Allergies and Bullying

My friend M (I’ve got so many of those, get new initials, people) alerted me to an interesting link this morning: ABC News published an article detailing a study about the correlation between bullying and food allergies. Apparently, bullying is pretty common among kids with food allergies — 32% of kids with food allergies have been bullied because of their food allergies, according to the study.

The most common forms of bullying, according to the article, were straight-up teasing and waving the food in front of the child. Also included were instances where the kids were forced to touch the dangerous food, and where the food was thrown at them.

M asked me if I was surprised by the article.

I was surprised that there was an article, but by the bullying? Not particularly.

I don’t think of myself as having been bullied. I’m not sure if there were real bullies in the nice little bubble I grew up in. When I think of bullies I think of Hey Arnold’s Harold or Rugrats’ Angelica or Boy Meets World’s Harley. That didn’t happen to me. I sort of think bullying as a labelled thing is a very new term from this decade. But, that said, can I say I haven’t experienced the forms of bullying as labeled in the study?

No. I can’t say that. I was definitely teased about my food allergies. Not all the time, but definitely enough to make a mark. Check out this essay I wrote as a fourth grader after a classmate made fun of me. As for waving the foods? See the previous link. It talks specifically about that, and yes I remember it vividly. A classmate, let’s call her Moesha, waved a Twix bar in front of me and said “You don’t get to share snack with us because I have a Twix bar and you’re allergic so the whole class is going to trade snacks but you don’t get to because you don’t have the right foods.” But to be fair, I can’t say I didn’t do the same thing to another food-allergic kid in my class — let’s call him Jackson. I remember finishing a bag of Herr’s potato chips and showing it to him and saying, “I finished this bag of chips, but you can’t eat them, because you’re allergic to them. And isn’t it funny that I’m not? I ate food you can’t eat.” It was bitchy and mean and Jackson, wherever you are, I am sorry. I’m sure I did it just because I wanted to do what everyone else was doing, but that’s not an excuse, and I’m sorry I learned a bad behavior, and mostly, for hurting your feelings.

As for touching the dangerous foods, thankfully no one ever forced me to do that. But throwing them? Um, yes. This was probably a turning point for me in some aspect of my life:

When I was 15, I was on a west coast trip with a youth group. My allergies had gotten worse that year for reasons I’d later learn were attributed to September 11. But I was still figuring out why I couldn’t see well around cole slaw. I remember one night being super frustrated because I kept accidentally touching salad with cabbage so I kept having to leave dinner to scrub my hands. I was sharing a table with a bunch of friends, one of whom was the closest thing you could get to a bully in my world, but really, we were friends. When I returned to the table, this guy, let’s call him Ross, asked, “Are you really that allergic to cabbage that if it touches you you’ll get sick?” I responded yes. He said, “So if I threw it at you, you’d get sick?” I responded yes. The next thing I knew, a leaf of cabbage was headed my way. I freaked out. Went to the bathroom to check for hives and scrub up. By the time I got there and lifted my shirt, a series of hives in the exact shape of the lead had formed. I ran back to the table, and said, “Ross, you tried to kill me. You basically did the equivalent of pointing a gun to my head and shooting to see if I would die. You deserve to burn in a fiery pit filled with snakes.”

Then I grabbed another friend, told her to tell the counselors I needed Benadryl (because in those days, a mere ten years ago, kids didn’t carry Benadryl or epi on them regularly…and no, the counselor didn’t have any in her first aid kit, either, she had to send someone to the store), and marched off to my hotel room to shower and calm down.

Luckily, the reaction didn’t get farther than the hives. I mean, it was one leaf through a shirt, so there was no direct contact. But that moment changed me. Because a) I learned how allergic to cabbage (I’m sorry, the bacteria that grows on cabbage) I am, and b) I learned how people don’t understand that allergies are life-threatening. And they don’t care.

