"When you get those rare moments of clarity, those flashes when the universe makes sense, you try desperately to hold on to them. They are the life boats for the darker times, when the vastness of it all, the incomprehensible nature of life is completely illusive. So the question becomes, or should have been all a long... What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live. What life boat would you grab on to? What secret would you tell? What band would you see? What person would you declare your love to? What wish would you fulfill? What exotic locale would you fly to for coffee? What book would you write?"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why Allergies are on a Rapid Uprising

I am no stranger to allergies. I experienced my first anaphylactic reaction to peanuts when I was only one year of age. Since then, I have been very much allergic to peanuts and all peanut-related products, (peanut oil, peanut butter, etc.). But this is nothing new to me. So far, for the past 21 years I have been pretty excellent at avoiding peanuts at all costs (despite some close encounters). For some reason, some hot dog joints use peanut oil, and chinese places (some) cook with it too. People are often shocked when they learn I am allergic to what they think is a wonderful thing. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard, "You can't have peanut butter??! OMG I LOVE PEANUT BUTTER."  or  "Are you gonna die if I breath on you after I eat a Reese's Pieces?" , I'd be insanely rich.
The answer is no. I won't die.
21 years after my first discovery of my first allergy, I accepted the conclusion that I was also severely allergic to all kinds of dairy. I tried rice milk as a substitution and it may have been the cause of my hospitalization, so now I stay away from all dairy and dairy substitutes, except the soy milk found in my substitute ice cream.
Now, get this:
Although it is not a documented allergy and would never produce an anaphylactic reaction, I believe I am also allergic to the following:  chocolate, red dye, most all candy, wheat, bananas & oranges, and tomatoes.
So, its been fun. But I manage to survive, I still eat.
Anyway, while reading "The New Yorker" this week, I was attracted to This Amazing Article , written by Jerome Groopman titled "The Peanut Puzzle". The article highlights the fact of what I and many informed and in-the-nutrition-loop people already know: that allergies are on a skyrocket. More and more kids are being diagnosed with a food allergy nowadays. Practically every classroom now has at least one kid that is highly allergic to peanuts, let alone the dairy-free kids. Parents can't send their children in with peanut lunches sometimes, or can't put peanut products into bakery items because of this alarming rise over the past couple decades. Not only is peanut allergies rising, but dairy and gluten allergies have never been higher, or more publicized. Hopefully we can only see more improvements in that area.
The article is really very interesting. Unfortunately unless you are a subscriber you cannot access the entire thing in the link provided, but go to the nearest library near you and they might have a copy. One particular point I would like to bring up that the article spent a lot of time discussing is this: Restaurants are the allergen's worst nightmare. Although the food industry has made significant improvements in providing dairy, egg, gluten & peanut free products in the supermarkets, restaurants are really slow and not-interested in getting on the moving boat. The article states that "restaurant incidents result in a quarter of all unintentional exposures to peanuts and half of all fatal reactions." That is completely unnecessary. And why does this happen? Read the following passage:
"...focusing on New York City and Long Island, Sicherer found that about a quarter of managers and workers believed that consuming a small amount of the allergen would be safe; 35% believed that frying would destroy it; and a quarter thought it was safe to remove an allergen from a finished meal, like taking walnuts off a salad. Nearly three-quarters of food workers felt that they knew how to "guarantee" a safe meal. Most states do not require that food providers attend educational programs, and there are no national requirements..." -Jerome Groopman

so you can see how people are still exposed to their allergens. We can't live in a bubble. I know that during the time that I was temporarily gluten-free, eating at a restaurant was the primary cause of me getting sick. Even today, I tend to feel sick after restaurant food because of the strange things they put milk in.

So, because I don't like presenting problems that I do not have a solution too, here is my 22 year old naive and dimwitted version of a solution:
Like Groopman states, restaurant employees should be required to attend education classes on the following curriculum:

1) what types of food allergies there are (the common ones [peanuts] and uncommon ones [sesames] )
2) how to know what foods these allergens are found in, and sometimes hidden in.
3) Learn how to properly guarantee that cross-contamination has not occurred.
4) learn how to correctly complete someone's meal when they make the effort to tell you (the waiter, manager, or chef) that they are gluten, dairy, egg, or peanut free. OR anything else.

I know there are a couple restaurants that are catching on pretty nicely. Examples off the top of my head include "Outback Steakhouse" that has a gluten-free menu, Uno Pizzeria that has a gluten free pizza, and "Red Robin" who does not have a separate menu but have been more than accommodating to provide alternate menu choices.

The best "company" that I have ever seen accommodate food allergies is Disney. When travelling to disney, I personally met with chefs so that they could personally guarantee my meal was gluten free, and show me what to order. Even on the fast food lines, it was well-advertised what was and was not gluten-free. It was heaven for allergenics. If only all restaurants could learn from Disney...heck, if all companies could learn from Disney, we'd all be a lot better off in more ways than one.

Restaurants need to pick up on this fast growing....trend? problem?...pretty quick or they will not survive in business the next 10-20 years. Not only are there many people with real and serious allergies that could experience an anaphylactic reaction, but more and more people are making the choice  to remove dairy and gluten from their diets, to better their lifestyle. It is becoming more and more popular with adults, as well as young children suffering from autism and ADHD.

Just two years ago when I started gluten-free, unless it was in my imagination because I was "new to the field" it was not easy finding gluten-free products. And when I did find them, they tasted like cardboard. Now, in just two years, not only do supermarkets like Wegmans and WHole Foods make allergenic-shopping a pleasant experience, but ShopRItes "LiveRite" section also makes it easy and enjoyable too. The term "gluten-free" is all over the Internet and in ads everywhere (even on my Facebook page). I have two favorite products, special "K-toos" cookies that are gluten, dairy AND peanut free, and special pretzels that are dairy, gluten, soy, and egg free which is amazing. AND they both TASTE really yummy.

SO thats my exceedingly long post on allergies. But no really, try and read the article if you can. It was fascinating. Lots of good information..As always, thanks for reading.

~A Writer in a Nurse's Body

Related Posts:

Dinner Menu

Deadly Poison


Meeting with Dietitian

No comments: