felt less like luck, and more like a plan.

Then it dawned on me that I was pondering a great analogy for food allergies, and kids who may feel sometimes like they’re in their own real-life Hunger Games, only the enemy is food allergies instead of other kids.

As parents, we have a responsibility to train our children so that they have the best possible chance of surviving on their own someday. And yet I have met parents who seem very lax and unconcerned about their food-allergic children. I’ve heard of parents who think trips to the ER for a food allergy reaction are just a normal part of life, and that avoiding them isn’t worth the hassle of eliminating food allergens from their meals. How are their children growing up? Do they feel like their own needs aren’t important? And when these kids go out on their own, will they have any idea how to shop for safe foods, read an ingredients label, or keep themselves safe in social situations? Hopefully those kids will be lucky and eventually learn on their own, but I have a hard time trusting to luck when knowledge seems pretty effective.

The fact that you’re reading a food allergy blog like this means that you’re already concerned enough about food allergies that you’re doing your own research. You’re learning about food allergies and how to minimize their negative impacts on your life or the life of your children. If your child is food-allergic, you’re already training them in how to protect themselves, how to find safe food, and how to survive in a sometimes hostile environment. Maybe you’re even sharing your knowledge with other families who are just discovering their food allergies.

In other words, those of us in this online food allergy community are all doing whatever we can to raise our kids to be competent, capable, and brave Katnisses and Peetas. And while, thank goodness, they don’t have to compete with other kids for survival, they do have to understand how to navigate through a dangerous environment when they grow up. As parents, we have to feel pretty good that we’re giving them the best training we can from an early age.

May the odds be ever in their favor.

No comments: