“Then the Whos, young and old, would sit down to a feast. And they’d feast! And they’d feast! And they’d FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! They would feast on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast beast.” — Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”
Admit it. You just read that in Boris Karloff’s voice, didn’t you? But what if you’re the one Who, for whom a feast could be a culinary minefield? What if you’re the Who who’s allergic to the Who-pudding and rare Who-roast beast?
If you’re like me and the other 26 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, holiday buffets can be a dangerous foray into the unknown. Food allergies might be lampooned on your favorite sitcom, but there’s nothing funny about them. It’s true that most result in mild skin irritation or digestive discomfort, but many are life-threatening.
Within seconds, an exposed victim can experience severe swelling of the throat and larynx, constricting their airway, and even suffer anaphylactic shock. In these situations, quick medical attention is vital.
Whether you’re a member of the allergy club or not, it’s probably a good idea to learn about food allergy causes, symptoms, and first aid. Some of the most common foods people are allergic to include cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, strawberries, wheat, soybeans, and sesame. These are certainly not the only ones, and you might not even know you’re allergic to anything until it hits you.
Just because you weren’t allergic to something as a kid doesn’t mean you won’t be as a grownup. For about half of food allergy sufferers, the affliction didn’t develop until adulthood. I only recently discovered my own allergy to kiwi fruit and cantaloupe. For years, I thought cantaloupe was supposed to burn the inside of your mouth. You know, like a spice or something? Idiot.
Processed food contains a plethora of dangerous ingredients and most allergens are printed on pre-packaged food labels. Unfortunately, depending on the amount, some ingredients might not be listed. For example, it’s still common for some labels to omit sesame among potential allergens. A Google search might show detailed ingredient lists or allergy warnings for specific products. Otherwise, steer clear altogether.
If you or someone in your family suffers from food allergies, I can offer a few tips to help navigate the holidays, and the first one is a no-brainer. Since many holiday gatherings are potlucks, you can bring your own safe food and avoid everything else. Or you could host the event yourself for peace of mind. If you do host, label the dishes, and maybe, if you want to be an allergy-safe superhero, provide a full list of ingredients.
For children, carry safe food, or see to their plate for them. Kids also seem especially sensitive to nuts, and holiday goodies are full of them, so keep an eye out. To avoid cross-
contamination, use disposable utensils to serve yourself or carry your own flatware. Trust me, it’s worth the trouble.
Incidentally, some people are quite sensitive about publicly outing their allergies. For instance, I am allergic to eggs. But I’d rather not discuss it because I feel like a freak. If it comes up, I get bombarded with questions like, “Can you have cookies? Bread? Pancakes? What do you eat for breakfast?” And on and on. People just can’t leave it alone.
I understand they’re curious and trying to be helpful. But the nature of the allergy can be difficult to explain (although I really shouldn’t have to) and it doesn’t affect anyone but me. I never ask hosts to alter their menu or anything they’ve planned. I simply avoid those foods that might be dangerous or questionable.
For the food-allergic out there or their caregivers, you might want to ask your primary care physician if you should carry a preloaded epinephrine injector (otherwise known as an “EpiPen”). If your allergic reaction were to cause respiratory distress, it might be a good idea to be prepared. A food sensitivity test might also help.
Food allergies don’t have to wreck the halls. All you need is a little preplanning, so no one turns as green as the Grinch after a helping of your famous Who hash.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.