This is a guest post from Rebecca Evans, who shares her own perspectives of living with food allergies. She hopes to help you better understand this journey you or your loved ones are on, and help and inspire you along the way.
Living with food allergies is a unique challenge that affects not only the individual dealing with said allergies, but also significant others. More than one might realize, actually.
When I first started dating my now ex-husband, I quickly learned about his allergy on the third date, as he asked the waitress what kind of oil the French fries were cooked in.
“I guess I should come clean now,” he admitted, as though he had done something wrong. “I have a peanut allergy.”
A few months later we moved in together, and I was beginning to understand what it meant live with a food allergy. I carried an epi-pen in my purse, just in case something happened while we were out. Any food that we purchased had to be checked and the ingredients list read thoroughly. If it said “Made in a facility that also handles peanuts and/or tree nuts”, back to the shelf it went. While consuming any kind of nut product would make him sick, peanuts could kill him, and he had to take extra precautions when we went out to eat.
One day I purchased a box dinner and, not seeing the special marking on the bottom that usually denotes “May contain tree nuts”, I assumed everything was fine. However, it was only after I got home and re-read the list that I saw a nut ingredient that had hid itself in the smaller print. Thankful I caught the problem before it started, I threw the food away and went to prepare something else for dinner. After that, reading each and every little item on the list of ingredients became a way of life for me.
Another time, I made the mistake of kissing my ex after eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup, thereby causing a breakout on his lips. He had to clean his face and I learned to brush my teeth and wash my hands after consuming any nut products. I also started to make do without peanut butter in the house, and forgo any cereals that had nuts, so I wouldn’t risk contaminating the dishes even after cleaning them.
I won’t lie, it wasn’t an easy adjustment to make for someone who had grown up eating PB&J her whole childhood. But not wanting to unintentionally poison the man I loved (at the time), I willingly gave it up.
In 2007, I decided to become vegetarian (after some protest from my ex), and took to shopping in the specialty frozen food aisle of my local grocery store. Following along behind me, my ex noticed that among the veggie burgers and vegan TV dinners, there were snack items called Kim and Scott’s, a brand made just for people with food allergies that boasted of being nut free and healthy for the whole family. Finally, a great compromise! He could have the food he wanted and buy it in confidence knowing it wouldn’t put him in the hospital later that night.
“And to think you gave me all that grief about changing my diet,” I teased him.
Today, those with nut allergies have it easier than ever. Brands like Kim and Scotts and Cherrybrook Farm build their products around those with allergies. Sunflower butter is a popular alternative to peanut butter. And in the majority of restaurants, peanut oil is a thing of the past.
For those of you dating a person with food allergies, here are a few things to keep in mind:
-Be mindful of what they cannot eat, no exceptions! That means if they cannot eat gluten, don’t try and make them.
-Don’t make them feel bad or guilty for having an allergy. It’s not something they can control.
-Check out specialty restaurants, including vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as these are usually sensitive to people with food allergies.
-Invest in a good food allergy cookbook and learn to make a few “alternative dishes” your partner can enjoy.
-If you do buy food at the store, read all the ingredients. Even if you think you don’t have to, do so anyway. Better safe than sorry.
Although nut allergies are no longer a part of my life since we are not together, thanks to my ex I am more conscious of what individuals with allergies deal with, and how their lives can be improved with better options, more variety, and public knowledge on food allergies-something many people are still unaware of. I happily look forward to the day when everyone can enjoy their own version of a Reese’s non-peanut butter cup!