Now, the counselors debated sending Ross home for the summer, and he was so sad, and I know he was just being a 15 year old boy, so I told them that if he apologized, I’d move on. They made him publicly apologize. And he did, and he thanked me for letting him stay. I don’t know how I feel about any of that. Do kids deserve to be sent home when they endanger another kid’s life? Yes. But do I really think my analogy of cabbage to guns holds? In the wake of Newtown, I don’t know that I can say that. I think in a general way, yes, it holds — both are deathly tools — but I don’t think people are educated enough about allergies to know that they really are deadly, even non-peanut ones, even in people who aren’t under the age of 8 and at school. So if you don’t know that you are yielding a weapon, you can’t be held accountable.

I think this all really boils down to education and awareness. Because we can’t expect kids to know that food allergies are real, uncontrollable, deadly, and hard until adults start believing in them. Like they’re Santa or something.

Because I have to say, the bullying or harassment I face as an adult is far worse than any I encountered as a child. Children are stronger than we like to think. They might cry when someone waves a Twix bar at them, but ultimately, they can shake it off. Adults hit harder and deeper, and there are some things that are bigger than a Twix bar being waved in your face or a piece of cabbage being thrown at you.

Things like being told you’re crazy. Like that there must be something mentally wrong with you that you cause yourself to be sick when you eat foods, because it’s all in your head. That’s happened more times and from more people than you can probably fathom. And then there’s the idea that you have to divulge your medical history with everyone who you eat near. I had to tell a former boss the details of my entire testing and diet before she believed my doctor’s note that I was sick. She said, “Sounds worse than Passover! Can’t believe you’re allergic to rice! That makes no sense! Haha!” as if that were appropriate. I recently met someone who said, “Oh, you’re Cindy, you can’t eat gluten!” and I wanted to say, “Actually, I’m Cindy, and I can eat gluten, but what other misinformation have you heard about me?” (Yes, I’m blogging about my allergies, but mostly so that someone else won’t have to. It doesn’t mean I like to be defined by this one thing). Other forms of adult bullying? People questioning your parents’ habits, did they raise you with antibacterial (no, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my mom with a bottle of Purell). Bosses and coworkers not understanding that it’s not your choice to take a sick day when you have a reaction, and still holding it against you when it comes time for raises/promotions/reviews.

All of that is a form of bullying and harassment. So can we be surprised when our kids — who are raised in a world when adults behave in the ways described above — tease kids with food allergies? Kids will tease no matter what, I think the way they learn about difference is to point it out and laugh — but when there aren’t enough adults showing them the right way, when there aren’t enough adults saying, “Hey, let me actually explain this difference to you, and why it might be hurtful, and why little Sally is sick,” can we really fault them?

And adults — we know better, right? We don’t laugh at people in wheelchairs, we don’t harass people with diabetes, we don’t bully people because they get recurring UTIs. So why do we do it with people with food allergies?

For me, the bottom line is: no, M. I was not surprised. And I want to be able to say to those kids, “It gets better,” but I can’t yet. Because from where I’m standing, it doesn’t get better. I just get stronger. But I’d like to be proven wrong. And I think I can be, if those of us who do know better raise awareness among our peers and let that trickle down to our children.

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Homemade Ketchup, Onion, Horseradish, and Fish Free BBQ Sauce

You’d think it would be easy to find a BBQ sauce recipe that doesn’t include ketchup, onion, horseradish, or fish (damn you worcestershire sauce!). You’d be wrong.

So, since all I wanted for dinner was some BBQ wings, I had to go invent a sauce myself. And it’s DELICIOUS. Bookmark this one for Superbowl Sunday, folks.

As always, I don’t measure my ingredients with things like measuring tools and whatnot. I use my eyes. And it works. The below measurements are what I think the things I dumped in would measure out to, but please, please, pleasure trust your gut and eyes.

14ish oz can Tomato sauce/paste

1/2 cup beer (Heineken!)

a little oil to prevent from sticking (I used canola, anything should work)

2 tsp honey

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp garlic

sprinkle of parsley

sprinkle of paprika

sprinkle of cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

Heat and mix in the saucepan until it just about boils. Pour on to wings, ribs, etc.

Eat.

