5 GF Tips to Navigate the Holiday Minefield

By Rachel Sircy

Anyone with a gluten-related disorder knows that the most difficult time of the year is upon us. I mean, it’s a day that is nominally dedicated to thanking God for our blessings, but if we’re being honest, it’s an all day Eat-A-Thon. And, unfortunately for the celiacs in the world, most of the items on the menu for this day are covered in gravy or made of wheat flour. And throughout the holidays – no matter what particular holidays you celebrate – the menu remains heavy on the bread and soggy with gravy. So, below are the top ten things that help to get me through the holidays. Hopefully, they will make your gluten free minefield a little easier to navigate this holiday season.

  1. Cook Stuff: I know, there are myriad readers out there who don’t like to cook or who swear that they are genetically programmed to be unable to cook food. Well, I have been in those shoes before, too, and the only thing I can tell you, is to give it your best shot. If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you have to take charge of your health – which means taking charge of the food that you put into your mouth. Don’t rely on others to feed you. I’m sure that if this isn’t your first holiday as a celiac, you’ve had the experience of a well-meaning relative who says, “Yes, this dish is 100% gluten free” and then after you’ve swallowed a big mouthful of whatever it was, says “because there’s no gluten in barley flour, right?” As with almost anything in life, if you want it done right, you’ll have to do it yourself.
  2. Insist on Bringing What You’ve Cooked: This may seem like a no-brainer, especially given what I’ve said above about cooking for yourself. You might think, “Of course I’m going to bring what I’ve cooked.” However, those not afflicted with gluten intolerance can tend to think of gluten free food as gross or inferior or totally inedible or poisonous. Don’t be backed into a corner. If you are not hosting the meal yourself (hosting the meal yourself may be the best route to controlling the gluten level at the table), then insist on participating in the meal by bringing something. I usually choose to bring the dishes that I like best that are the least likely to be gluten free, like dressing and dessert. To avoid coming off as rude and distrustful, let the host know that you are simply trying to take on some of the responsibility for making the dinner safe for you. Most people hosting a holiday meal feel overwhelmed as it is and will appreciate the fact that you are lightening their load.
  3. Avoid Bouquets of Flours: Okay, so for years I avoided baking because when I was first diagnosed with celiac disease I went down the natural foods aisle at the local Kroger’s and was scared stupid by the incredible number of tiny little bags of flour: almond, rice, potato, amaranth, tapioca, etc. To this day I’ve never mastered mixing all those little bags of flour together to make something useful. It’s expensive and frustrating. My advice? Forget it! Don’t try making flour blends. Unless you’re really into masochistic torture. There are now plenty of really good flour blends on the market that can be substituted cup for cup with regular wheat flour. Some of the best brands I’ve tried are: Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour, Cup4Cup (they have a regular and a multigrain blend, both of which can be used to substitute for wheat flour in almost any recipe), King Arthur Gluten Free All-purpose Flour and – believe it or not –Walmart’s Great Value Gluten Free All-purpose Flour Blend. I have baked or have eaten baked goods made with all of these flours and they really are delicious. You may forget that you’re eating gluten free. So, get rid of all those highly specialized recipes which require all those little bags of flours. Grab one bag of flour and you can break out your grandmother’s heirloom recipes and go to town.
  4. food-791640_1920Don’t Eat Just Anything: Potlucks are popular around the holidays, it’s a great way to get together with others and share the things that we love to eat. However, experienced celiacs wince at the mention of a potluck supper. It can be a nightmare for us. But remember that you can navigate these dinners successfully. The best thing to do in these cases is to talk to the host ahead of time and make him aware of your food sensitivity. Again, bring something if you can. At the party, eat simply. Raw fruit and vegetable and cheese trays are a great place to start. Next, go to anything that is in a package with an ingredients label and read it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. If a dish appeals to you, find out who made it and ask them what they put into it. Remember, if you don’t know what’s in a dish, you shouldn’t eat it.
  5. Be Prepared and Treat Yourself: Eating can be an emotional as well as a physical act. If you have to be gluten free, then you are going to have to prepare yourself for the holidays physically and emotionally. The best personal advice that I can give (gained through some painful experiences) is firstly: NEVER go to a party hungry. I know a few people who do go to parties hungry so that they can stuff themselves when they get there. This is a very bad idea for people who may not be able to eat anything but the raw vegetables. So, I recommend eating before you go. You’ll have to gauge this with where you’re going. For instance, I don’t eat a whole lot before going to my mother in law’s house because she is familiar with what I can and can’t eat and will always have a dinner that is safe for me. Office parties, church socials and large get-togethers where there will be a potluck are places where I try not to go unprepared. I eat beforehand so that I’m not dying of hunger while I watch everyone else eat. It’s also a good idea to bring a treat with you to enjoy at the party. It can be downright depressing to watch everyone enjoying things that you used to love (Grandma’s chocolate pie or Aunt Whatsherface’s Red Velvet Cake). It’s best, of course, when the party includes something for you, but this isn’t always the case. When you’re not able to take part in the festivities, you might feel cut off from the joy of the season. I have found that it truly does help, in these cases, to reserve something special for yourself that you can indulge in while everyone else is pounding down cookies and eggnog. Bring your favorite candy, cookie or snack and eat it while everyone else is having their dessert (because, let’s be honest, dessert is the most emotional part of the meal) have yours as well. What really matters is the sense of togetherness. If you’re not dying of hunger and you have a little treat help you celebrate with others, you won’t feel alone in the crowd.

