An Open Letter to Sony Pictures and the individuals behind the Peter Rabbit Movie:
My son, who is now 5 years old, had his first anaphylactic reaction to green peas when he was 12 months old. It was horrifying. He ate 5 peas and his face was swollen and he couldn’t breathe. It was absolutely terrifying. It has been a four-and-a-half-year long journey since to figure out the full picture of his food allergies (FYI – he is allergic to 8 foods). He has had another anaphylactic reaction in that time (to lentils) that required the use of an epi-pen. We injected my son with epinephrine, and then I got to watch them take him away (with my husband) in an ambulance to the hospital.
We have control of his allergies, and he is in the care of adults that I trust every day. He is thriving. Yet…in the back of my mind, every day, I am fully aware that today could be the day that I get that phone call from his school that he ingested something he is allergic to. It is always in the back of my mind.
Food allergy bullying is real. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), 1/3 of kids with food allergies report that they have been bullied because of their allergies. Well…today, you are that bully. And you didn’t bully 1/3 of the children in our country with food allergies. You have bullied ALL of them. You have displayed, in a children’s movie, that it is okay to intentionally harm someone with a disability. You have empowered and enabled bullies with your actions.
If someone launched green peas, or lentils, or any of the other 6 foods my son is allergic to into his mouth the way the rabbits did to McGregor in the movie with blackberries, he would need timely epinephrine. If he did not receive it, he would likely die.
Sony Pictures – I am calling on you to pull this film from release in order to delete this scene. Find another way to be funny. There are plenty, and they won’t come at the expense of the 1 in 13 children in this country that suffer from food allergies.
It’s 2018, and you have chosen to make a film that mocks individuals with disabilities (did you know that? A life threatening food allergy is a disability). You can do better. You MUST do better.
I kind of ugly cried in Kroger yesterday. I actually stood in the candy aisle at my grocery store yesterday and cried.
Next week is one of my least favorite holidays – Valentine’s Day. And no…I’m not single or unhappy with my relationship status. Quite the opposite actually – I am one happily married woman. But my husband and I have never celebrated V-Day. I’m not a girl who needs roses and jewelry and a big, fancy dinner, and it has just ended up being another day on the romance front. I just don't get it. And I am totally okay with that! By the way – when did we decide that pink and red go together? Have you walked down the Hallmark aisle in February at the grocery store? What an eyesore!
Anyway…what really makes this holiday a bummer is all the candy. Halloween is bad, but we in the food allergy community are doing a better job at raising awareness around the candy and safety at Halloween. What I’ve noticed in my almost five years as a food allergy mom is that same level of awareness does not exist for Valentine’s Day. This year in particular, my son’s first Valentine’s in school (he’s in kindergarten), I have felt my anxiety level skyrocket in the last week or so as I think about candy exchanges. My son will undoubtedly receive candy this year (attached to a cute, inviting little Valentine card) that he cannot eat. And then there are the Candy Grams, where students can send other students around the school a piece of candy for a small fee. The school has solicited parents to send in bags of nut-free candy for distribution. For us, nut free doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Cue the heightened anxiety.
I have a great relationship with my son’s teacher, who has been gracious at every turn this year when I have emailed about food, and allows me to keep a stash of safe cookies and popsicles in the classroom for last minute or surprise activities involving food. Knowing what goes on around this holiday, we agreed that I would send in a supply of safe candy for Matthew to partake in on V-Day.
Yesterday, I hopped in my car and drove to the grocery store, grabbed a cart, and headed for the Valentine’s aisle in all its pink and red glory to stock up for my son. I started on one end, deliberately skipping food I knew was unsafe, and reading the labels on things I thought he might be able to eat.
It was a nightmare. Next to nothing in that aisle was safe. “Might contain eggs” may be my least favorite phrase. You should know. You should know if your SweetTarts contain eggs. Did you crack open an egg to make this product or not? All the "manufactured.in a facility" and "produced on a line" statements are frustrating. But “Might contain eggs” scares the daylights out of me. You may as well write “Might contain Poison” on there…”your choice, there’s a 50/50 chance that this might kill you, but we hope you’ll give us a chance.”
