The date was set, the invites were sent. My daughter’s 8th birthday party was to be a cupcake-decorating day with nine of her friends, to be held at a local cake-decorating business. More than 100 cupcakes would be waiting for the girls to decorate (and take home – yum).
Two months before, when I’d booked the event, the business owner explained to me that they’d hosted many birthday parties for kids with food allergies.
“I’ve done this before,” she said. “I can absolutely provide you with an allergy-safe cake and party.” Phew, I thought, someone who understands.
Since infancy, our daughter Mirella has had food allergies to dairy and tree nuts, and she understands the importance of taking precautions around food, and wears an epinephrine auto-injector everywhere she goes.
Even with reassurances from the cupcake party venue, I knew in the weeks leading up to the event that we still needed to do the due diligence of reviewing ingredients. When the business seemed too busy to answer my calls or emails in the weeks leading up to the party, I showed up at the doorstep. Again the owner wasn’t available, but I was assured she would email. I still wanted to believe things would be OK. Little did I know then that it was Mirella who would save her own birthday party from disaster – but more on that in a minute.
Two days before the party, I was finally sent a full list of the ingredients of the cupcakes. However, it did not detail the contents of the icing or the decorative sprinkles. On the morning of my daughter’s party, I couldn’t stop thinking about the cupcake toppings. While there are brands of sprinkles and decorative candy that are dairy- and nut-free, I needed to be sure.
Then came the moment of truth.
I called the owner from my car. She said she’d purchased all the products to decorate the cupcakes from a bulk food store, and so couldn’t provide those ingredients. Knowing that our local bulk food store has multiple nuts and peanuts in open “help yourself” containers with scoops that could cross-contaminate, this was simply not OK. The worst part was, if we’d just been able to discuss all of the ingredients a few weeks (or even days) before the event, this whole problem could have been avoided.
Of course, by that point, I knew the party was off. We live by the rule: “If we can’t read it, we don’t eat it”. Hitting my breaking point, I told the shop owner I was upset because she hadn’t considered the risks of the ingredients she’d bought for a child with food allergies. When she finally seemed to understand the dangers for Mirella from cross-contamination, she agreed to refund us for the party.
Sitting in the car in a parking lot, I delicately discussed the abrupt turn of events with Mirella, and she bravely agreed that we had no choice but to cancel.
Here it was, just four hours before her party was to start. I was overwhelmed that time was running out to pull together a suitable celebration for my child, but perhaps even more by the thought of obstacles my daughter would have to face in future because of food allergies. Tears welled in my eyes, but I told myself to show a strong face: there was a birthday girl to consider.
And then it happened.
Next: A brave and plucky girl on a mission