Food Allergy: Teens Talk About It
Pat expresses concern about allergens at parties, issues such as
using the same shot glass if there is drinking and shrimp are being
served. He suggests keeping your own shot glass. Gardner, meanwhile,
raises the issue of whether allergens are in an unlabeled bottle of
Gardner: You look at the back and you have no clue what’s in it. It
gets your mind racing a bit.
Jason: Some of them are made from nuts, too – amaretto, for instance.
When you’re our age, people will show up at parties with random
drinks that they’ve stolen from a parents’ cabinet, and if you
started drinking before they did, you might not catch on that it’s
amaretto or another [allergenic] one. At a party, a lot of people you don’t
know are there. And if you’re drunk, you won’t have a chance to tell
them that you’re allergic. If they bring in food, you might eat it
GS: How do you handle dating with allergies?
Gardner: Usually you just talk to them [a girl]; just give the basic
stuff but go into a little bit about cross-contamination. I’d just
pull her off to the side and ask if she knows about it. I know a
couple of girls who use Cheese Whiz with peanut butter all the time,
so I’d say – ‘if you’re having just Cheese Whiz in the morning and
you’ve had it with peanut butter before [from the same jar], that
could still contain a bit of it, and that’s enough to kill me.’ And
they sort of realize that.
GS: If you’re going out with a girl, do you tell her upfront about
your allergies? If you’re moving in for the first kiss, it’s got to
be a little hard to say: ‘oh by the way, what have you eaten?’
Gardner: Yeah, so do it at the beginning, and then just gently remind
them. Try not to dwell on it, would be the next point.
David: They [girls] usually know ahead of time – because I’ve burned
it into their heads. My girlfriend, when she was my girlfriend, she
abstained from eating peanuts, too. It’s helpful.
Dylan: Everyone just really knows if they’re that close to me.
Pat: Well, my girlfriend hates it [shrimp], anyway [laughs]. The only
time I was even close to shrimp was at a New Year’s party once and
there was some shrimp there. So I just made sure my glass stayed away
so nobody touched it. I told everybody there.
Julia: Everyone who knows me for a while, knows that I’m allergic.
Milk is so common that they’ll be eating something and ask if I want
some, and I’ll say, ‘no, because I’m allergic, and then we’ll go into
this huge discussion about it. People really want to learn about it -
because I don’t think they’ve heard about milk as an allergy, though
they all know about peanut.
GS: Peanuts and nuts can get stuck in teeth. If you’re going to kiss
a guy, do you have to be as careful with dairy?
Julia: Yeah, I’m so severe to dairy. I’ll put something on my skin -
even with a ‘may contain’ – and I’ll get a rash. I once had a gum
that had a milk derivative in it, and I reacted to the gum, too.
GS: David, you mentioned travelling a lot. Have you ever felt a
little scared because of your allergies?
David: Yes. We went to France – luckily, my mom speaks French – and
one time we were asking at a restaurant if they’d fried the potatoes
in olive oil or peanut oil. We told them that I was allergic, but
they didn’t get it. And so I asked again, because I was skeptical
based on the waitress’s expression. And, it turns out, they were
fried in peanut oil, and my Mom wasn’t too impressed. We left the
restaurant. The manager didn’t care.
Julia: I notice that every new place I go, I have a reaction. When I
went to Italy, I had a reaction. When I went to Florida, I got maybe
two or three. I somehow get a reaction every new place I go. I’m
going to San Francisco this year and I’m paranoid about going there
because somehow I’m going to get a reaction.
GS: How will your family prepare for that?
Julia: Well, we don’t all eat out. If my parents eat out, they’ll go
by themselves. In San Francisco, we’ll have a kitchen, so we can
cook. But even still, if you buy a drink I’m always scared to have
it. Last time in Florida, after I had the reaction, I just stopped
eating bought stuff. I just ate what my Mom made.
AM: Do you all carry an auto-injector? [Murmurs of agreement.] Do
your friends know how to use it?
Dylan: Yes, most of my friends know how.
David: They all know how to use it, and I’ve told them what you
shouldn’t do. I’ve heard stories of people of people putting it
through their finger because they’re holding it the wrong way. I
carry it and I have one in my bag, too.
Gardner: I have one of the Twinjects and a regular EpiPen. I find the
Twinject easier for gym class, I can just clip it on. I always have
it for hockey, soccer, lacrosse. I keep it on me all the time, except
I take it off for rugby.
Julia: I bring it [her EpiPen] to figure skating practice when I go.
BEING SINGLED OUT
David: I don’t really mind having an allergy; it’s brought a lot of
good things for me. I go to a camp [in the summer], and the cafeteria
food is made for everyone and it’s usually pretty crap. But because I
have my allergy to soy, the chef, who I know quite well, actually
makes stuff that is far better for me. It works out quite well. The
same happens on school trips. And you also get a lot of attention,
people know your name, looking at the positive side.
GS: Some people don’t like to be centred out. You don’t seem to mind?
David: No [laughs].
GS: You almost enjoy it?
Dylan: Well I developed the allergy [at 9], so it hurt when I found
out I was allergic to peanuts because then I couldn’t have donuts.
And then there was the ice cream – we can have Chapman’s. But from
vendors on the street, you have to ask [about ingredients]. So I’m
not going to lie: it hurt; I really missed the food that I couldn’t
But you do get some recognition. We [the family] went to see ‘Fiddler
on the Roof’ and we couldn’t have some of the buffet food. So the
chef told us what stuff we could have and what to avoid. Then for
dessert, everything contained peanuts, so without telling us, the
chef came out with two plates for me and Jay of specially done
cheesecake. It felt kind of special. He made it for us.
GS: Thank you all for this.
See also: High School, the Danger Years here.
First published in Allergic Living magazine, Fall 2006
(c) Copyright AGW Publishing Inc.
To subscribe or order a back issue, click here.