Two Common Mistakes for Celiacs

By Rachel Sircy

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I got some really bad advice from a well-meaning, but very misinformed dietitian. She said that I shouldn’t allow myself to go hungry just because I needed to eat gluten free. She said, if push came to shove, that I could just eat a sandwich or get a burger from McDonalds. Her primary concern was that I not feel that the gluten free diet was impossible and she thought that if I felt hungry, I might just give up altogether. She really did mean to do right by me, unfortunately, she advising me to start thinking in a really unhealthy way about my condition. She was teaching me that it is okay to cheat sometimes. However, cheating, when you are a celiac, isn’t the same as cheating on your diet when you’re trying to lose weight. The stakes are much higher and the damage that you will be doing to your body will be long lasting.

This story about my encounter with a dietitian highlights two of the most common problems that I have personally faced as a celiac. The first mistake sort of leads into the other, so I think it’s important to talk about them together.

Mistake #1: Letting yourself get hungry.

This is difficult, I know. The world is basically a food desert for celiacs and the gluten sensitive, especially when you’re travelling or in a hurry. So, what do you do? You become that person who always has food on them. People sometimes laugh at how much food I tend to carry with me, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s never a good idea to let yourself get really hungry because that leads to eating things that you know you shouldn’t eat out of desperation. As bad as it is to go hungry, it truly is worse to cheat. You will never feel better if you are constantly setting yourself back with poor eating choices. Also, you are putting yourself at risk for damage that may take years to heal or may not heal at all, let alone the fact that you are increasing your risk of colon cancer, etc. Who wants to live like that?

And the worst part about making poor food choices is that it leads to mistake #2…

Mistake #2: Deciding whether you’ve had a reaction to gluten based on how your stomach (or body) feels.

This is one of the most detrimental mistakes I think that we celiacs make. While celiac disease does affect your stomach and intestines, it is really an autoimmune disorder. This means that the primary issue with celiac disease is not that your tummy hurts, it’s that your immune system doesn’t work right. It mistakenly attacks you instead of doing what it’s supposed to do, which is to protect you from germy invaders. Sometimes when your immune system attacks you, your stomach will hurt, or you will have constipation, diarrhea, headache, etc. But, sometimes when your immune system attacks you, you won’t feel anything. Your body, however, will still be damaged and that damage will cost you in terms of your health.

And, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again: don’t trust any supplement that promises to relieve a “gluten attack” or to alleviate symptoms of a gluten reaction. There is no scientific evidence that these supplements work. Remember, a reaction to gluten isn’t just an upset stomach, it’s an immune response. If those supplements make your stomach feel better, then go ahead and take them if you’ve mistakenly eaten gluten, just realize that they cannot reverse or even stop the damage that your immune system is unleashing on your body.

Gluten Free Trick or Treating

By Rachel Sircy

Just like buffets at restaurants, the holidays can be a bit of a nightmare for celiacs. Picking your way through food from unknown sources can be a bit like taking a stroll through a minefield: guess wrong and you could really be in some pain. So, what do we do about trick or treating with kids who need to be gluten free? Or, if you’re having an office party and candy is present, how do you decide what’s safe to eat and what’s not?

Well, I must confess that I’ve made some real blunders through this minefield myself. The thing is, some candy just seems so innocent. Like the Hershey’s Special Dark Bar. It’s a bit mind boggling that this block of solid chocolate would contain gluten, but it does. It’s not like the Hershey company keeps this a secret, it’s just that I never bothered to look. For a long time, I kept getting sick and I couldn’t figure out why. My advice to anyone who has an issue with gluten, don’t think you can just look at something and take a good guess and be okay. Always do your research. This year, I’m going to point you toward some places that can help you do that.

The Hershey company keeps a fairly comprehensive list of gluten free products in the US at this website:< https://www.thehersheycompany.com/en_us/products/dietary-needs.html>

They update this list regularly, so check it periodically to make sure that they haven’t changed how or where they make certain products. Also, beware that many variations of certain gluten free candies – as in most seasonal specialty candies (i.e., Reese’s Pumpkins) and even the fun-size versions – are NOT gluten free. Hershey’s list of gluten free products will let you know which variation is okay to eat. For example they state that all Almond Joy products are gluten free EXCEPT Almond Joy Pieces candy.

Another very comprehensive list is maintained by the Celiac Foundation and can be found at https://celiac.org/live-gluten-free/lifestyle/gluten-free-candy-lists/gluten-free-lifestyle/general-candy-list/   The Celiac Foundation also maintains a yearly Halloween Candy list that is printable…

Again, I would encourage anyone who has a gluten intolerance or allergy to check these lists regularly because companies can change the ingredients in a product and/or where a product is produced at any time.

And, for your convenience, I have copied from the Celiac Foundation list some of what I suspect will be common items in your child’s trick or treat bag which ARE gluten free:

  • Hershey’s Milk Duds
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (all except Unwrapped Minis and Seasonal Shaped Items)
  • Reese’s Pieces (all except Eggs)
  • Sour Patch Kids (includes Sour Patch Xtreme, Sour Patch Xploders, Sour Patch Watermelon and Swedish Fish)
  • Smarties (according to their website almost all Smarties products except Gummies are gluten free and made in a gluten free facility)
  • Mike and Ike, Original Fruits, Mummy and Vampire Mix, Berry Blast, Lemonade Blends, Zours
  • Hot Tamales
  • Peeps Vampires
  • Butterfingers (original flavor ONLY. The seasonal shaped pumpkins and any other variety are NOT gluten free.)
  • Laffy Taffy (including Laffy Taffy Rope and Fruitarts Chews)
  • Pixy Stix
  • SweetTarts

AND, I saw this at the store and it just made my day…

According to Tootsie Roll Industries ALL of their confections are gluten free!

Happy trick or treating!

 

 

 

Two Gluten Free Desserts to Please Everyone

By Rachel Sircy

Last month I wrote about how I like to do gluten free meatloaf freezer meals. This time I thought that it would be good to write about a scenario that many gluten free people are familiar with: what to make for dessert when you have people coming to dinner.

