A Reminder Around The Holidays!

Hello everybody!

Thanksgiving week has arrived, and more food-focused holidays are around the corner as we head into December!

I wanted to briefly remind food allergic individuals, as well as friends & family of them, that if you are unsure if you should eat something pre-made or that someone prepared for a party or family event, please go with your gut feeling and don’t feel pressured to try something that makes you hesitant.

It’s much better to avoid questionable foods, than to risk your life. Here are a few suggestions I put together, that I put in place for myself each holiday:

♦ Bring a snack for yourself as a backup, and don’t feel bad if you need to eat it

♦ Talk to your family members and friends about ingredients in the meal and give a safe list of brands they can use for their “menu” if you feel comfortable with it. Also, mention to wipe down surfaces and make sure the allergen isn’t around while the meal is being prepared. ***Otherwise, you can bring your own dishes if you’d rather!

♦ Make sure no peanut products will be out and about (snack bowls, dog treats, etc.)

♦ Read ingredients carefully, be just as thorough as you do at home

♦ If you slightly offend someone who made a lovely dish that you don’t want to try, brush it off and remind yourself being safe is always the priority, you have to put yourself first. Remind them it isn’t worth the risk if you want to.

♦ Always have your epi-pens and antihistamines on-hand

I will end this by saying that I am anticipating going out to eat one or two times this Thanksgiving holiday while in Cleveland, Ohio! I will be gauging my trust with these few restaurants in a city I haven’t been to before, and these restaurants I have only communicated with so far via e-mail. Besides, Taco Bell, which I trust and is our go-to for road trips!

I want to clarify that I am never 100% comfortable in a restaurant setting even after talking with them or reviewing their allergen statements or charts on their site, because you never know how serious they are going to take your allergy, or how well they know their ingredients that day.

(a) The only time this doesn’t hold true is for specific allergy-friendly restaurants or bakeries.

This week I am going to bring a backup snack with me in case I determine I am actually not comfortable at the restaurants once we arrive. In this scenario, I will get a soda or drink instead, and enjoy my night!

We do try to book hotels with a kitchenette suite included if we are there for longer than a day, to be able to have kitchen access as well, and then we bring all our own safe cutlery, sauce pans, utensils, cutting boards, sponges, dish soap, etc! We will be making our own safe Thanksgiving day meals to bring to the Thanksgiving on my husband’s side, just to make it simpler for everyone.

Even though food rules most holidays, events and parties, try to not let it get you down. You can have a great time with or without the abundance of food!

Have a wonderful holiday- and more posts will becoming soon!

PS- This year I got a few treats from my local safe bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, to make eating desserts even easier to indulge in! Drool worthy photo attached: img_4270

 

Continue reading “A Reminder Around The Holidays!”

Children Describing Anaphylaxis

Lately I’ve been thinking about children with severe food allergies, and ways to successfully convey severe food allergy symptoms to kids. Not only that, but also ways to decipher what a child is going through if they are describing a reaction.

I found this amazing stop-motion video on Youtube that I wanted to share. Like someone mentioned in the comments section, it’s a non-threatening way to portray anaphylaxis symptoms, and it even includes the correct place to inject an epi-pen! Genius!

 

What got me thinking about this topic in the first place was a post from the No Nut Traveler Facebook page, covering the many ways children may describe their allergic reaction symptoms. I feel like this is a more recent development in the allergy community, one that wasn’t a discussed topic when I was a child, and I’m glad it’s raising awareness to help catch signs of a severe reaction in a child.

Here is a screenshot of the Facebook post:

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Please share either the YouTube video, screenshot, and/or this blog to help spread awareness. Thank you readers for all the continued support!

Let your home be your “safe space”

Making my home a safe space for myself has always been key to managing my food allergy. At home, I don’t have to worry as much about food allergies, and it’s important to be able to have a space where you don’t have to be in a state of constant worry.

