2009-03-10

Food Allergy Frame of Mind

Living in Florida and having as our star attraction the only grandchild on both sides of the family brings a fairly constant stream of traffic to our guest bedroom. We are currently in week three of a month of continual occupancy by various family members. Having back to back houseguests doesn't leave much time to blog, but it does provide considerable food for thought about our approach to managing The Kid's allergies.
Much of what we do is automatic, such as reading ingredient labels and never leaving home without the Epi-Pens. To be honest, I've found that developing good habits (or obsessive compulsive behaviors, if you prefer) is for me the key to keeping my child safe. Having other family members with different points of view here to visit has also made me realize that managing my son's medical conditions has been one of the primary shapers of my parenting philosophy, such as it is.
My most important jobs as a parent are to keep my child safe and to teach him how to keep himself safe as he gets older. All the rest is commentary. I do try to be an example for him of how to navigate a dangerous world gracefully, but when push comes to shove, safety first and manners be damned.
Houseguest Number One in our recent revolving door suffers from interstitial cystitis, which causes her to have a severely restricted diet. Adding further restrictions to our already limited menu choices is challenging, to say the least. The upside is that I am very comfortable cooking with dietary restrictions while still doing my best to create appetizing meals. I just need to know what the guidelines are.
Prior to her visit, I printed out lists, asked questions, and stocked up on some safe foods. I realized that most baked goods and quick breads were out of the question, since acids, fruits (except pears), and soy products are all troublemakers, so I made simple soups and roasts, and several yeasted breads. I even created an avocado pear dressing that made a wonderful chicken salad. I quickly realized, though, that it wasn't the diet that was so different, it was the approach to it.
Although I understood that different individuals with IC react differently to different foods, I expected that HG#1 would know her trigger foods and strictly avoid them. Instead, she would test her limits and experiment, saying "Oh, maybe I'll have a little bit and see how it goes." I was completely flummoxed!
To me, a food is an allergen or it isn't. It is either safe to eat, or not. It's not like cheating on a diet, whether it is one that counts carbs, calories, fats or sodium. There is no taking a few token bites to be polite, when there is no room for error. One evening at dinner, HG#1 started to explain to The Kid that she was also allergic to some foods. I interrupted somewhat rudely, and explained that she was NOT allergic, but rather could not eat some foods because they made her tummy hurt. The Kid absolutely adores her (with good reason) and I could not let her be an example of how to manage his allergies.
I'm trying to use the experience to relate a little better those who don't quite get the black and white nature of managing food allergies. We don't have shades of gray and we don't have any wiggle room for compromise. To be clear, there may be justifiable differences of opinion about the best way to keep a child and an allergen separated from each other, i.e. peanut ban vs. peanut free table, but they must be kept separated.
Still, I'm on a bit of a slow learning curve to developing tolerance for the well meaning uninformed who endanger my child. I recently listened to another allergy mom describe the waitress who told her daughter that it would be fine for her to eat the salad she had brought once the almonds were picked off, and my reaction wasn't, well, very tolerant.
Your regularly scheduled blog programming should be returning soon, and I hope to get out there and see what the rest of you have been up to. (I owe a very belated thank you to Funky Food Trisha for the sweet award!) I'm not sure which is overflowing more, my inbox or laundry hamper, but there are sure to be a few surprises as I dig my way down to the bottom of both of them!

2 comments:

Angela said...

Wow, can we come be a guest too? LOL No wonder so many family members enjoy coming to your home. I'd be there like every week, just wondering what you were gonna cook up for us!
Allergies are black and white, and you make a very good point about it. There can be no "just a little of this or that" and you are completely right in stepping in to make that clear to your house guest. I hear the statement "oh, my kid is allergic to ______ (fill in the blank)" and yet they have never had their child tested. I have heard it from adults too, yet they have never had a visit to the allergist. The best is when you ask if they had the skin prick and/or RAST and they look at you with their head half cocked sideways and say "huh?" This is all happening as they are chowing down on the offending food!

One woman who claimed that her daughter was highly allergic to peanuts, soy, and milk, gave in to her daughter's screams and temper tantrum because the child wanted yogurt like the rest of the kids...oh, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This woman went on and on about her daughter's allergies and I sat there as she served yogurt and peanut butter and jelly to her daughter. The child was more than fine...no problems whatsoever! I asked where her epipen was...no epipen. Now, I didn't have to explain AT ALL to this woman about anaphylaxis...after all, the mother was an RN. What the heck is up with that? I really don't understand the need for people to say they have a food allergy or other type of allergy if they do not have one. It makes no sense to me, and it makes a child's life hell...especially if he doesn't have a food allergy in the first place.

Krista said...

We live in Florida too and have encountered relatives trying to "help out" by bringing unsafe food into our home to contribute to dinner (i.e. bakery/deli items). Living in Florida is great but having to deal with houseguests who don't get it and endanger our son = NOT GREAT!
On a brighter note, It's nice to hear about another allergy family in the sunshine state. Love your blog!