Introducing Christy-Made, a New (Allergy-Friendly, Vegan, Gluten-Free) Baked Good Catering Service

It’s really hard to find quality baked goods that meet all of your allergy needs and still taste like baked goods. For instance, I can have gluten but I can’t have nuts, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bakery that’s nut free but not gluten free or vegan or both. Like, maybe I want an egg and butter filled brownie made of wheat that just doesn’t have traces of nuts. And is baked by someone competent who I can literally trust with my life.

Enter Christy-Made. Christy is an incredible baker (though, moment of truth, her baked goods aren’t kosher so I’m going based on smell and heresay from dozens and dozens of people who I’ve witnessed eat her baked goods) who just started a new catering business where she handmakes baked goods for any occasion and delivers them straight to your home or office or wherever! While her baked goods aren’t necessary specialty (meaning gluten-free, vegan, allergy-friendly, etc.) they can be. She’s really knowledgeable about food allergies and intolerances, and she’s very eco-conscious, too — all the ingredients are local and organic.

Christy was instrumental in helping me understand my bevy of new allergies back in March. Even though she is not an allergy sufferer herself, she knows how to adjust and tweak her recipes to cater to people with special dietary restrictions. She walked me through baking once gluten, eggs, dairy, and xanthan gum were all out of the question. So if you’ve liked my pumpkin oat muffins or anything in that variety, know that I built those recipes using tips and tricks and inspiration from Christy. She helped me figure out foods I could use to replace old staples in my diet, and taught me how to tweak old recipes. So while I haven’t had the joy of actually eating her food, because technically her kitchen/equipment isn’t up to my standards of kosher, I know it’s good, and I know it’s made with care.

So check out Christy-Made. And next time you’re in LA and need a nice dessert, call on Christy. Whether or not you need her to go the extra mile and adjust the recipe to your restricted diet

Food Challenge 15: Cindy vs. Avocado

Spoiler alert/disclaimer

I am writing this post while on 100mg of Benadryl (normal dose is 50) and a shot of epi. So forgive me if it’s not entirely coherent.

I tried an avocado today. I thought it would go well because it didn’t show up as an allergy on my blood test, but I’d had reactions in the past (I haven’t eaten an avocado in about 7 years, maybe more) so we decided to challenge it anyway. But I figured I’d be eating guacamole all week! (Well, three times, anyway).

Avocados don’t taste as good as I remember, first of all. I was grimacing the entire time I was eating it, and finally started to feel sick about 3/4 of the way through. The doctor stopped me and told me to take Benadryl, as he could see I was not responding well.

“But the blood tests were negative!” I told him.

He told me it’s a different kind of reaction – an oral allergy, not a food allergy – wherein I’m not allergic to avocado the food, but the pollen of the birch tree that’s found in avocado. It’s just as real, just as painful, but not technically a “food” allergy and also cannot result in anaphylaxis. But it can result in crazy swelling, which it did. Throat, tongue, eyes, ears, lips. I didn’t puff up bc I took the Benadryl fast enough but my eyes were so crazy it was impossible to keep them open. They gave me a  half dose of epi with the 5o mg of Benadryl to see how that was.

My first epi ever, by the way. 26 years of dozens of food allergies and I just lost my epinephrine virginity today. Not bad. It’s not as scary as I thought, though the nurse administered a shot to my shoulder, not a pen through my jeans. The epi made me shake so the nurse had to hold my legs down, but it was ok. Shaking meant it was working.

Well, sort of. I was getting worse and more swollen and my mouth was burning and I felt like I had bronchitis, my throat was so inflamed. They gave me more Benadryl – a shot in my hip, this time – and when that didn’t do the full trick, the rest of the dose of epi. I fell asleep for a little while (2o minutes) and woke up feeling less swollen and, while still shitty, out of the woods. I was at the doctor for a total of 3 hours. I wasn’t allowed to drive, but luckily I got a ride (thanks, M!) and I’ve been ordered to stay in bed all day and check in first thing tomorrow morning with the doctor.

So how does it feel to have an allergic reaction? It feels cloudy and overwhelming and exhausting and like there is a beast inside of you that is eating you from the inside and it can’t come out. But the epi shoots the beast in the head and all is well except you’re dizzy, disoriented, and still exhausted. I can barely walk without holding on to something, and I’m out of it in a way I haven’t been in a while, but hey. I survived the food, learned more about allergies, and learned that epipens are, as advertised, a good thing. Oh, and having an allergist take care of you instead of an ER doctor is a dream come true. Well, sort of. I mean, it’s better to not need any care, but that’s not a reality I’m aware of.