I consider this to mean my bedroom and TV type room in our house. Our dining room, kitchen, and basement are all areas that experience heavy foot traffic. These main living spaces are where friends & family are coming in and out of, where our dog Colby tends to track the most into, and in general, those are the spaces I still am careful to not touch my face while in without washing my hands. I also try to clean them more often! Ideally I would wet wipe everything coming in from outside, but I haven’t taken it to that level yet. However, that’s not to say I don’t wet wipe a lot of things already! I’m in a band and whenever we play house shows or move our equipment around between vehicles, I make sure to clean my mic as well as my drum sticks, drums, and our many cords.

I view the dining room table is a hot spot for potential cross-contamination, it’s where we put our mail, grocery bags, where we sit our bags after work, if someone comes over that’s where we sit, and in general things tend to just collect there. We keep a tablecloth on it so that way it’s easier to clean and won’t scratch or get water stained, but it also tends to collect allergens and dust this way. One trade off for another, I suppose.

I’ve mentioned before in previous posts that we don’t keep any type of peanut products in our home, meaning no dog treats with possible peanut products, no face products with possible peanut ingredients, etc. and being sure to keep all food options safe is crucial to make life easier for someone living with a food allergy. I like being able to look in the kitchen and not have to check all the labels again. It’s funny because I normally still do before consuming them, just to be safe, but it’s more of a good habit I’ve developed. I’m not having to do a hard check like I did, or my husband did, the first time.

We recently got a large compost bin (pictured below with our dog Colby inside!) after my husband sat in on a class about composting so we could know the basics for ourselves at home. Composting is a wonderful way to cut down on trash, as well as have a less stinky trash can, and create soil to use in your garden during the applicable months!

I am becoming huge on gardening to create fresh produce and herbs for myself to use that I know are not contaminated. I overheard a terrifying conversation at a farmer’s market where a vendor was talking about how peanut shells are great to compost with. This was a major red flag to hear. I never thought about that aspect of gardening and how it could potentially be related to my food! I don’t know if it really can be extremely dangerous, but I know if I saw decomposing peanut shells spread on/around my food I would avoid it like the plague. Much like my discovery about the Grain Flour recall, since the flour was contaminated at the growing source, I knew I now needed to potentially worry about local produce as well.

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I’m really looking forward to growing some of my own food this next Spring, and expanding my selection a bit more compared to last year! I just dried some sage from our garden this past week with my dehydrator that I’m putting into an old spice jar, and I’m pretty proud of it! I wanted to plant this seed of thought in my blog post, for people who may shop local (which I support 1000%), but who also have severe food allergies. It could be worth beginning to compost if you have the means to, or access to a community garden plot, and beginning to grow some of your own produce. Or it could be a conversation you begin having in the community to get to know your vendors a little more.

Unfortunately, products that aren’t for consumption such as potting soil is not required to label for ingredients as seriously as food products. I have looked into some potting soils and mulch, and been led into a blackhole of vague information where I could get no type of confirmation about it or from companies, but all signs pointed to it may be packaged on shared equipment as animal feed, bird seed, or that it contains “compost” with nothing more about it.  It may be mushroom or bark compost, but who knows?! In fact, at the compost class my husband attended, he learned in our city of Louisville there is a pilot program that collects wet trash compostables from the downtown business district. They bring it all to a giant compost yard, to then allow it to break down and re-distribute it to companies and sell it as compost. There is so much trash there, and it is so large, it can decompose more than an at-home bin, so even things like meat that you can’t compost in an at-home set up, would be able to be composted there. I know it’s breaking down, but how are we certain it’s all breaking down at the same time? We can’t be. Even if it can’t contaminate the actual food in our garden, if I’m handling it, then it could still potentially contaminate me.

After my last post, I was curious exactly where peanuts are grown. I know peanuts can really be grown anywhere, but I assumed most in the U.S. are primarily grown in Georgia. From a website called aboutpeanuts.com I found out that, “Peanuts are grown in the warm climates of Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. India and China together account for more than half of the world’s production. The United States has about 3% of the world acreage of peanuts, but grows nearly 10% of the world’s crop because of higher yields per acre. Other major peanut growing countries include Senegal, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria.” Interesting, and noted.

