A bit of sharing for allergy awareness week, on our attempt to shift our perception of food from foe to friend… There are many complex attitudes towards food in our modern world. I understand they are diverse and my issues are minimal in comparison to many others. I do not want to minimise or belittle the struggles others are caught in regarding food, but want to share my personal reflections from my experience with my son as it allergy awareness week – hopefully others will become more aware of what life is like with severe food allergies.
As I have been writing this blog and connecting with other foodie bloggers, I have begun to realise I have a complicated relationship with food! Turns out I’ve had a stressed relationship with it since Aars was five months old and we discovered he had multiple and severe food allergies. I find some foods terrifying, as we have anaphylaxis in the mix. This is namely what makes my relationship to food complex: I want to feed my son, it’s a basic form of nurture, but am scared of doing it “wrong” as so many foods have caused an adverse reaction.
“Healthy” foods like blueberries, cranberries, kiwi, chickpeas, beans, cucumber, courgette, peppers, fish… as well as the dairy, egg and soya… have caused huge reactions in his body and on his skin. He has gone into anaphylactic shock four times, and has suffered from skin-contact with allergens causing blisters the size of his forearm and welts to appear within seconds more times than I can remember. I have felt almost as if I have had to wage war on food – be hyper-alert, in constant state of fight or flight mode, on the look out for the foods that could pose a danger to him.
Food is everywhere in our society – people eat on the train, on the tube, as they walk down the high street… to be at war with it is pretty tiring! For those of us with little ones with severe food allergies which cause anaphylaxis this makes travelling on the tube or train, let alone a plane pretty stressful. It also makes those fun-filled places like children’s parties, theme parks, playgrounds, school cake sales, fairs… less fun-filled for us as we’re on high alert, looking out for the dripping ice-creams, crumbling cakes, yoghurt on toddlers faces being smeared on the bouncy castle…
Most of our social events involve food. When Aars’ was a toddler, other parents empathised, their children had allergies too, they wanted to identify with us. But their children never suffered anaphylactic shock and soon were able to eat the allergens they had been intolerant or allergic to. Between the ages of seven to ten things started to shift in how other parents responded to Aars and his food allergies.
He did not grow out of his food allergies, like their children had. When he turned ten he had two anaphylactic shocks to previously “safe” foods, in the space of two months and was hospitalised as they couldn’t get the internal swelling down. Suddenly parents were scared to have him over. He was not invited to parties anymore, or to peoples houses after school. He was not allowed on school trips unless I went with him. Allergy UK published a great article about the misconceptions people have about allergy this week as part of their participation in allergy awareness week, you can read it here.
One friend invited him to his birthday party last year on condition that I went along too, his mother made sure that all the food she provided for the picnic was safe for Aars too. The other boys were really excited as they could sit next to Aars and not worry about cross-contamination. I was really moved by all the care and consideration she had taken to be so inclusive of my son. It made a huge impact on Aars, me and some of the other boys there.
So, I am starting to think that maybe food can become our (mine and Aars’) friend rather than our foe! Simply put, the reason we eat is to energise our bodies, to give them the fuel and the nutrients they need. The foods which are healthy for others, are not necessarily healthy for Aars. But there are foods which I can feed him which will have greater benefits to his body than the ones others can eat so easily!
I am moving towards a point of seeking a truce with food! Rather than trying to create treats for Aars purely to fatten him up, I incorporate safe seeds and ingredients which will feed his body with more nutrients. To include more natural sugars and gluten-free flours which will work with his body and benefit it. I am not naive – we will still have to be on high alert when we are out and about and ice-creams are being wielded… but hopefully I can begin to rest at home and start to enjoy working with food to help him. Maybe even relax into a more positive relationship with food myself as a result.
It is a journey, it is a process, but I hope that over the coming weeks and months the recipes I post will have less of the refined in them 😉 Obviously everything will have to taste fabulous or he will not be persuaded to come on the journey with me… I hope that you will journey with us at free2bake.com and benefit a little along the way too.
Peace, smiles and good health to each of you,