Today is National Peanut Butter Day. As a kid, there really was nothing better than peanut butter: PB&J, peanut butter cups, Reese’s Pieces. And my love for peanut butter didn’t wane as I grew up: Pad Thai, Chicken Satay, peanut butter-filled pretzels. But that all changed when my second child developed a peanut allergy at 18 months old and ended up in the emergency room.
Before then, I didn’t really know that much about food allergies, and I certainly didn’t know about the dangers of cross-contamination. Who knew that someone could die just from being in the same room as a peanut or cashew, kissing someone who ate a macadamia nut cookie hours earlier, or eating chips and salsa where the salsa (yes the salsa) was manufactured in the same facility that processes almonds. Don’t believe me, just google it and you’ll see thousands of horror stories. Back then, I quickly realized my daughter would have to be super careful for the rest of her life to avoid sudden death. I even wrote a blog post about it titled “Will My Kid Never Eat Chinese Food?”
My wife and I had to educate ourselves quickly on how to raise an infant in this situation. And over the years, we’ve had the unenviable task of telling her more often than not “I’m sorry, you can’t eat that.” And traveling? Wow, talk about tough. It’s one thing to go out here at home in Raleigh, NC where we’ve found the places we trust and we know are safe. But go somewhere unknown and we really are taking a risk.
But perhaps hardest has been dealing with the ignorance and lack of empathy of others, be it in person or online. Sure, it’s one thing to be uneducated, I once was as well. But the numbers of people who have uttered things like “Why should I have to sacrifice my free airline peanuts for some little kid” or “My kid will just die if they can’t eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches” has been astounding.
But all hope is not lost. Over the years since that first allergic reaction, we’ve come to realize we aren’t alone. In fact, according to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), in the United States, as many as 9 million adults and 6 million children have food allergies, which represents 5% of the population. That may not seem like much, but that’s 1 in 20, and growing. There are eight main allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish, although there are certainly many others.
Fortunately, people and businesses are starting to come around. I was inspired to write this post after seeing a picture posted on Facebook from the storefront of Starry Lane Bakery in San Diego, California.
They totally get it! But they aren’t alone. Right here in Raleigh, the local franchise of Daylight Donuts has opted to be a nut-free bakery, and it’s quickly become our go-to donut shop (and sometimes Sunday morning breakfast spot)! In fact, we’ve found some amazing people, organizations and networks that bring people together to support and look out for each other, including answering questions and making recommendations on restaurants and food products. I’m sure there are many others, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge them, and if you are dealing with allergy challenges, perhaps they can be of help to you as well.
End Allergies Together (EAT) – This organization’s mission is to end food allergies and works with many celebrities to raise awareness, including celebrity chef Ming Tsai, whose son is allergic to soy, wheat, dairy, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. He even has a restaurant in Boston called Blue Dragon which has a nut-free kitchen and serves all customers with food allergies. And if you haven’t seen his promo video for EAT, check it out. It’s hysterically serious.
NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely) is a volunteer group in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina that provides social and emotional support for families dealing with food allergies. The organization also has a Facebook group. NC FACES organizes social events, including at venues not normally accessible to children with food allergies such as Durham Bulls baseball games, and provides information on food safety.
Dining Out with Food Allergies is a Facebook group where members talk about their experiences and ask and answer questions for each other on allergy safety with restaurants, food manufacturers, airlines and more. Members are extremely supportive of each other.
Allergy Eats is a nationwide, online guide to allergy-friendly restaurants. Think of it as Trip Advisor or Yelp for allergy reviews. Customers can share reviews and comments on their allergy experiences with restaurants all over the US. It’s a great resource to check on the safety of restaurants you may not be familiar with, especially when traveling away from your hometown.
So today is National Peanut Butter Day. And for many, that means enjoying some delicious peanut butter treats. But just keep in mind that moment of culinary bliss could also be that moment of sudden death for those with peanut allergies. Enjoy yourselves, you’re entitled. Just do it in the company of an allergy-free crowd, and when you’re done, won’t you please scrub down and brush your teeth? You might just save a life!