Additionally, the website goes on to say, “In the United States, ten states grow 99% of the U. S. peanut crop: Georgia (which grows about 42% of all U. S. peanuts), followed by Texas, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Oklahoma and New Mexico.” I didn’t know regions of Florida grew peanuts, or New Mexico!

I have been on my way to vacation in Florida and needed to pull over to use the bathroom or get a snack, and not only come across boiled peanuts at every single stop, but actually come across some peanut farms in Georgia where I didn’t feel comfortable pulling over for many miles, and I turned the air blower to be inside the car only, as a precaution and to *sort of* ease my mind. The aboutpeanuts.com website has some interesting information, however, I want to challenge some of the history of peanuts details on there with some recent information I heard. I’m going to do some investigating… until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Product Recalls

Ah yes, the dreaded recalls. Even when doing your due diligence by calling companies and reading ingredient labels, recalls can occur and cause a life-threatening reaction. This is why even when you’re trying your hardest, you have to remember that you can’t control everything, and there is always a slight chance of some type of cross-contamination.

I say this for a few reasons. First, because it’s true. As we all know, we can’t control everything, so just trust that you are doing your best. Unfortunately, someone reacted to a product they thought was safe, and that is what caused the contamination to be known, and the ‘voluntary recall’ to occur. Lastly, if you feel a reaction coming on, please don’t treat it lightly. I’m not saying to go to the ER immediately if you feel slight symptoms, but it’s good to try to remain calm, to try to decipher if a reaction is actually happening, or if it could be anxiety, environmental allergies, or something else. If you are an allergic individual reading this, if I feel a potential reaction, I always try to tell others around me so I’m not alone in knowing.

Recalls can occur a number of ways. It could be in a specific facility if peanuts are present but segregated and it can also happen in peanut-free facilities, where the individual ingredients coming into the facility are contaminated with peanut residue. I personally avoid items made on shared equipment with peanuts, and I normally avoid products even in the same facility,  just because the chances for a reaction are higher, but it is nearly impossible to know the source of each ingredient in a peanut-free facility, and where it came from and was grown, and how it was stored there, distributed, etc.

A company I love, one that does an excellent job with labeling, Clif Bar & Company, recently issued a recall for a few of their products containing chocolate for potentially containing tree nuts or peanuts. I am not sure how the nut contamination took place, but it made me reconsider starting my morning off with 1. something highly processed, and 2. something made in a facility, when I could just be making a fresh smoothie each morning. Something fresh would be more healthy, and way less risky. I appreciate having pre-made snacks and meals that are “safe” (I try to use this word lightly for obvious reasons) but I also know I need to try to limit them, and use them more sparingly. Vacations, roadtrips, long days away from home, long car rides, those are times it’s completely acceptable to eat them, but when I’m home all day enjoying a lazy Saturday, I don’t need to start my day off with a Chocolate Salted Caramel Protein Luna Bar (my favorite flavor). My personal goal is to try to eat more fresh, less risky foods that weren’t produced in a facility someplace. However, below you will see there is a caveat to that as well.

Throughout 2017, there has been a national flour recall for peanut contamination stemming from a company called Grain Craft. This was extremely problematic because they don’t sell to people like you & me individually, they are a flour provider for the foodservice industry, the supplier for entire companies, such as Kellogg’s. Like any product recall, such as the current car airbag one that is involving many different car manufacturers that purchased the Takata airbag, it can be very widespread.

This flour recall involved cereals, frozen pizzas, cookies, doughnuts, crackers, and so much more. Kellogg of course is a massive corporation, and I’m using them as an example because it gives you an idea of how massive this recall extended, because remember: it wasn’t Kellogg at the source, it was this company called Grain Craft who supplies to multiple corporations the size of Kellogg, so just imagine the damage. In case you didn’t know, because I didn’t for a long time, Kellogg Company owns these brands as well:

  • Special K, Keebler, Pringles, Pop-Tarts, Kashi, Cheez-It, Eggo, Nutri-Grain, Morningstar Farms, United Bakers Group, Egyptian Expansion, Famous Amos, Bear Naked, Gardenburger, and a bajillion others.

