Fifteen million people have food allergies in the United States alone. Reactions can range from minor symptoms to life-threating anaphylaxis, which calls for the use of an EpiPen. For those who suffer from severe allergies, finding a safe meal can sometimes be a nerve racking experience. Equally difficult is the bullying and insensitive remarks that the food allergy community endures on a daily basis. I reached out to college-aged students around the country to ask what kind of commentary they hear most frequently about their food allergies.
Christina Westgate, from Massachusetts, revealed that she has been asked, “So, you could commit suicide by eating?” I assure you, no one is intentionally eating their allergen. Food allergies can be life threatening; in fact, every three minutes someone is sent to the emergency room due to an allergic reaction.
Madeline Sanborn, from Maine, remembers being told on multiple occasions, “So wait, you’ve never had a Reese’s?! I feel so bad for you!” When in “all actuality [she’s] really not that broken up about it!” Telling someone that they are missing out on a food that they cannot eat would be considered rude if they were on a diet, so what makes anyone think that this is okay to say it to someone who could be hospitalized for eating their allergen?
Lauren Shermanm from Wisconsin has had people ask her, “What restaurant CAN you go to?” and, “Wow, there is no way that I could go without eating nuts/ (what ever allergy) I like them too much.” And similarly, Savannah Sinowitz, from Oklahoma, gets the question, “So is there anything you actually can eat? Like other than water?” Any food allergy sufferer has the perfected the practice of calling companies/manufactures, searching for food allergen information on websites, and advocating to chefs. Rest assured, they have learned to make it work.
Elizabeth from New York revealed that someone told her, “I could totally eat a banana and kiss you, and you would like, die!” It is unclear if this was intended as a joke or if it was simply a revelation. Allergens actually can be passed through saliva.
Deirdre Sheridan, from Ohio, recounted that her “least favorite [comment is], ‘If *I* had an allergy, I would probably just keep eating whatever I wanted and Epi Pen myself.'” That is definitely not how it works. Deirdre also shared that she has recently been told that “vaccines and/or ‘not being exposed to enough germs’ somehow caused [her] allergy.” Thus far, there is no known cause or cure for food allergies, and sufferers are forced to practice strict avoidance. No one is ever at fault for having or developing food allergies.
Researchers are currently working to understand more about food allergies, and you can check out an overview of their efforts here.
Caitlin Hopkins, from New York, has a dairy allergy, but is frequently asked, “So aren’t you just lactose intolerant? ” Food allergies and intolerances share similar symptoms, but intolerances cannot cause anaphylaxis. Allergies result from the immune system mistaking food proteins as being harmful, while intolerences stem from the small intestine.
And, perhaps most shockingly, Cara Truksa (from Minnesota) had a waiter come up to her say, “How would you like to die today?!” and proceeded to laugh.
To learn more about food allergies, visit Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE).