Breaking the Food Allergy Stigma

By in Allergy Friendly, Anna, Celiac Disease, Favourites, Free From, Lifestyle

Breaking the Food Allergy Stigma

Define: Stigma
stig·ma
a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

 

 Now, I wouldn’t say having a food allergy is necessarily a mark of disgrace but there is certainly a tension around people who have food allergies, dietary restrictions or preferences vs. those who don’t.

 

I was diagnosed as a baby with my nut allergy and continuously seem to be growing into more and more food related allergies and intolerances…It has always been part of my life and something I have had to continuously explain to other humans, friends, family and whoever seems to come in contact with me and a plate of food.

 

“I am one of those people,” I have gotten custom to saying this year… 2018 these allergies and restrictions seem to become a norm and people will either relate with you, ask you out of curiosity, make a joke of you, or plan shrug you off with either ignorance or dismay. Now I would say though that this year and the past year have been a lot easier for those with allergy thanks to the trendy diet fads of being gluten-free or dairy free for the health benefits and not just necessity.

 

In a positive light it has helped grow awareness, made restaurants take note, made brands change the way they do things and more. But in a negative light fads can mean lies, fads can be temporary and fake “dietary restrictions” make people never believe those who have real restrictions… For example, the basic banquet server who has experienced more “I am gluten-free but the pasta is fine…” and “I am vegan but I’ll eat the bacon,” compared to the usual restaurant manager who says “We cross contaminate our fryers so come in next week and I’ll make sure they are clean for you.”

 

As you can already see a stigma can grow fairly quickly with all the misconceptions out there… A simple “No thank you,” for food doesn’t due  anymore and it’s an always “why not?” It becomes … “Well, I can’t eat it,” “Why? Oh, you’re one of those?” … to “Yes, I will die if I eat the peanut covered dessert in front of you,”

 

Most people that question you are normally embarrassed and feel bad about questioning you because let’s be real – they never expect you to actually have an allergy or actually be serious about anything, ever anymore. For me, it becomes a hassle to explain to new people or unassuming strangers what I can/can’t eat and why. I normally dread it… But for those who seemingly become friends or acquaintances they need to be or want to be genuinely aware. I personally have found a lot of people are more curious and ready to become educated or actually begin to care because they start to see how it can seriously affect your life.

 

After getting a new job I am always concerned on how they are going to treat my celiac. This recent job seemed to take it on very well but the usual questions and curiosity came up and I stood tall and explained myself. As the months went on, it became normal for them to make sure I had a separate meal or that I would stay away from certain items and they began to laugh with me about it most of the time which made the transition easy… But I did notice after my first “glutenation” at this job and the usual after effects such as brain fog, hives, sluggish, and exhaustion that come along with all of it that the people at this job noticed… They saw the affects it had and they seriously were like “Wow, this is real, not just a fad…” I literally had someone say this to me.

I also love to let people know and have a little joke to myself (also a  great ice breaker) is that I go well “Yeah its real, I was celiac before it was cool…” Pertaining to the fact that I had been celiac for years before most people even had heard the term. Normally this makes them laugh, walk away and helps avoid “What happens? You just have to use the bathroom? What is gluten anyways? That’s so weird! You can eat potatoes?!”

I’ve literally heard it all… Especially since gluten isn’t my only allergy.

But as I grow in this niche and I educate myself consistently, I have found that this stigma around being a person with food allergies, the positives and negatives comes along with almost all diets…. “You’re not really vegan?! What do you mean for health reasons?! Where do you even get proteins?!” or the “C’mon you can have one piece of cheese, your dairy allergy isn’t that bad!?” or my personal favourite – “The knife just touched the walnut, it doesn’t mean you’ll react, stop being weird about it.”

It seems the “better half” of people who have never experienced food allergies, or even had one…live in a fairy tale world. I will say I am grateful for the current years of awareness and education but sometimes some people don’t understand the severity of some cases.

 

Ever since I was a kid, I used to ask my Mom why being nut free was so weird and difficult for her… Then becoming gluten-free in the beginning of high school, I used to ask her why it had to be so frustrating or embarrassing or hard to comprehend? The word gluten coming out of my mouth made me feel shame at 14 years old because most people looked at you like an alien about being “gluten-free” in 2009.

 

 

I just wanted it to be  100% normal for anyone to eat whatever they had to, wanted to or needed to. I didn’t care that I had to change what I was eating, I just wanted it to be simple, easy, understood and not judged. Not “weird”.

 

I think a lot of this is what helped gear my education and passions towards the food and beverage realm. I wanted to become a #gamechanger in the world at such a young age and really help not only myself but others feel “normal” – whatever that is or was at the time. I remember graduating high school immediately thinking – I am going to open my own restaurant… (says every other hospitality geek in the world). But I wanted to have a menu that was all inclusive, all friendly “normal food”. I used to smile to myself and think “normal food” meant normal for that particular being, not just normal but special… So if you wanted a burger and fries – meat, dairy and soy-free or a cherry cheesecake nut and gluten-free, it was absolutely no problem and no one would question or judge you for a second. I dreamt of a entire menu in normal format and you could have it any way you’d like, no worries of cross contamination or reactions.. Just good food and good times. Food is what fuels us right?

 

I realized quickly that this wasn’t as simple as it sounds and I changed my dream world to more of a reality and realized that I didn’t need to normalize a restaurant (I mean, maybe one day) but I can just normalize what my own reality is. The way I wanted to and needed to eat is my own normal and I had to embrace it. I had to be proud of the way I am, knowing I am fuelling myself with what makes my body feel good and be healthy but most of all what allows me to live. Whether it was different than other people – who cares because this is who I wanted to be.

 

I now know I was wrong and the stigma of allergies are not a stigma in any means at all – its my reality. I feel now I have to write this post to share that that’s what it has started to become for most people – a reality that humans now have to live with in the world. So I want to break the stigma that food can cause and show people that food allergy and restrictions are real and need to be treated just as normal as anything else. And I think we can do this if we do it for ourselves first…

 

This helped me grow so much into the woman I am and the food and beverage junky I am. I know how to appreciate all things and I am grateful for what the world has taught me and continues to teach me.

 

There is no normal, there are no stigmas, there is no weird, there is just living. Embrace who you are and you can become your own normal.

 

“Normal is boring, why not be weird instead?!” – Quoted by my babysitter who helped me build my confidence about being different at 8 years old.

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