So, imagine that you have invited guests for dinner and you really don’t have the time or inclination to cook a big complicated dinner. Of course, you still want to lay out a good spread, but what do you do? Remember, you have your gluten free mini-meatloaves that are in your freezer, just waiting to be defrosted and cooked. These are the mini-meatloaves that I made in that post last month and all I did to them this time was put the freezer bag that they’re in in the sink to defrost for a few hours. These meatloaves hadn’t been in the freezer a terribly long time and since they’re so small, they defrosted quickly. To cook them, just place them in a muffin pan (the muffin tins work like tiny loaf pans to insulate the meatloaf). Or, you can do like I do and arrange them like little meat cookies on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Really, I’ve tried both ways and arranging them on a sheet pan seems to leave them just as moist as the muffin pan, and it’s less mess to clean up later. I top them with a mixture of ketchup, honey and Worcestershire sauce (if you have the Simply…Gluten Free Quickmeals cookbook by Carol Kicinski. They take about 30 minutes to bake.

For sides, you can opt for a salad or green peas. The thing about frozen green peas is that they’re nutritious, delicious, and basically, I put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover and I boil them for only a minute or two until they are heated through. I then strain them and add a pinch of salt or maybe some butter or sometimes nothing at all.

The real bugbear of having a dinner party if you’re gluten free is finding a dessert that suits everyone. If you have to be gluten free, you know what an absolute bummer it is to watch everyone else at a party eating a really fabulous dessert and then being apologetically offered a consolation prize like a packet of Sixlets or something. I know that some people actually like Sixlets, but really? When other people are eating cake? Come on!

Don’t do this to yourself at your own get-together. If you’re going to spend time and energy on one thing at your own party, make it dessert. And, for those of us who really don’t like to spend a whole lot of time and energy and who just don’t have a whole lot of money to spend, here are two crowd-pleasers that are super cheap to make and not that difficult. All of the ingredients you would need to make these desserts are things that you probably already have in your pantry: peanut butter, cocoa powder, eggs, milk, cornstarch, etc. There are no fancy or expensive ingredients that you need to buy, which makes them perfect for those of us who are gluten free and on a tight budget.

  1. Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies:

Okay, so after writing that post about allergy bullying, I do want to point out that those of us with a gluten intolerance should be especially mindful of anyone with a food allergy or intolerance. I mean, we know how it feels, so we should go out of our way to make sure our guests are safe and comfortable. Don’t serve this if you’re not sure if anyone you’ve invited over has an allergy. Alternately, you could try to make this recipe with soy butter or sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter. I have not tried either of those options, but I assume they would work as long as they’re the same consistency as the peanut butter.

All that being said, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like these cookies.

This recipe is one I’ve shared before. I think that years ago I got it off of the Gluten Free Girl website, but my mom said that this was the first cookie she ever made in Home Ec class in seventh grade. So, you probably have this recipe somewhere in your recipe catalog at home or you’ve made it before:

Pic 3

1 Cup Peanut Butter (or allergy free alternative)

1 Cup Granulated Sugar

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 Egg

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the peanut butter and the sugar with an electric hand mixer. Beat in the baking powder, thoroughly. Beat in the egg. Roll the dough into balls using a teaspoon to measure (these cookies are better when they’re small). Roll in more granulated sugar (optional) and place on a cookie sheet about two inches apart. Press down on each cookie with the tines of a fork to make a crisscross pattern.

Bake for 10 minutes and remove cookie sheets from oven. Let cookies rest on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then move to a plate or cooling rack. Try not to eat every single one.

  1. Homemade (Chocolate) Pudding:

Homemade pudding is an easily adaptable recipe that you can really wow people with. I think that – at least among the people I know who are my age – homemade pudding means that you opened the box of pudding mix yourself and added the cold milk. But pudding made from scratch is one of the best things you’ll ever eat. Two summers ago, my mom took some old bananas that she thought she should use or trash and made some banana pudding that was so good we ate it all straight out of the saucepan before it even had a chance to cool.

