Bear with me on this one, its long and it might upset some people. However, it is an important discussion that needs to be had. We’ve already touched on what it’s like to live with allergies in previous posts. The single most important thing that needs to be remembered is how we, as allergic people, manage our allergies at home and when we travel.
If I go out to eat tomorrow, it is my responsibility to remain allergy and reaction free. If I go to someone’s house, or a dinner party, it is my responsibility to check ingredients not the host/hostess’s responsibility to label the brownies they made (this obviously doesn’t apply to packaged food since the FDA has that covered). As an allergy community we have become very reliant on the rest of the world doing the checking and monitoring for us. Its great to have friends and family that understand and help us, but it isn’t the job of the rest of the world to keep us safe.
A large percentage of the allergy community is made up of children. I wholeheartedly understand there is a certain level for learning curve when kids are involved, however, we are doing them a very dangerous disservice by not teaching them safety regarding their food allergies as early as possible. We want to remove peanuts from schools (side note ~ dairy is the most common childhood allergen), and remove foods from classrooms but no one is teaching the child ~ “when in doubt, go without” anymore. Every year we read more and more stories about a teen who died of anaphylaxis and each story has a very similar theme. They ate an unwrapped food and had a reaction, they didn’t have their Epipen with them. They didn’t ask anyone about ingredients and paid a terrible price. Many are trying to make the answer to this problem be that all unwrapped food be labelled. If we protect ourselves and our children with early lessons of allergy management, foods do not need to be labeled. I can’t help but think that these are the kids who were never taught to manage their allergy for themselves. It a very scary, very tragic problem in my eyes.
Here’s the thing, if you are are old enough to know right from wrong, old enough to know not to go in a car with a stranger, old enough to look both ways before you cross the street, than you are old enough to know you don’t eat anything your parents didn’t give you or what you can and can’t eat. If you can read, you can read a label and be taught what to look for on that label. If you can remember your phone or iPad, you can remember to take your Epipen. My niece is 7 and can recognize the signs of anaphylaxis on me so it isn’t outlandish to think a child with an allergy can make these choices on their own. Mistakes happen. I’m an adult and I screw up sometimes, but if we make an effort to help ourselves and teach our children to monitor and take care of themselves from an early age, we will save lives in the long run.
All of this brings me to my final point. I hear regularly that we don’t want our kids to feel left out. We don’t want them to be different. News flash! WE ARE DIFFERENT, and that’s OK. The sooner a child can find comfort in the fact that they have a different set of circumstances, the safer they will be. A child that accepts their allergy is more likely to be o.k. with carrying and using their Epipen and will become confident in declining a food they can’t eat or saying to an adult, “No, thank you. I can only eat foods my mom has given me. I have allergies”.