After combing through both sides of the aisle, I ended my search full of anger, frustration, and sadness (and a bag of Dum-Dums and Skittles...thanks guys!). Anger that I’d spent all this time searching and reading labels in desperation and ended up with next to nothing. Frustration that food allergies are so increasingly prevalent and yet we have so few food manufacturers out there who are willing to properly disclose ingredients or do more to make safe products. And sadness. Overwhelming sadness that this is my son’s reality. I so wish that he could eat like everyone else, that these eight life-threatening food allergies would just go away.
And then came the tears. I mean, I wasn't sobbing out loud or anything...but I think I did have a few people wondering what sort of sad life situation I was in as I stood in what for many is a pretty happy aisle.
Food allergy parents: I know that It takes a lot of hard work, research, and time to figure this allergy thing out and learn to accommodate them. For us, they are part of life now and 99.9% of the time, life is “normal.” But every once in awhile it does overwhelm me. And it is okay. It is okay to not be okay sometimes. Take a minute (even if it’s in the grocery store), breathe, and pick yourself back up. Then, take pride in what you’ve learned and accomplished, and move on. Keep working hard, be persistent, and focus on the positive.
You’ve got this!
I am so super excited that I was asked by a friend from high school (a wonderful writer for the website Romper) to give an interview about the Teal Pumpkin Project! This is obviously a campaign that is near and dear to my heart.
In the article, I share our personal experience with food allergies, our experience with the Teal Pumpkin Project, and work to dispel any rumors/negativity surrounding the project (I am always amazed that there is some...but read enough comments on Facebook, and you can find negativity anywhere).
I would be HONORED if you would check it out - click here!!
For more information about the Teal Pumpkin Project, including many free resources that you can use to get involved, go to https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project
I'm putting together a grocery list for my mom and dad (they are keeping the boys for a week this summer while I survive this final semester of grad school - thanks y'all!) and thought it would be a cool thing to share what I keep in our pantry for Matthew with the rest of the world, too!
Note a few things:
1. You need to read labels for yourself/your child with your allergens in mind. One big thing is that we do not have dairy allergies here...so be aware and do your research. PLEASE BE CAREFUL!
2. I have not been asked by any of these companies to endorse their products...I am simply sharing what we purchase with the food allergy community.
3. These are just quick pictures with short descriptions - if you need more details or have questions, do not hesitate to email me! I will attempt to keep this post updated as we add things to our pantry!
4. This list is not all he eats...he also eats many whole foods/fruits/veggies.
So...here we go!
Grad school and a new job monopolize much of my time these days (go figure...), but I still have such a passion for what I started with Food Allergy Arsenal, sharing recipes and tips, etc! One day grad school will end and I hope to post more regularly again!
I'm currently on winter break from being a teacher and from being a student, and wanted to share a recipe this holiday season that we ALL just love here at my house. I actually cannot personally take credit for this recipe - my husband gets all the credit!
I grew up going to Waffle House from time to time - for waffles and hash browns and eggs...it's kind of a staple in the south! I took my oldest son (he has no allergies) there for a date not too long ago and was inspired to bring Waffle House to our house! We tried some mixes that ranged from meh to gross, and my husband went for it and came up with this incredible recipe. I SERIOUSLY cannot taste a difference!
Click here for the waffle recipe!!
From the Food Allergy Arsenal to yours - we hope you have a magical holiday season and we look forward to more adventures in 2017!
A few months ago, this AMAZING recipe popped up in my Facebook NewsFeed, and I Facebook-messaged the link to myself (I frequently message myself recipes and ideas on FB)! I knew I definitely wanted to save it for summer, and well, it's supposed to be 100* here this weekend, so now's as good a time as any!
Matthew hasn't really ever had ice cream. There are certain gums that we avoid because they may indicate soy, and they are in EVERY reasonably-priced commerically-produced ice cream - and we aren't big risk-takers around here! But this ice cream is banana-based, and is even dairy free. I just had to share!!
I only made the chocolate tonight (I only had enough bananas on hand for one flavor, and chocolate rules).
You start by slicing the bananas and freezing them. They recommend overnight, but I sliced them first thing this morning and made the ice cream after dinner...and they were rock solid (this is 3 bananas).
You add these with the remaining ingredients for the flavor you want, and blend in a food processor until it is the consistency of ice cream - and that is it! It was SO easy!!
This isn't a super sweet and sugary recipe (for my waistline, that's a BONUS!), but it's good. It tastes pretty banana-y, but that is to be expected. I am really curious to try the strawberry version, because I LOVE strawberry and bananas together!
