Monday, January 28, 2008

Celebrate That Can of Soup!

One of the women on our UFAN forum this week discovered a can of Progresso soup that contains no nuts, milk, egg, gluten, or seafood (Chicken and Wild Rice flavor). In short, her son can eat it! She posted her discovery on the email list to share her joy at finding a safe “convenience food” that her son can have. All over the state, parents were quietly cheering for her. We all related to her discovery.

Non-allergic people can’t possibly understand how exciting that find was. But the rest of us on that forum know the feeling. It seems ridiculous – a simple thing like canned soup makes you weak in the knees? Come on, get a life.

Well, guess what? This IS our life. And finding a new food that your kid can consume can be as exciting as winning a new car on a game show. Trust me. Discovering Sunbutter (sunflower butter) kept me thrilled for weeks because it brought my son’s list of things he can eat for school lunch up to 3. Finding a good “safe” recipe for chocolate cake has kept my circle of friends giddy through several years’ worth of birthday parties.

Even my non-allergic friends get into this cuisine treasure hunt now. One day a friend called me from a craft store, of all places. “Let me read you this ingredients label,” she said, with nervous excitement in her voice. She read it. Not only did the ingredients sound safe, but then she read a final notice that actually explained how it was made in a factory that did NOT process nuts, eggs, milk, or other allergens.

“That sounds wonderful,” I said. “What is it?”

“Circus peanuts!” she exclaimed. Remember those orange marshmallowy peanut-shaped candies from our childhood? Who knew there was a safe brand of those floating around? Her kids aren’t allergic to anything. But she’s known us long enough that it’s become second nature to her to check ingredients labels, so when she stumbled across them, she couldn’t wait to call and let us know.

Sure, maybe we’re a little kooky because the discovery of a milk-free and nut-free brand of chocolate chips (F.M.V. at Smith’s) is cause for celebration. Perhaps we’re a tad bonkers because we spend an afternoon calling everyone we know to tell them we’ve found a safe boxed cake mix (Cherrybrook Kitchen).

Then again, life is all about the little moments that make us happy. And these discoveries are precisely that.

So next time you’re in the grocery store and you discover something new that your kid can eat, don’t be shy. Let out a whoop. Do a little dance. We’ll cheer you on.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Guest Blogger: Try a Support Group

Today is a school holiday, so my son the whirlwind is home. He’s bored. I’m buried in magazine editing. My blog isn’t writing itself. Hey! Inspiration!

“Oh, Sweetie!” I call out. “Want to write my blog today?”

“Yeah!” he yells, switches off the TV, and comes running.

Bless his heart. If I’d said, “Your homework assignment is to write my blog today,” he’d have sulked and vanished into the couch cushions. But since it’s not homework, but a relished opportunity to have his words published online, he’s all over it.

So, please welcome my guest blogger today. His topic? Why parents and their kids might enjoy coming to a UFAN support group meeting. Once again, his flair for the dramatic is obvious. But as a proponent of free speech, I promise not to edit.

As you may already know, my mom leads the UFAN Davis County chapter. ATTENTION PARENTS!!! If you have any children with food allergies, this will be a very important meeting that you go see with your children. If you are worried about one of your children having an allergy reaction, I would suggest coming. Allergists sometimes do not give much information when you wind up with a child with food allergies. Stay away from one that when it is confirmed you have a food allergenic child says, “ Oh, your child has a food allergy to such-and-such. Stay away from this food.” Because that’s the quote that almost killed me.

HEY KIDS!!! It’s really fun going to the meetings—hey, I’m 9 and I like it!! It’s really not the kind of meeting that your mom goes to that practically puts you to sleep. It’s actually sort of fun!
Your friend,

There you go. I promised not to edit, but that doesn’t mean I can’t comment. I need to explain “the quote that almost killed me.” He doesn’t mean that, of course. What he does mean is that the only advice the first allergist we saw said was, “Stay away from peanut butter.” He didn’t tell us about epi-pens, cross-contamination, reading ingredients labels, or even what a reaction would be like. I walked out of the office oblivious to the dangers of food allergies. If I hadn’t researched it on my own, we could have had some life-threatening situations, based on the lack of information we got from that doctor.

But now we have a board-certified doctor who is far more interested in making sure his patients are armed with the resources they need to survive. But even he doesn’t have the time to hand-hold us through all our questions, obstacles, and worries.

And that’s where a support group comes in. When my son was first diagnosed, there was no support group. Now UFAN exists, and we have support groups in Salt Lake, Davis County, and Tooele to draw on for suggestions, help, advice, commiseration, and even recipes. So, if you’re in the Davis County area (or even if you’re not), and you’d like to join us, we meet on the second Wednesday of every month. Watch our website ( for details on our chapter as well as the other chapters. Hope to see you soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Breaking Our American Food Obsession

Americans are obsessed with food. It’s one of our worst habits (aside from invading countries, exporting bad dramas, consuming the majority of world resources, and gloating as morons humiliate themselves on reality TV shows). As a culture, we adults have become so food-driven that we can’t conceive of having any sort of social function without involving food. It’s the ultimate crutch – “Well, if we can’t think of anything to say, we can always eat something.”