Pudding is also a pretty allergy friendly dessert and it lends itself to the idea of a bar.  You can easily set up a pudding bar by laying out crushed gluten free cookies, whipped cream, chocolate chips, etc. And the homemade stuff tends to be so rich that a little goes a long way.

My favorite recipe for Chocolate Pudding is Tyler Florence’s. This is me making it here:

You can find the chocolate pudding recipe on the Food Network Website here: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/chocolate-pudding-recipe-1947756

 

Gluten Free Storm Prep

By Rachel Sircy

Pic 1Well, we’re in the midst of hurricane season once again and I thought that I would use this post to recap some of the things that people who are gluten free can do to prepare themselves. Of course, most regular hurricane safety precautions apply to everyone – you of course need water, flashlights, first aid kits, etc.

 

However, people with celiac disease or gluten allergies or sensitivities have an added challenge: how to find shelf stable gluten free food that is actually edible and nutritious. Thankfully, we have a lot of options:

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The first thing that always strikes me when I’m preparing for a trip or an emergency is just how hard it is to find gluten free bread that you don’t need a toaster to make tasty. Well, I’m still looking for that bread, to be honest, but in a pinch, rice cakes can substitute. Plain rice cakes are cheap and shelf-stable. Yeah, they’re a little bit like eating cardboard, but think of it this way, you’re trying to survive, none of the fare for hurricane survival is going to be exactly sumptuous. Since rice cakes aren’t exactly filling, I would recommend topping them with something like peanut butter (if you don’t have a nut allergy and soy butter or sunflower seed butter if you do have an allergy.) Just make sure that any protein butter that you choose is shelf stable. Don’t buy natural peanut butter because most kinds of natural nut butters need to be refrigerated after opening. You want all those yummy preservatives…☹. Seriously though, regular PB that doesn’t need refrigeration is a great source of protein and it works really well on rice cakes.

Also, you can top those rice cakes with apples. Fresh apples can last quite a while without refrigeration. They’re full of fiber, too, so they’re pretty filling. Cereal is a good way to get a meal and use up that milk that’s going to go bad fast. There are so many good gluten free options. I go for plain Corn Chex (or an off-brand) because I don’t always want a super sweet cereal. Of course, protein or whole food bars like Lara Bars, Epic bars and the like are a great addition to your shelf-stable hoard of food. As are pickles. From what I’ve heard, pickles can survive without refrigeration for a while because of the brine that they’re in. Beef jerky can be a difficult one for the gluten sensitive, but more brands are coming out with gluten free jerky. I believe that Oberto makes a natural and gluten free beef jerky. Krave and Epic jerkys are gluten free as well, as are a few of types of jerky that Aldi sells. Dried and canned fruits and vegetables can make a great addition to your stash as well. You can mix the dried fruits and nuts together to make your own trail mix.

Nuts, if you’re not allergic, can be a great, healthy source of calories and good fats. And, if you can get nuts in the shell, you can store them long-term. I recently purchased peanuts in the shell. They apparently are good for several months after their sell-by date even without refrigeration. One place I read online said that you can store nuts in the shell for 2 years without refrigeration. Now, take that with a grain of salt (pun intended). Always test food that you’ve stored for a long time to make sure there’s no spoilage. Look, smell and taste a small amount to make sure it’s good. For canned goods any dents or bulges are a bad sign, I wouldn’t risk it. For home canned goods, any off color or smell is your best indicator of spoilage. Don’t take chances with botulism. It won’t be fun if you guess wrong.

A recent life-saver that I’ve run across in Aldi is this little guy:

Pic 3

It’s a ready to eat quinoa salad. I’m sure that you can find similar ready to eat meals at other stores, but I prefer this one because it’s $1.99, 230 calories and 5 grams of protein. You don’t need to heat it or add water. Just open the container of pre-cooked quinoa and open and add the container of flavorings (in this case it’s basil pesto). This is a perfect grab and go for lunch or a car trip also.

