Monday, May 20, 2013

Video: Help Prevent Food Allergy Bullying

by Kelley Lindberg

Bullying. It’s bad enough when it’s just mean-spirited and emotionally painful. It’s even worse when it’s also life-threatening.

According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), studies show that about a third of all kids with food allergies say they’ve been bullied because of their food allergies – that means they’ve been threatened with or intentionally harmed by the allergenic food. Food allergy bullies have threatened to touch the allergic child with the food, have smeared it on allergic kids, or even tricked kids into eating something that the bullies have contaminated with the dangerous food. All for a laugh.

How sick is that?

Being allergic to food means having to worry about the food you eat, the food others eat around you, and the non-edible items in your environment (like lotions, crafts, birdseed, or dog food) that might be harboring your allergen. That’s a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, anxiety-inducing way of life. You shouldn’t have to add an additional worry that someone is going to come after you with the food with intent to harm you.

A bully with a peanut-butter cracker is every bit as lethal as a bully with a gun.

With all the emphasis these days on bullying, we need to make sure everyone realizes that food-allergy bullying is a significant problem, too.

That’s why FARE has launched a public awareness campaign about food allergy bullying, and they’ve released a short video, called “It’s Not a Joke,” designed to teach kids and parents who DON’T have food allergies how serious the disease really is, and to encourage them to prevent food allergy bullying. The video is narrated by FARE Celebrity Ambassador Kenton Duty, formerly of Disney's "Shake it Up," who volunteered his talents for the PSA.

Share the video. Prevent food allergy bullying. And let’s start a new wave of compassion and acceptance for everyone.

Here is a link to “It’s Not a Joke” on YouTube, or you can watch “It’s Not a Joke” on FARE’s website (, where you can also find lots of resources and information about food allergies.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Food Allergy Awareness Week 2013

by Kelley Lindberg

This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week. All across the country, members of the food allergy community are raising awareness about food allergies, their serious consequences, and ways we can help keep the food-allergic members of our schools, churches, neighborhoods, and workplaces safe.

Why is it important to raise awareness for something like food allergies? We seem to be hit with “awareness” campaigns on a daily basis. Cancer, heart disease, autism… the list goes on and on. Do awareness campaigns really help?

Yes, they do. By making the general population aware and informed about a disease, awareness campaigns help people recognize symptoms they might have missed, help them realize that their neighbors or friends may be affected, identify ways they can help affected friends, spur donations to research the disease for causes and treatments, drive school and workplace policies to become more accommodating, and give the entire population more tools to help prevent the disease’s spread.

Thirteen years ago, when my son was diagnosed with food allergies, there wasn’t much “awareness” of food allergies. Resources were slim, even online, and few people seemed to have heard of them. Schools were unprepared for food-allergic students, restaurants were completely clueless, and even pediatricians seemed uninformed.

Now, most schools are developing food allergy policies, many restaurants can provide lists of common allergens in their foods (and some will even prepare food specially to accommodate common allergies), and almost everyone seems to have heard of food allergies now (and most seem to know at least one person with food allergies). That’s all because of the tremendous effort the food allergy community has exerted over the last decade to “raise awareness.” Food allergies have been featured in news reports, magazine articles, and even written into TV shows and movie scripts. Celebrities have raised support because of their food-allergic children. We have Food Allergy Walks, conferences, and booths at health fairs. The book shelves are now packed with food allergy cookbooks. There’s even a Cub Scout “Food Allergy Aware” patch.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

But not far enough. In the last two months, four children have died because they didn’t have epinephrine with them, or it was administered too late. Gwen Smith, from Allergic Living magazine, writes about these tragic deaths and how we need to educate everyone about epinephrine use: “Food AllergyAwareness 2013: There’s Much Work to Do.” Her article reminds us of how important this education is.