I don’t eat much Kellogg’s stuff, besides Morningstar, which has just been hard to give up, mostly because they are not respectful to the allergy community. They don’t label for ‘may contain’ or give information on shared equipment or facilities, and since it isn’t required in the U.S., I can’t blame them. However, they did start putting peanut flour in products SOLELY to make it so that people would quit asking them to label for the top 8 allergens. The company controls an ENORMOUS chunk of consumer food products, in my opinion it should be illegal to be this large, and as you can see, their values for its consumers are truly atrocious.

Shifting back to Grain Craft, the recall involved a Frito Lay product, Rose Gold pretzels. These are known to be safe for peanut-allergic individuals, so this was very important to spread the word about.

I am very passionate about raising awareness on the lack of standards in the United States surrounding food labeling, and recalls are one thing that it’s important to continue to be aware of, but even with good labeling, reactions to undeclared allergens can still occur. I do believe recalls would be caught much faster here if corporations were more aware of their ingredients, and required to label for ‘may contain’, but it wouldn’t eliminate the problem fully.

In fact, in this case, it turns out Grain Craft has actually never used peanuts in their facilities. It was that the wheat they purchased was grown in areas with peanuts in Georgia, so it was contaminated at the growing source, prior to getting to their mill in GA. This fact was particularly scary. I attached a link here about the recall. As you can see, this also goes against my idea of fresh food being safe, and causes me to emphasize that you can never be 100% sure of ingredients. I am now adding peanut-growing states in the South to my list to be wary about, not that I wasn’t already, but sheesh!

My next post will be more on this topic. Including how to garden at home safely, compost including peanut residue, states that grow peanuts, and more. Below is an infographic I found here that shows 10 major corporations, and the brands they own. I actually don’t think this even includes ALL their brands, or is the most up-to-date because I see a few missing such as Enjoy Life the allergy friendly brand owned by Mondelez.

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Loving Vincent in Theaters

A couple of years ago I worked at an art museum as a security officer while the museum was closed under construction. I know what you’re thinking—and it was kind of a weird gig. I wasn’t there long, but in my short time there, especially with it not being open to the public, I experienced a lot!

My plan to work at an art museum and slowly work my way up came to a rapid halt and got derailed once the museum was set to open. I learned a bakery was going to be opening inside of it, and that they would be toasting peanuts in-house. How random, right? I tried to see if they would not serve peanut products, or even just not roast peanuts on-site, since they have another main location in Louisville, but no. I was disappointed and had to quit after having 2 slight airborne reactions, but I understood why they couldn’t change everything just for me. This was a big expensive work-in-progress for them & the museum that I was completely unaware of. They put in a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen and were going to handle the catering for all the weddings there as well as events. This was HUGE for a small locally owned, very successful bakery.

Fast forward to the present day, and the movie theater located in the museum, that the bakery handles concessions for. I am a huge art lover, a wanna-be art history major, as you know from recent blog posts, as well as fan of Vincent Van Gogh and his work. I’ve even painted a few copies of his portraits myself after being inspired by my visit to the Art Institute of Chicago for his Bedrooms exhibit. So naturally, when I found out the movie Loving Vincent would be showing at the museum, I knew I HAD to be there. I should mention I’ve been contacting the PR for Loving Vincent like a true crazy obsessed fan since I first found out about the project and film a more than 3 years ago! There have been multiple false rumors about its U.S. release, and in October of 2017 it is finally coming!

I should also mention, I haven’t been to a movie theater in years due to my peanut allergy. The last movie I recall going to was a showing of Brooklyn (coincidentally the same actress lead who is in Loving Vincent) at a small theater where movies went after being released on DVD, and so not many people would be there. I think in total there were only a handful of others, and I could literally see what they were eating and confirm it wasn’t peanut containing snacks! The showing of Loving Vincent I’m going to will be sold out, and packed- the antithesis of my Brooklyn movie experience.