Want to get together with a friend for an hour? Let’s do lunch or grab a coffee.

Want to go see a movie? Let’s get a large popcorn, even though we just had dinner.

Kids’ play date? Let’s bring snacks.

Business meeting? Order doughnuts.

Going to a kids’ soccer game, in which we actually get them outside running around? Quick, make an assignment list so we know who’s bringing the Oreos and Kool-Aid. Our kids can’t possibly last one whole hour without refined sugar coursing through their blood stream.

Science Fair award ceremony? We’d better order refreshments, ‘cause nothing says “Good job dissecting that cow’s eyeball” like a dry, store-bought, prefabricated chocolate chip cookie (speaking of science experiments…).

It’s obscene. No wonder we are a nation known for our obesity. (Not to mention diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems.)

The thing is, kids aren’t born like that. We go to great pains to teach them this behavior.

Adults would never leave half a cookie uneaten on a plate. Kids do. All the time. They get full (or bored) and they stop eating. Whoa, just try and find an adult that can do that! To most kids, snacks are cool, but playing is better. Ask a kid: Would you rather have a pizza or a new Legos set (or Barbie, video game, or ticket to the latest movie)? I guarantee you the kid will pick the new toy or movie.

This food obsession is an adult one. We force it onto our kids. It starts early, and we reinforce it hard. So by the time they’ve become teenagers, they’re firmly locked into the unhealthy eating habits that characterize America.

The frustrating part is, even if we try to break the habit in our families, our teachers do it.

Although our school has a well-known policy against using food in the classroom as rewards, we still have incidents crop up every month or two where we have to re-educate teachers or parents or substitutes about it. That’s just going to be the way it is, as long as adults are involved in our school. “The class that does the best Nutrition presentation gets a pizza party! Right after lunch! Yea!” (Hunh? Yep, an adult would dream that one up. The kids would rather get a free hour on the playground. No brainer. But no one ever asks the kids. We just apply our tiny little restricted adult brains to the problem and come up with… wait, I know! Food!)

Now, a friend of mine in another school is attempting to introduce the idea that using food as a reward is a non-useful teaching tool. (She doesn't have food allergy issues. She does, however, worry about her kids developing unhealthy approaches to food.) At her community council meeting when she brought this up, she encountered the resistance all adults throw up when faced with change. The immediate reaction was “How on earth could we NOT use Tootsie Rolls as rewards for getting right answers?”

Right there, I see two problems. First, they’re using food as a reward – bad American habit! Second, they’re REWARDING kids for getting a right answer. What? We have to bribe our kids to answer every question, now? That’s setting up a true sense of entitlement – another one of American society’s big ills right now. Getting a good grade is the reward. A sense of accomplishment is a reward. Praise from the teacher (“Good answer, Freddy”) is a reward. Our kids are being turned into guinea pigs who have to ring a bell to get a pellet. But that’s a different issue for a different day.

Anyway, my friend has asked for help coming up with a list of ways to reward kids for school participation without using food.

Any ideas? If you have suggestions for easy, cheap, fast non-food rewards that teachers can use, let me know (post a comment). I’ll start compiling a list. Then I’ll sit down with my friend and help her come up with a proposal.

We’ll do it over lunch.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Warming Up January Days

You know the saying:

Thirty days have September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have 31,
Except for January and February…

Which have 80.

Ah, winter. January is only a week old, and yet it feels like it’s been here for ages. How can a winter day drag on forever, but still be so short it’s dark before you get anything done? Just my luck. I’m always wishing for longer days, 8-day weeks, and 6-week months, but I’d prefer them to be of the warmer, brighter variety.

Oh well. Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. (Although I’m going to work on making my begging more specific.)

Still, it’s nice to get a new year underway, even if it does have the poor graces to begin with January.

We began our new year by going to a New Year’s Eve party at a dear friend’s house. Because we all take our kids, we celebrate the new year on New York City time, set off firecrackers in the snow at 10:00 pm, and go home to drop into bed. We’re such party animals.

Anyway, the party was a “dessert party,” so each family brought a sweet treat to snack on while we waited for the ball to drop (or the kids to explode, whichever came first). This was mostly a different group of friends than those who had the Christmas party in December, but the same two kids with food allergies were invited (my son and his best friend). So for the 24 hours before the party, I received phone calls asking, “Can I read you the ingredients label on this? I want to make sure what I’m bringing is safe.”

Again, I am overwhelmed by the generosity, caring, and consideration of friends. They don’t grumble. They don’t make a big issue out of it. They don’t ignore the allergies and bring a nut roll anyway. They thumb through recipes, ask about substitutions, and try out new combinations. They view it as a chance to experiment, rather than a cramp in their style. They can’t even imagine having a party where the two boys would be at risk. To them, it seems to be just a tangible way for them to express their friendship with us.

Now that I think about it, with friends like that, even January days seem warmer.