My son with food allergies is in his 20's. While he started life with a much longer list of allergies, today he manages five: eggs, peanuts, green peas, chickpeas and lentils.
He's never eaten at McDonald's or Burger King or Dairy Queen or Chik-fil-A or Dunkin Donuts. Big Macs with Special Sauce and Chicken McNuggets remain a mystery. So do Whoppers, Waffle Potato Fries, Blizzards and Munchkins. They are not part of his lived experience. Our family (including my son's two siblings without food allergies) has never frequented these fast food restaurants because we've never been able to get comfortable with the cross contact risks.
But there once was a tiny taqueria...
We moved to the Bay Area in 2000 when our son was 3, landing in Kentfield in Marin County. Kentfield was at the foot of Mount Tamalpais (aka Mount Tam, 'The Sleeping Maiden'), nestled between Larkspur and Ross. We lived 'up the hill' close to the Mount Tam trailheads.
At the base of the hill was a tiny taqueria we found soon after arriving, while waiting for the moving trucks to arrive from New York. The Taqueria was family run, a hole-in-the-wall really, just about 5 minutes 'down the hill' from our new home.
At the time, our son had been diagnosed allergies to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, shrimp and peas. The Taqueria didn't use eggs or peanuts or tree nuts on the premises which gave me comfort.** No mole sauce (sometimes made with peanuts, almonds, pine nuts or sesame seeds) or chili relleno (cheese stuffed peppers usually dipped in egg batter & fried) to be found. No huevos rancheros or chilaquiles (eggs, eggs, & more eggs), either. The Taqueria 'got' his food allergies.
I still remember the joy (freedom?) I felt as a parent when I realized I could take my little guy to this taqueria and safely introduce him to some of my favorite Mexican foods from my childhood in Southern California. The Taqueria would make burritos or the occasional quesadilla to order, especially for my son. The burritos were his favorite — a warm, soft flour tortilla filled with rice, black beans, salsa fresca with a sprinkle of cheese. Me? I was all about the tacos. We'd sit outside on a tree covered patio at a picnic table and enjoy the food and the warmth of late fall — a pause in our day.
We returned to the northeast in 2003 and I look back on our taqueria times with some nostalgia. The food was good, my son with food allergies was little and safe with me, and the future would hold what it would hold.
My son is an adult now. Burritos still hold a special place in his heart. Chipotle has become his 'taqueria' of choice.** And, in spite of Chipotle's occasional forays into new products (like a short-lived plant-based chorizo offering with pea protein), Chipotle's been good to him.
We get that certain cuisines can be 'no fly zones' when you manage food allergies. But, we also hope you can find a path to safely explore some of the foods and cultures you love with your family, whether you venture out to eat or adventure in your own kitchen.
Happy Cinco de Mayo! (however you celebrate it)
PS: Over the years I've learned how to make homemade enchiladas and, in a pinch, some pretty tasty burritos, tacos and guacamole. However, it is nice to have the option (every once in awhile) to go out for Mexican food that's safe for our son.
About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO of Allergy Force, the food allergy app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and raced to the ER. These experiences inspire her to create tech tools for people with food allergies. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat
Credits: Thanks to Matt Nelson on Unsplash and supercoloring.com
**A word of caution
What works for one family may not be appropriate for another because every family's allergy profile, allergen sensitivities, and reaction history are different. That being said, we believe that food allergy moms and dads have the creativity (and can acquire the knowledge needed) to figure out safe workarounds to food allergy obstacles which respect their children's allergy profiles, sensitivities and reaction history.