In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Month (who knew?), Food Allergy Initiative is challenging people to give up a favorite food for a week
as an exercise in awareness-raising and solidarity.
I, on the other hand, am taking it a step further. I'm challenging you to avoid
a food for a week, as if you're actually allergic to it.
If you decide to try this, I also encourage you to write or blog about it--you're welcome to use the comments here, if you don't have a blog of your own; if you do write about it elsewhere, please post a link in my comments so I can link back to you!
Here are the rules:
Pick a food. This should be a base-level ingredient--"wheat" rather than "cookies" or "bread," for example. If you want a bigger challenge, pick a non-top-eight-allergen (top-eight allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy). If you feel that you have something to prove, pick corn.
Congratulations! You are now severely allergic to that food (and, of course, to its derivatives). This means that if you eat even trace amounts, you risk a life-threatening reaction. So, to stay safe, you need to:
-Read labels. Carefully. Bear in mind that product ingredients can change without notice, so even if you're pretty sure a product is safe, you need to double-check before purchasing or eating it.
-Call or research manufacturers. The only labeling law that directly affects you is one requiring manufacturers to list top-eight allergens if they're actual ingredients. Manufacturers do not have to label for potential contamination or production on shared lines with allergens. Non top-eight allergens can be hidden under terms like "natural flavors" or "spices." (Because I'm nice, here are a handful of manufacturers that label for cross-contamination with top-eight allergens: Trader Joe's, General Mills and subsidiaries, Hershey, Philly Swirl, and Morningstar Farms.) If you picked a non-top-eight allergen, you're going to need to start making phone calls. Good luck!
-Remember, a lot of over-the-counter and prescription medications contain potentially allergenic material--particularly milk and corn, but there's at least one asthma drug that contains peanuts--as ingredients or filler. Check with your pharmacist and call manufacturers as necessary.
-Bear in mind that the terms "allergen-free," "peanut-free," "dairy-free," "wheat-free," etc. are not regulated. A manufacturer can legally describe a product containing peanut flour as "peanut-free."
-Call restaurants ahead of time and ascertain that a) they know what goes into their foods and can read and understand labels at a level you trust, b) they have a working understanding of what will be required to prepare food safe for you, and c) it is feasible for them to do so. When you get to the restaurant, check in with the manager to whom you spoke on the phone, as well as your server; you may also with to speak to the chef. If you chose anything but seafood from the list above, give up on ordering dessert in restaurants. (Some restaurants and chains also post ingredient and allergen information online. Sometimes this information is reliable and consistent between franchises. Sometimes it isn't.)
-All of the above also applies to food prepared by others. Remember that friends or family may take serious offense if you decline to eat food they have prepared for you or ask to see labels rather than taking their word that something is safe; weigh this against the relative risk of a serious, potentially life-threatening reaction.
-If you want an added challenge, have contact sensitivity to your allergen. Carry clorox wipes or the equivalent. Check religiously for food debris on surfaces you will be touching. Always wash your hands before eating, and try to avoid touching your face--especially your mouth and eyes--when you are out (actually, you should be doing this regardless). Bear in mind also that many bath products and some cleaning products contain milk, nut oils or ground nuts, and other potential allergens.
ETA: Post round-up is here
. I'll keep adding to it if/as more posts appear!