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  • Gayle Rigione, Allergy Force

Food Allergies and Thanksgiving: What We're Doing Differently


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"Thanksgiving isn't just a day. It's a way we can live our lives every day."

—Katrina Mayer, Author


Two of our family members manage multiple, anaphylactic allergies to lentils, peanuts, peas and eggs, and also have allergies to chickpeas. Typically we host Thanksgiving for the family and we make everything from scratch to ensure our home remains a safe space for our loved ones with food allergies. When people offer to bring a favorite dish of this or that, we politely decline,


"Your presence is all we need. Please don't bring anything. Just bring you..."


...because we feel it's a lot to ask of family and friends to prepare allergy-friendly dishes for family members with complex, multiple allergies.


But this year is different for some reason. Maybe it's because it will be the first holiday gathering of the entire family since Christmas 2019. Maybe it's because more of our family members have adopted vegan and/or whole-foods plant-based lifestyles and we are unsure what to make for them that they will eat. Or maybe it's just that we're out of practice hosting the entire family and we feel a tiny bit daunted.


So this year for Thanksgiving, more family members than ever before will bring main course and side dishes to share, in almost 'potluck' varieties and quantities.


I keep reminding myself that the family's trying to lighten our load as hosts, while sharing some of their newfound favorite dishes with us. Food is love, right? (At least in our family with deep Italian roots it is.)


But I confess that, as a long time food allergy mom, it's giving me cause for pause to only have 'influence' over the ingredients that will go into the dishes being brought into our home versus absolute control, even though the 'kids' with food allergies are now young adults.


Old habits die hard.


But here's what gives me comfort and confidence that this will work out for us this holiday:


(1) Our extended family has always been deeply respectful of our food allergy-nuanced lifestyle and this year is no different.


(2) I've discussed the allergies and where allergens could hide in the ingredients my nieces plan to use for their vegan and/or plant-based whole food dishes. We've emailed, texted, texted some more and emailed again. It's been so much extra work for them and I am beyond grateful for their diligent care and concern.


(3) My nieces bringing vegan dishes have been diligent about sharing food labels from the ingredients they plan to use and have been flexible when I suggested alternative ingredients when I saw risks. For example:

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  • One planned to use a flour made from lupin — to minimize carbs and and calories— but quickly reconsidered when we saw the food label said 'not recommended for people with legume allergies.'

  • She also hoped to use a dairy-free whipped topping that was perfect for the vegan contingent, but contained pea protein. She will instead try making a homemade whipped topping using coconut cream.

  • Another planned to make a vegan Mac & Cheese side dish using a lower carb pasta made from lentils, but was quick to adjust when I pointed out the lentil allergy my son and his cousin manage.

  • They've also promised to sanitize the utensils and mixing bowls they will use and the surfaces where they will make everything.

(4) On Thanksgiving Day, we will make sure our loved ones with food allergies are in the loop and clearly know which foods were made in our kitchen vs. not. They're old enough to make their choices and we've done our due diligence.


(5) And, on Thanksgiving Day, we will watch over them, as we always have. Yes. Even though they are young adults, we still watch over them.


Old habits die hard.


Here's what I learned from this back and forth preceding Thanksgiving:


(1) Food is love


Family's willingness to go the extra mile to keep your food allergic loved ones safe is a generous 'I love you!' from the heart and is a gift that's gratefully acknowledged.


(2) Ask {lots of} questions


You’ll want to understand exactly what your food contributors plan to bring and what ingredients they will use.


(3) Be factual

  • Explain all the food allergies your family manages.

  • Provide clear examples of where the allergens can hide in common ingredients, and the voluntary labeling below the ingredients lists.

  • Describe what cross contamination is, how it can happen, how it can be avoided.

  • Putting it all in writing is helpful, too.

  • Don't be embarrassed or feel pushy asking food contributors to wash out utensils and mixing bowls, as well as surfaces they will use with hot, soapy water before they begin cooking/baking their dishes. A little bit can hurt.

(4) Be patient and methodical when you explain everything


Even if you've had The Allergy Conversation before, it’s important to give people contributing food for a holiday a refresh because they might have forgotten the details, they may have never understood them in the first place, or your own allergy situation might have changed. Remember that you are in teacher-mode and that they don't live and breathe food allergies like you do every day, 24:7. Put any frustration you feel aside. If you do your job well, you will be able to add another person to your list of food allergy trustees.


(5) Keep your family members with food allergies in the know


Even at the risk of over communicating, be sure your family members with the food allergies understand the game plan — which foods are being contributed to the festivities, which foods are made in your home and are 100% safe, how and where the guest-contributed food will be served. Clear communication is critical here.


(6) Be ready to be forgiving


Holiday celebrations have many moving parts that make them complex for food allergy families to navigate. Food mistakes can happen. If an allergen encounter does happen, despite everyone's best efforts to guard against it, find forgiveness in your heart after you've managed the reaction. Your family & friends would never want to cause harm to anyone, especially a loved one.


(7) Stay vigilant and be prepared


Keep your epinephrine handy and be ready to — Epi first. Epi fast. — at the first sign of symptoms.

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Wishing you and yours a safe, joy-filled and family-filled Thanksgiving! You’ve got this!

 
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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


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Images: Brad West (lead image) and Preslie Hirsch (post cover) on Unsplash