So the unofficial fruit of California and I are not going to be friends unless I get environmental allergy shots for the birch tree and try this again. But at least avocados are green and easily found, right?

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 10

Allergens: 5

Up Next: TBD, since the doctor’s office is closed for the holidays!

Food Challenge Round 14: Cindy vs. Wine (Sulfites)

It’s fitting that on the day I drink wine at my doctor’s office at 7:30am, I also spend the rest of the day at the Cougartown set*. While I drank out of a plastic purple Solo cup and not Big Joe or Big Carl, I know Jules Cobb would have traded places with me any day. In fact, if she or any of the Cul de Sac crew had my list of allergies, I’d bet the first — and not fourteenth — challenge would be with wine.

*I was not actually shooting Cougartown, we were just shooting an upcoming webseries basically in their space. But yes, I saw almost the whole crew (minus Andy and Travis) as well as the writers, and damn, those are some fantastically talented people. 

What would my doctor have said if I brought Big Joe to his office?

What would my doctor have said if I brought Big Joe to his office?

Anyway.

I challenged wine this morning because in early April, towards the end of my original 30-day elimination diet, I had some grape juice and had a pretty bad reaction. White wine had less of a reaction but still an evident one. On the eve Passover (the holiday where, like, you know, you drink 4 cups of wine, but whatever) the doctor told me I was no longer allowed to drink wine that had added sulfites, as sulfites commonly cause a chemical reaction that’s similar to an allergic reaction (but NOT an allergic reaction. You can’t be allergic to sulfites. Just intolerant). So I’ve been drinking Elima wine, which is kosher no added sulfites wine that costs an exorbitant amount and while it’s decent, is not worth a weekly purchase for kiddush, the Sabbath blessing over wine. Especially because it doesn’t hold overnight. It’s missing the preservatives so it doesn’t quite preserve.

After calling the Herzog winery to find out if they use isinglass (ie fish bladder) in their wine, like many wineries do, I found that isinglass isn’t kosher for Passover, so they don’t use it, and therefore, I can safely test their wine. I can’t get anywhere near fish, of course. Side story: a few of weeks ago, someone in my office ate fish and I broke out in hives and had throat tightness for 2 days. That was fun. It also knocked fish bladder clear off the list.

So this morning, I brought a bottle of Jeunesse, a cabernet sauvignon to the doctor’s office, poured a Solo cup, and drank wine while everyone in the office — doctor, nurse, patients — all commented on how funny it was to be challenging such a thing. “I could never be allergic to wine, how hard.” “I could never drink wine at 7:30am.” “Why try a red, chardonnay is so much better?” “Are you kidding? Chardonnay is gross. If you can only have one wine, please say it’s a cab.” “You really can’t drive home after one glass? You’re such a lightweight!”

The challenge went well, I started the morning after what was a pretty stressful week with a glass of wine and a nice buzz, and chilled at the doctor’s office until I DUI tested myself by leaning my head back, standing on one foot, and touching the tip of my nose with both pointer fingers and determined I was safe to drive. The mile back to my house, anyway. I needed some more water, Rice Chex, and couch time before I could head to work. But gotta say — there’s nothing that a good solid glass of wine in the morning can’t fix.

Well, maybe some things. But it’s a start.

AND, allow me this Jewish pride moment, if you will: I can officially do both blessings on Shabbat (wine and bread) without too much trouble! It’s been such a pleasure this Chanukah to have latkes and not miss out on the traditional food, and to know I can have that back week after week is reassuring and calming. While I’ll never be able to eat all the Passover foods (bitter herbs are deathly herbs to me), and cheesecake is sort of out of the question since most cream cheeses are made with gums so Shavuot is shot, and I can’t have new fruits on Rosh Hashana (unless I invite my doctor over…) I’m grateful to have the ritual foods of some Jewish holidays. And of Thanksgiving. Because there’s not a single Thanksgiving food I’m allergic to at all, nothing to even challenge.