Last but not least, a deep freezer and a gas or charcoal grill can be your best friends when you don’t have power, as long as you can afford them and have the space to keep them. Frozen meats and vegetables will stay frozen for at least a few days in a deep freezer and can be cooked on the grill as they thaw. Just don’t open your freezer more than absolutely necessary. Of course, I don’t have either of these things because we live in an apartment with no real outdoor space that I would use, so I can’t really elaborate on what using the grill is like, but I’m sure many of you out there already utilize this plan in power outages.

So, stay safe and well fed everyone!

Tips and Advice for Gluten Free Beginners

By Rachel Sircy           

There are so many reasons for going gluten free. Of course, I mostly mention celiac disease because that is the reason that I have to be gluten free. However, there is a whole spectrum of gluten sensitivity that individuals can fall on. I also know of people who have a medical need to reduce inflammation in their bodies and for this reason they need to go gluten free.

Because there is a spectrum, there are all kinds of levels of gluten free living. I am at the extreme end of that spectrum and need to be completely gluten free all of the time. I cannot have food that has touched food with gluten in it, but there are many others who don’t need to be as careful. My advice will, of course, tend to be toward the extreme end of gluten free living, but I think it will still be helpful no matter where you are on the spectrum, or even if you are just trying to cut back on gluten. You can always include some gluten free ideas in your regular repertoire.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I was referred to a registered dietician to work out a plan to start a gluten free diet. What she told me is that when trying something new, it’s best not to totally re-invent the wheel. This was excellent advice because just walking into the natural foods store with the intention of overhauling your whole eating routine at once can be completely overwhelming. So, the best thing you can do is to focus for a while on some naturally gluten free recipes. The great thing is that with a few modifications, either by leaving something out or my adding some ingredients that you may already have on hand, you can make almost any recipe gluten free.

Here are two examples, one is naturally gluten free and one is something that you can modify to make gluten free:

Mediterranean Tuna Salad (Naturally gluten free)

Ingredients:

2   6.5oz cans of water-packed tuna, drained

1   15oz can of white beans, rinsed and drained (cannellini beans work best)

¼ cup finely chopped green onion

1 ½ cups diced cucumber

4 cups chopped baby spinach leaves

3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 TBS Dijon Mustard (check the label, but most mustard should be gluten free. Grainy or smooth Dijon work equally well)

3 TBS Freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 TBS Capers (Optional)

Avocado chunks (Optional)

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir in olive oil, mustard and lemon juice. Season with pepper and add capers and avocado chunks, if desired.

 

Potato Soup (Modified to be gluten free)

Ingredients

5 cups unpeeled red potato chunks, large dice

1 cup green onions, thinly sliced

½ tsp black pepper

1 TBS salt

1 generous TBS of butter

½ cup milk

Combine potatoes chunks, onions, salt and pepper and just barely cover with water. Boil until potatoes are tender. Add the butter and cook 5 more minutes. Add milk and cook 2-3 minutes more

**This recipe for potato soup is one that I modified from a traditional potato soup recipe that used flour to thicken the broth. At first, I tried things like rice flour and cornstarch to thicken the broth, but I disliked both of those. Finally, I decided to completely leave out the thickener. The result is that you have a potato soup with large chunks of potato and a thin, flavorful broth. My husband – who doesn’t even have to be gluten free – ended up liking the thin broth version so much that I’ve never tried to use another thickener. If you have a recipe that you would like to try, but it has one or two troubling ingredients, you can always experiment with leaving that ingredient out. You may find that you actually like the recipe better without it. And, I’ve modified many recipes that call for farrow, barley or couscous with either rice or quinoa and they’ve turned out just fine.

 

So, when in doubt, try a recipe that uses naturally gluten free ingredients, like the tuna salad, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try to substitute simple ingredients or leave them out!

Be a PAL

By Rachel Sircy

With a new school year fast approaching, I thought it would be a great time to address a serious subject that both you and your kids should be up on: Food Allergy Bullying.

Let me begin with a personal story that was really the catalyst for me wanting to get involved in this anti-bullying campaign. Of course, it’s no secret that I have celiac disease, which is not a gluten allergy, but an intolerance of gluten. What this means for me is that, thankfully, gluten doesn’t cause an anaphylactic reaction. I don’t get rashes when I eat gluten and there’s no danger of my throat swelling shut. So, this personal story, which is really two stories, is about someone else that I know. The first story is one I’m going to tell on myself. I have a daughter who is a very, VERY picky eater. For the longest time one of the only foods I could get her to eat was peanut butter sandwiches. One Wednesday night my husband and I were running late to church and our daughter (we refer to her as HRH or “Her Royal Highness”) hadn’t eaten anything for dinner. She was only about 18 months old at the time and so, I felt like I couldn’t make her go for an entire church service without dinner. So, I made a peanut butter sandwich and put it in a plastic sandwich bag in her diaper bag. HRH ended up eating the sandwich in the church nursery right before church started and I thoughtlessly threw away some of the crusts (which had peanut butter smeared on them) in the trash can. A friend of mine from church who has a severe allergy to all nuts ended up having to leave church that night because she started having an allergic reaction to something in church. Now, I didn’t put two and two together at first. In fact, I didn’t even see her family get up and leave in the middle of the service. I never would have had any idea that I was the one who probably caused her reaction if the pastor had not announced that this woman and her family had had to leave due to an allergic reaction. He asked that we all be more mindful of what we ate before we came to church and he mentioned (though he didn’t ask anyone to confess) that part of a peanut butter sandwich had been found in the nursery trash can.

You can imagine how awful I felt in that moment.

Despite having an allergy to all nuts that is so severe that merely being in the presence of nuts or of nut butter could set off an allergic reaction, my friend told me that she has been unable to afford to get an EpiPen for a long time. This may not sound like a real problem in a country where most people can afford their medications and where there almost always seems to be a way to get your hands on what you need. However, there has been an incredible price spike in these life-saving syringes in recent years and even more recently, there has been a shortage of EpiPens, so that even those who can afford them cannot buy as many as they may need (most people carry two EpiPens on them at a time because one dose of epinephrine may not be enough to open a person’s airways during anaphylactic shock). What this means for a serious allergy sufferer is that they must take their allergies more seriously than they ever have before. But, what can an allergy sufferer do when the people around them refuse to take their allergy seriously? The second part of this story is one that this particular friend told me herself about 2 separate encounters that she had while flying out of state.

Her first encounter was on her way out of state. As she was boarding the airplane, she let one of the flight attendants know that she had a severe nut allergy and that simply being in the presence of any kind of nut could set off a reaction. The flight attendant stated that almonds were to be served as the in-flight snack and that there was nothing that they could do to change that. So, my friend loaded up on Benadryl and prayed. Thankfully, nothing happened.

On her flight home, she again informed a flight attendant – this one much more helpful than the first one – that she had a nut allergy. She was told by this particular flight attendant that snacks other than nuts were available and that they would serve those instead of the almonds. Unfortunately, there are no regulations as to the snacks that passengers can bring onto the airplanes for themselves, and so sometime after take off the passenger directly in front of my friend opened a bag of shelled peanuts – peanuts being the most dangerous allergen for this particular person – and started cracking them open. My friend and her sister moved quickly to get a flight attendant to change their seats and again my friend loaded up on Benadryl and her sister wrapped her face in a scarf, to keep her from breathing in any of the dust that might be floating backward to her through the stale cabin air. Seats were changed, prayers were answered and nothing bad happened. But this was a very serious close call.

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Now, you might be saying to yourself (or to me through your computer screen) that none of these incidents was actually an act of bullying. (Well, actually the incident with the first unhelpful flight attendant was really bordering on bullying.) However, these were all stories of simple acts of thoughtlessness that could have ended a person’s life. Consider that for a moment.