I bought tickets a bit impulsively, since I knew it may sell out, and then moved on to contact the museum via e-mail about my options. The person in charge of Film, who I knew from working there, said I could come in during a school showing instead if I wanted. He let me know there may be one in the morning that I could sit in on, and he would let me know as more dates open up since there wouldn’t be food at those. I slightly wondered if the students may bring their own snacks.

As I explained this to my husband, he suggested I go directly to the source, and contact the bakery/concessions to see if they may be able to make any accommodations. I felt nervous, but inquired with the bakery right away, asking if they knew if peanut items would be on the menu for the Loving Vincent showing, and if there may be a way to keep my day/time peanut-free items. THEY SAID YES, and they will be sure to not use peanut products in anything that goes out that day/time to ensure my safety. Of course, they recommended I not eat anything.

Once again, I learned that I need to nicely ask for what I want, and not be afraid and stress over situations that I actually can control, or at least have some pull in. I felt some sour energy with the bakery before this, due to my work experience, and I feel like the air is clearer now. I’m thrilled they will make this accommodation, and I will not abuse this knowledge, but I am happy to know if another film I’m eager to see goes there, I can inquire again!

I will report back here on invisiblyallergic after the showing, and tell you all how it went! For those allergic individuals out there reading, and their families and friends, please note that I always carry my epi-pens at all times, as well as at least 8-10 Benadryl tablets. I also will be bringing a 3M filter face mask along with me as a precaution, and wet wipes to wipe down my area, just as I did when I saw Brooklyn.

Now, everyone go appreciate Loving Vincent in theaters if you can, but if you can’t, also remember it isn’t the end of the world and it’ll eventually be on DVD! 🙂

 

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My version of The portrait of Eugène Boch

A Visual Representation

A Shakespeare quote that has always resonated with me is, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” and that’s how I view this week’s blog post! Although this post is short, I feel it holds a lot of weight.

The information below is essentially a compilation of details I’ve found online surrounding the below image. From what I’ve gathered, this picture was created by Julie Brown, MD. However, I haven’t found much else about her!

It shows to scale the amount of peanut residue or dust that can cause a deadly episode of anaphylaxis . Often I witness a response to my own food allergy being taken as being “picky” or “overly cautious” and/or “too high maintenance”. In my opinion, this photo proves this not the case, it’s not a choice.

I’m truly not a picky eater, in fact, I like to experiment as much as I can. My peanut allergy does put a damper on the adventurous side of me that enjoys eating out and trying new foods. Investigating has to be done at the forefront, so my eating can’t be on a whim or impulsive, but it can still be exciting! The problem is how tiny the amount of peanut particle can set off a serious reaction. As you can see, it doesn’t take much to cause a full-force reaction, this is what those in the food allergy community are up against every day.

In fact, people with peanut allergies have died from as little as 1 mg of peanut protein, as shown here:

 

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Smaller amounts of dust and peanut particles also cause allergic reactions, which is the problem with peanut cross-contamination of surfaces and on shared food processing equipment.

It’s impossible to say someone hasn’t or couldn’t die from an even lower amount of peanut residue, such as .15 milligrams. When speaking about such trace amounts, it’s hard to pinpoint sometimes how much got ingested, and from what. After going into anaphylactic shock from my diluted intradermal prick testing, and multiple other scary severe peanut reactions, I don’t rule out any possibilities.

As deadly as a loaded gun

A couple of years ago I interned at a local art gallery in Louisville while obtaining my undergraduate degree, and it was a great experience learning how to hang and take down shows and see what it takes to run a gallery. One day, though, I walked into the empty gallery space and immediately was overcome by a toxic feeling and felt very uneasy.

