November tends to bring out the gratitude in people. From social media posts to pre-dinner recitations of thanks before the turkey is served on Thanksgiving, we are primed and ready to tip our hats to the people and things that warm our hearts. Granted, it can be hard to find the time to focus on gratitude when you’re gearing up for a holiday season that is teeming with food allergy challenges. From the sides that show up to the extended family pot luck to the holiday parties that pop up week after week throughout the next month or more, you may be feeling more stressed than blessed.
Take a deep breath. Pour yourself a cup of something warm and comforting to drink and make some space to really hone in on the things you are grateful for this year, but don’t just settle for the easy things. There are things you can be grateful for specifically because you are an allergy family.
Forty years ago allergic individuals didn’t have access to auto-injectors pre-loaded with epinephrine. Just let that sink in. The EpiPen was approved by the FDA in 1987. It’s predecessor, the Ana-Kit, involved a syringe, needle and pre-measured doses of epinephrine, and before that, well, you can read the history about it all here. Regardless of how we got to this point or which device your family prefers, the reality is this – autoinjectors have been a game-changer for allergic individuals. Having ready access to a pre-measured, easy to administer dose of life-saving medication is something to be grateful for.
FALCPA and the Labels It Leads To
Sure, it’s frustrating to pick up a bag of snacks you’d like to indulge in only to find that the ingredients include something you’re allergic to. Be grateful for that label anyway. FALCPA (otherwise known as the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act) became law in 2006. When first introduced, the law required clear, concise labeling on prepackaged foods for 8 allergens that account for the majority of food allergies. (Get more details in here.)
Earlier this year, Congress passed the FASTER Act which bumped the required list of allergens to a total of 9: eggs, milk, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, fish, shellfish, and sesame. Prior to the law, food manufacturers could list prunus dulcis oil, lecithin, and lactose and you might miss the fact that the snack in your hand contained almond oil, soy, and milk. FALCPA and FASTER makes it easier for food-allergic families to know what is and isn’t safe.
Yes, laws like FALCPA and FASTER make life easier for food-allergic folks. So do stock epinephrine laws and research that result in things like the LEAP study and trials of immunotherapy therapy. While there are a lot of bright minds behind these advances, advocacy groups like FARE, FAACT, and others are often working hard to bring attention to the value of these measures and to raise funding to support studies.
Not everyone understands why we do the things we do to protect our food-allergic loved ones. We all know that one person who doesn’t understand why it’s not enough to just pull the cheese off the slice of pizza before offering it to your milk-allergic son or why your daughter won’t eat the chocolate candy just because it says it “may contain” tree nuts. For some of you, that person is a family member. For others it’s a friend or a co-worker or another parent on the soccer team. Allergic families spend half their time managing allergies and the other half educating others about allergies. (Or at least it can feel that way!) There is someone, however, in your tribe that gets it. Hopefully there are a few of them. These are the folks that always check labels and have something safe to off your child at a playdate. It’s the parent that asks to be trained on how (and when) to use an autoinjector. It’s the family member that skips serving the traditional string bean and almond side dish because it’s just not safe for you.
Thanksgiving (and the holidays that will soon follow in quick succession) is steeped in food traditions. We eat too much food that we may not even like enough to cook and savor on a regular day. We spend hours cooking, minutes eating, and more hours cleaning. Food becomes the focus. Food allergies, however, can move our focus away from our plates and onto the real special aspects of the holiday.
When we’re passing on the sweet potato casserole and waving off the stuffing, we quickly realize that what matters isn’t what ends up on our plate, it’s who we’re sharing our meal with. It’s the time with one another. It gives us a chance to step away from this once facet (that’s really not all that important) to focus on what is meaningful and valuable. It opens the door to a quick shrug as we realize, “It’s just food. I’m really here to see my family and friends and to enjoy my time with them.” It’s refocusing on the things that matter most and that, after all, is something to be really grateful for.