And now, consider that approximately 1 in 13 children in America have food allergies and that approximately one-third of those children report having been harassed solely on the basis of their allergy. You can type “food allergy bullying” into Google and read story after story of children with food allergies not only being made fun of, but actually being threatened and sometimes physically attacked with the foods that have the potential to end their lives. One New York Times article cites 6 different incidents of children who have been purposely threatened and attacked with allergens. One of the mothers of the children featured in this article stated that though children may think that they are just playing pranks on people with food allergies, they are actually threatening the allergy sufferers with deadly weapons. In one incident a 14-year-old girl who was hi-fived by a classmate who had smeared pineapple juice on her hand was hospitalized. According to this article in the Washington Post which covered the story, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2018/01/26/3-teens-charged-with-knowingly-exposing-allergic-classmate-to-pineapple-she-was-hospitalized/ the girl’s allergy to pineapple was well-known to her classmates and the hi-five was intended to cause an allergic reaction. The classmate who intentionally caused the reaction has been charged with felony aggravated assault in juvenile court.

Even if the pranks don’t end in hospitalization or a severe reaction, the psychological toll that this kind of bullying has on children can be overwhelming. Another one of the heart-breaking stories from the above-mentioned Times article cites an incident where a child was taunted at lunch by his friends with a peanut butter sandwich. These so-called friends waved the sandwich and said “Let’s see if he dies.” Other children have had peanut butter or dairy products smeared on them. Many children who have food allergies dread school and some of them fake illness to avoid going to school at all. As a parent of a young child, I cried reading some of these stories. I felt immensely grateful that my daughter hasn’t shown any signs of food allergies. It also made me wonder what my family can do right now to make our community – the greater Columbia area – a more compassionate and safer place for those with severe food allergies. I didn’t have to search very long before I found the answer.

First of all, we can become more thoughtful people. Being thoughtful means we need to consider the snacks that we choose to eat and feed our children in public. There are so many alternatives to allergy-trigger foods out there. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, the Enjoy Life brand of foods became a lifesaver to me – and it might be a lifesaver to someone with a food allergy. Enjoy Life produces cookies, crackers, chocolate bars, snack bars, etc. that are free of the all of the most common food allergies – eggs, dairy, wheat, soy, nuts, etc. Need to know what to bring to your child’s class party? How about some Enjoy Life cookies? They are delicious and safe. I’ve fed them to my picky eater ever since that peanut butter sandwich mistake in the church nursery. She absolutely loves them. I also started giving HRH some Enjoy Life Sunbutter Snack bars. They are perfect for when you’re in a hurry and you want to give your child something at least semi-healthy to eat that is also safe for everyone around her. They taste like peanut butter but are made from sunflower seed butter which is allergy friendly. Actually, I love those snack bars. Once I ate all of my kid’s snack bars and felt terrible about it, so I had to go out and buy more.

And, we can teach our kids to Be a PAL. The Be a PAL campaign (the PAL stands for Protect a Life) is part of a wider anti-bullying campaign. It aims to educate both children and parents about the dangers of food allergies and it encourages children to help protect and stand up for children that they know might be bullied because of their allergies. You can read more about the Be a PAL campaign and also find free printables and other resources here: https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/be-a-pal

While the Be a PAL campaign is targeted at younger children, the No Appetite for Bullying campaign is for children 13 or older, parents and also teachers and administrators. You can learn more about this campaign here: http://www.noappetiteforbullying.com/

No Appetite for Bullying encourages you to download their badge and share it on your social media to show your support for those with food allergies. You can find it on their website or right here:

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Columbia, SC is a city known for hospitality, and I think that makes this a great place to champion this cause. So, this school year, let’s educate ourselves, our teachers, school administrators and those in our community about the seriousness of food allergies and let’s work together to make Columbia a safe and friendly place for all people. What do you say?