So, for this year’s Food Allergy Awareness Week, look for ways to help spread awareness and information. It doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact, simple is great! Start with downloading Allergic Living magazine’s poster “Six That Save Lives,” and ask your school, workplace, or church to post it where it might save a life. Then check out the Facebook page for the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN) and see their flyer for ideas on how to promote food allergy awareness every day this week. Or get creative – post an allergy-free recipe on your Facebook page, donate a food-allergy book to your school library, thank your favorite restaurant manager for making it safe for your family to eat there, or send a thank you card with the recipe for your favorite allergy-free dessert to a favorite teacher, coach, babysitter, family member, or friend who goes out of their way to keep you or your child safe.

However you raise awareness this week, know that your effort, no matter how small, will trigger a ripple of knowledge that will help make the world a safe place for all of us.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Teens Need Cookies, Too

by Kelley Lindberg

This past weekend, we flew to California for a memorial service for a long-time family friend. While we were there, we attended the usual gatherings – at a couple of homes, the church’s fellowship hall, and restaurants.

My son is 14 now, and I’m not nearly as paranoid about being around food as I used to be when he was little and we’d go to these types of gatherings, because I know he is careful now. Gone are the days when he’d stick anything in his mouth without knowing what it was, fortunately. He’s old enough to ask, to read labels, and to make judgments on his own.

After one dinner, as people were roaming the large guest house and sitting in clusters inside and out, someone announced “Pie is ready!” Since pie is one of my son’s favorite treats, I jumped up and headed to the kitchen to make sure my son didn’t dig in before I’d verified it was safe. (I hadn’t seen him in a while, because he’d joined a card game with some other teens at the party.) When I got to the kitchen, my sister-in-law (his aunt) saw me and said, “He’s already checked it out. The pie is safe, but the ice cream isn’t, so he just got the pie.” I was pleased that he’d been so proactive and responsible.

At the other gatherings, he wasn’t so lucky with the desserts. There were brownies with nuts, Bundt cake with almonds, cookies that weren’t labeled, and other delectable-looking bites that he knew better than to even ask about. But there were plenty of other finger foods he could eat: fruit, small sandwiches, veggie trays, and cheese and safe crackers. Because he’s only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, he was really only limited by the desserts, which is usually the case and something he’s very used to.

So when we were flying home, I was surprised when I asked him how he felt about the food at the gatherings, and he said “It felt like there wasn’t anything there I could eat.” I pushed back a little and started naming off the many things I’d seen him consume, from the sandwiches to deviled eggs to strawberries to the wheel of Brie he gleefully ravaged. “Yeah, but I couldn’t eat any of the desserts.”

That was it? Because he couldn’t eat the desserts, he lumped the whole spread into “I couldn’t eat anything”? I was a little puzzled and disappointed.

We always skip desserts when we go out. We seldom find desserts he can eat at any parties, which is why I usually volunteer to bring a dessert to potlucks. We know that desserts are the favorite hiding place of peanuts and nuts, so it’s just in our habit to skip them. Dessert isn’t a common occurrence in my house, either (sweets are an occasional treat, not an expectation). But I admit that this time I indulged in the tiny brownies and macaroons myself, while I watched him eat strawberries and Fritos. He hadn’t seemed to mind.

But apparently it bothered him. Which just goes to show that the things I sometimes feel comfortable with are not necessarily the same things HE feels comfortable with. While I was busy being pleased that there was enough safe food at each gathering that I wouldn’t have to drive him to the nearest store to get something else to eat, he was still feeling left out because he couldn’t have the brownies or cookies.

I need to remind myself that teens feel things more deeply that they show. They feel left out more easily than adults do. They can appear mature and rational on the outside, while they’re really fragile and upset on the inside.

While this doesn’t mean that I’m going to start packing little baggies of safe cookies for him everywhere we go now (like I did when he was a toddler), it does mean that I need to remember to check in with him more often at functions like this. I need to make sure he’s feeling okay about his choices, and that he’s not giving in to temptation. I need to let him know I care about his feelings, and that I’m not callously eating a macaroon in front of him just to make him feel bad. And that if there’s nothing there he can eat, I promise to find him a solution so that he doesn’t go hungry.

It was a good reminder that even though he’s taller than me and shaving now, he still needs to feel reassured, loved, and not forgotten. And he still needs a safe cookie every once in a while.

I think I’ll go bake a batch right now.