For all that it is (I love simple ingredients) and as cheap as it is, this is definitely going to be a keeper for the Arsenal!
Here's the link to the recipe: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/neapolitan-banana-ice-cream.html
This time one year ago, our family took an incredible trip to Geneva, Switzerland to visit my husband’s aunt and uncle and to attend his cousin’s high school graduation. It was a huge family reunion, and our last chance to go before the Switzerland family moved and became Vietnamese family (amazing, isn’t it?)!
Of course, we were crazy excited about the trip, but we knew there would be some legwork on our part to ensure that our food allergy child would be safe and well-fed the week that we were abroad. We did a lot of research and found some great resources.
Here are our tips for preparing for international travel (shout-out to my husband for helping me remember everything that we did)! And I am sharing a few pics from the trip just for fun :)
FARE chef cards
On the plane
Have you traveled internationally with food allergies? What did you do to prepare? Share in the comments!
When it comes to food allergies, I have a pretty MAJOR pet peeve. And it's pretty serious...and it kind of makes me angry...
It's a phrase...two little words...
There are plenty of things that make my heart pound and my head spin when it comes to food allergies, but this one in particular just rubs me the wrong way. It bothers me when I hear friends and other acquaintances say it. But I am really upset by the people in the food allergy world, those who advocate for those with food allergies, that continually use this phrase.
Y'all...NO SUBSTANCE IN THIS WORLD IS ALLERGY FREE!!
There is a case of a girl that is literally allergic to water. WATER. I'll say it again. Nothing in this world is allergy free. You can react to ANYTHING!
Yes, 90% of the food allergy reactions in this world are caused by the top 8 foods. My son is allergic to 5 foods off of that list! Yet, it's three foods NOT on this list that have caused three separate anaphylaxis reactions - peas, lentils, and sesame. These three foods are arguably more dangerous to my child than any of the other 5 that appear on the top 8 list! Yet, time and time again I see recipes in recipes or by other food allergy bloggers that include one or more of those three. And, more often than not, these recipes come with the label "allergy free."
Now, I know that just because something is touted as "allergy free" doesn't make it so. I am firmly entrenched in this food allergy world, and I know the difference. But this phrase does nothing but increase the risk of anaphylaxis and exposure to allergens. It is irresponsible for anyone or any company to label a product as "allergy free."
We have to move away from using this phrase. We simply must. It is irresponsible for those of us in the food allergy community to aid in the assumption that a label of "allergy free" makes something safe! You will never see me label a recipe as such. I am comfortable with "allergy friendly" IF the recipe is free of the top 8 allergens. But that's it.
What is safe or allergy free for one is likely not for another. My son has a few obscure allergies, and they are life-threatening. He could very easily be exposed to a food he is allergic to by being told (or by a caregiver being told) it is "allergy free."
For the safety of my child...for the safety of your child...for your own personal safety: PLEASE help me spread the word that nothing in this world is "allergy free!!!"
I adapted this recipe from a childhood favorite - I loved these little suckers and devoured them anytime my mom made them! Not a reality anymore (oh teenage metabolism, how I miss thee). We don't make them all the time around here (they aren't the healthiest things in the world), but I wanted Matthew to experience them, too! And with just one substitute necessary (in our household), I went for it...and the results are spectacular!
I feel I should share two things with you:
1. This is not a dairy friendly recipe. They are made with butter and sour cream. We are fortunate Matthew can have dairy (his other 8 allergies more than make up for this little gift from the food allergy gods). If you or your child has a dairy allergy, then this may not be the recipe for you.
HOWEVER, let me challenge you to seek substitutions if you or your child does have a dairy allergy. I am no dairy allergy expert, and would never proclaim to be...and I have no idea if this recipe would even work with substitutions. But I also know that a quick google search yielded the following dairy free options that may just do the trick:
Butter: margarine (Earth Balance is a great option for dairy AND soy free), coconut oil, and cooking oil
Sour Cream: IF you are able to have soy, try Tofutti! There may also be other sour cream substitutes at your specialty grocer of choice.
(source - http://www.eatingwithfoodallergies.com/dairysubstitutes.html )
If you just glance at a recipe and say, "Nope, can't have it," you risk limited your already restricted diet. Try it! Trust me when I say I have had some pretty epic failures in the allergy friendly cooking arena!