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy – 10

Allergens – 4

Up Next – (Why do I even bother, I never listen to my plan!) But let’s go with avocado.

Food Challenges Rounds 10-13: Cindy vs. Onion Powder, Lentils, Pickles, and Oreos

It’s been a busy month so I haven’t had much time to both challenge foods and write about them, but here’s the basic gist:

Challenge # 10: Onion powder — wasn’t sure how this would go, considering I just barely passed boiled yellow/spanish onions. Turns out, I barely passed this one by even less of a margin. Got some minor tightness and headache-y, so it was, as my doctor put it, my call. I could eat onion powder if it happened, from time to time, but not regularly by any means, and certainly not without feeling good. So cross contamination is fine, if it’s less than 2% of the ingredients, it’s fine on occassion, and if someone cooking for me erroneously includes onion powder in something, there’s no reason to panic. Just take Claritin and move on. Oh, and ps: I know I said I’d try cottonseed oil but it is IMPOSSIBLE to find. It’s like transfat central so no one sells just a plain bottle, and it’s so hard to find a product that lists cottonseed oil as the only possible oil – most say cottonseed/sunflower/soybean/canola. Guess I’ll have to wait until its on the shelves for Passover cooking. But the good news — I called the bagel store that I surmised used cottonseed oil because they were once vague on the phone, and it turns out they use soybean oil. So I can eat their bagels, challah, and pound cake! So many foods and so few challenges!

Challenge #11: Lentils — this was a surprise allergy from my blood test. I’d been eating lentils A TON after the skin test took away practically every other food, so when it showed up positive on my blood test I was bewildered — I’d eaten them for dinner just the night before! As expected, I was fine. And the test counted for all types of lentils! A few people questioned my decision to challenge lentils — I mean, how important are they, really? To them I say: I challenged them around the time of the Torah portion about Esau selling Jacob his birthright for a bowl of red lentil soup. Red lentils were such a coveted food that they were worth lifetimes of blessings. When I ate my challenge lentils, all I could think was, “Man, this food is hearty and delicious. I would TOTALLY give up my birthright for this.” I mean not really because I can live without plenty of foods and blessings are cool and stuff, but they are a significant food. How many other foods are called out with such great import in the Torah? Most of them are foods I’m allergic to – bitter herbs, olive oil. To be able to eat a food that is a worthy enough food of God, well, that’s important.

Challenge #12: Pickles — I tried pickles mostly because they take very little prep and I’ve been craving salt. Man, that was a lot of salt. I picked Israeli pickles as the type to try after a short conference with some of my oldest friends, and while I’m thrilled I got the chance to eat them (the pickles, not my friends), it didn’t go too well. After 4 small pickles, my face got flushed, ears burning and itchy, and throat tightness. Not enough for a Benadryl, but enough to have clearly failed the challenge. I popped my Claritin and left the office finally understanding why I could never eat more than two Israeli pickles without getting cranky. Silly me, I thought it was the cabbage cross-contamination often found in restaurants serving Israeli pickles. Answers!

I can't have this many at once, but I can have half the stack!

I can’t have this many at once, but I can have half the stack!

Challenge #13 — Oreos — why try Oreos, you may ask. You better be asking. Oreos are a preposterous food to challenge when you can’t have things like, say, basil. Well, funny story. I bought organic fresh basil. I brought it to the office. The doctor offered me oreos, which he’d bought randomly as an office treat. I said, “I can’t eat that!” and he said “I’m offering you to look at them.” I sort of laughed, and ate the basil. Well, put the basil in my mouth and promptly spit it out because it tasted like soapy manure. I’m assuming it was spoiled. I looked at my doctor, asking him what to do now. He handed me the bowl of Oreos and said, “I guess try these! See, I bring treats for a reason!” We fished the package out of the trash to read it, and I ate four Oreos. They were sugary, delicious, and frighteningly processed, but I was fine! And they made a much better breakfast than basil.

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY 

Cindy – 9

Allergens – 4

Up Next – *non-spoiled* basil