I looked around, and saw no one, in fact the room was completely empty. There were folded tables stacked against a wall, but besides that, nothing out of the ordinary. I actually didn’t even touch a door handle to get in, because the door was propped open, so I continued inside. Within a few minutes my lip began to swell, and I texted my friend who was coincidentally working a writing workshop in the same gallery space earlier that day. I asked her if there were peanuts at the event, and assumed she would write back saying no and I’d get some peace of mind. Instead, she immediately replied “GET OUT! THERE WERE MINI SNICKERS EVERYWHERE! A HANDFUL AT LEAST PER TABLE, AND THERE WERE SO MANY TABLES!” I appreciated her honesty and promptness, and ran out while popping Benadryl into my mouth and texting the gallery owners explaining why I had to leave and get home.

When I’ve shared this story in-person, people often laugh at how silly her warning sounds at first. It isn’t the norm to treat candy/food as dangerous, but my friend understood that it is to me.

I’ve seen parents of children with severe airborne food allergies share posts on social media comparing children eating a PB&J next to their child to holding a loaded gun next to them, or bringing a loaded gun to lunch. When I first saw this, I initially thought it seemed too extreme, but it stuck with me. The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize it is in fact a comparable situation. Peanuts are, and can be used as, a weapon. They are just as deadly, the control is in the other person’s hand, and it is preventable.

I attached one of those loaded gun articles on food allergy bullying here, in case you want to read it.

There are many stories similar to the above, because it is a common everyday situation for allergic individuals and their families. You eat at least 3 times a day, and often not in a secluded setting or in the comfort of your own home. I believe this specific comparison has been repeated often in the food allergy community, because it is attention grabbing, but also expresses the true severity of a food allergy that is hard to convey to others.

I feel it’s important to state that this “loaded gun” situation arises during my daily routine without any type of bullying taking place. I could be passing someone on the street eating something and react without the culprit having any knowledge whatsoever. That’s why it’s important for me to make people aware of my allergy in as many situations as I can, so this can be avoided as often as possible. When someone is aware and continues to eat peanuts, that’s when the line crosses over to potential food allergy bullying, that does need to be directly addressed to convey seriousness to the other person. Ultimately, it could save a life.

The one statement “as deadly as a loaded gun” was eye opening for me in a number of ways. Until it was put into this perspective, I didn’t realize how emphatically I needed to be explaining my allergy. I also felt less alone in my peanut allergy, and like there is a community of individuals just like me existing out in the world, figuring out ways to illuminate their food allergy experiences.

The 11-year old in the article I attached above tells how he’s been taught to handle food allergy bullying, and his advice is powerfully direct! He explained, “I would tell them that’s not nice,” Liam added. “It’s nothing to joke about. People can die of that (food allergy bullying).” I struggle with feeling like explaining my peanut allergy teeters the line of being too dark, but simply making it clear that death is the outcome of exposure is not a lie or extreme, it’s the plain truth, and it needs to be discussed.

The other day in my work break room, a co-worker had told me they don’t bring in peanuts to work because of my allergy, and that they bring cashews instead. Next they mentioned to me that they grew up eating PB&J sandwiches and felt their parents would have been the type to come back at the school system saying, “what do you MEAN my child can’t eat a peanut butter sandwich at school now? It’s his favorite!” This was a bit upsetting to hear initially, but I also realize it is likely coming from a place of not being exposed to a life-threatening food allergy before. The deadliness of the act of eating peanut products needs to be conveyed, shared, and discussed.

The allergy spectrum is vast, so I see why the explanation is needed. I’ve determined that unless told otherwise, people most often know what they do about allergies from their own individual experiences with them. I hope to broaden what “food allergy” can mean to people, since my airborne peanut allergy situation is not as common as other food allergies.

I want to share the message to not prioritize a food over a person’s life, and to not exclude a person, when you can simply exclude the food.

I hope my blog can help spread the word on food allergy bullying, and the overall seriousness that often gets brushed off time and time again due to being uninformed. I’ve included some comics below that encapsulate my experience of living with a peanut allergy perfectly. Enjoy!