2. This isn't a particularly healthy recipe. There is really nothing nutritionally redeeming about these little muffins. And if you are after a blog that is full of nothing but healthy and food allergy friendly recipes...well...this won't be it. On the whole, our family eats well. I always make sure my boys have vegetables in front of them at dinner. We eat lots of lean proteins and whole foods around here. BUT, I am also a believer in indulging from time to time. I like treats, and I especially like treats that I can share with my food allergy kid. Live a little, ya know? And one or two of these mini muffins are the perfect treat (without going overboard)
Click here for the link to the recipe!
If you try it dairy free, drop me a comment and let me know how it went!
Like all food preparation while accommodating food allergies, grilling requires careful attention to ingredients. However, the biggest challenge in grilling often comes from the potential for cross-contamination. Ideally, I would just maintain an allergen free section of grating in our grill. However, we live in an apartment complex with two large communal gas grills. There is no telling what allergens may have been in the marinades, sauces, or seasonings of the previous user of the grill. We have encountered similar issues grilling out at friends’ homes and at parks and other public spaces.
Grilling foil is the most simple and versatile tool for preventing exposure to allergens. It has a heavier thickness than standard aluminum foil and typically has a non-stick surface. For single servings for an individual with allergies, simply cut out an appropriately sized square and cook the protein directly on the foil (note that grill manufacturers strongly discourage covering entire grilling surfaces with foil, as this blocks air flow and can be dangerous). For fattier meats, like burgers, I find it best to poke a small hole in the center of the foil to allow liquids to drain. Obviously, it’s also easy to pack a square for a cookout and completely disposable (recyclable!). The foil can also be used as a physical buffer and visual identifier when food is served, saving the need to have a second serving dish and preventing someone inadvertently taking the safe serving for themselves.
While foil is great for single servings, dedicated grilling surfaces for safe foods are best when preparing larger batches. I use a large, low-walled grill basket with a detachable handle for these purposes. When shopping for one, make sure to measure the internal dimensions of your grill so that you can close the lid with the basket in place, making sure to account for the height of the basket and the curvature of the lid. Baskets are available in non-stick varieties, though those tend to not be dishwasher safe. Ours came from Williams-Sonoma (click here for information) and is dishwasher safe, and I brush it with canola oil each time I use it to prevent sticking.
It is also a wise precaution to have tools and utensils that are reserved for contact with foods free of your targeted allergens. I have also used grilling foil in a pinch when I didn’t have access to a second set of grilling tools, wrapping the end of tongs or a spatula with foil to avoid cross-contamination when cooking safe and unsafe foods at the same time. I use silicone brushes for all brush applications; I find the large bristles to be easier to clean than paintbrush style brushes which gives me greater confidence I am not leaving behind any potential allergens.
Dealing with Soy
Soy is one of the most pernicious allergens; it is everywhere. This is particularly true in grilling applications. Nearly all cooking sprays, even if they don’t use soybean oil as the primary ingredient, use soy lecithin (soy protein) as the propellant. There are, however, several brands of canola and olive oil sprays that do not use additional propellants, including Winona Pure and Bertolli. For grilling purposes, canola oil is better, as its smoke point (400 degrees Fahrenheit) is higher than olive oil (350 degrees). Alternatively, you can brush canola oil directly on the grilling surface.
Soybean oil is also a common emulsifier in many commercial seasoning mixes. In our first months of cooking with food allergies, we ruined more than one planned meal by seasoning meat with a mix that included soy. Equally common are seasoning blends that list “natural flavors” among the ingredients. Under current labeling guidelines, this term could be a catch-all for any number of potential allergens and represents a form of food allergy Russian roulette that we choose not to play. Kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and homemade spice mixes do the job just fine. Also, having had limited luck finding barbecue sauces that are free of soy or “natural flavors,” our go-to now is Pickapeppa Sauce, a versatile vinegar-based Jamaican sauce that is terrific brushed on almost any protein.
Hopefully, these tips will prove useful for others looking to accommodate food allergies in their grilling.
If you having any questions or your own solutions, please leave them in the comments below.
Christopher Dye is a university professor by day, but is also well-known and loved in our world for being an incredible food allergy dad He is a very important part of our Food Allergy Arsenal.