I five years old when I almost lost consciousness after eating peanut butter ice-cream.
It’s my earliest memory of consuming any kind of nuts and by far one of the scariest memories. Not because I almost died, but because I didn’t know why. I didn’t remember much of what was going on at the time, all I remember was that that ice-cream tasted good, so good that I couldn’t breathe. Literally.
Luckily I didn’t have to be rushed to the hospital since I was slowly regaining my ability to swallow and breathe. I did go to my pediatrician four days later, which they performed an allergy test on me and it was confirmed that I had a nut allergy. Peanuts, Walnuts, Almonds, Cashews… you name it, I can’t have it. I try not to dwell on much of my allergies (as I have so many, I would always be depressed) but every time I think about my allergy to nuts, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I could eat Reese’s peanut butter cup without having to take my EpiPen.
Every time I dine out, I’m always a little embarrassed to tell the server then subsequently tell my party that I have a nut allergy. Usually, the first remarks that are made are sexual jokes. They’re always the same jokes… about nuts. You can fill in the blanks. It’s even more embarrassing I’m at the supermarket and I realize that I’ve spent five full minutes reading through the ingredients list on all my groceries to make sure they don’t contain nuts. Even though I’ve struggled with this since I was a young child, it gets annoying sometimes. I wish that I could eat without worrying if the meal will kill me or if people won’t stare at me in disgust when I ask if my meal contains nuts. I’m not trying to be one of those annoying people asking too many questions, I’m asking so I can make sure I won’t die on your dining room table.
Around 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and are most deadly in children. one out of every 17 children under 3 years old in America has an allergy, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). Many of those people, like me, are allergic to foods, such as milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. While a small portion of those children will grow out of their allergies, the majority of those diagnosed with seafood or nut allergies in their youth will suffer from those allergies for life.
Luckily, us nut allergists have found support groups among ourselves due to the constant nut shaming and lack of respect among those who suffer from food allergies. You know you live in a messed up world when you are afraid to tell people that you’ve almost died three times from a common food allergy without receiving shame or laughter. While EpiPen’s are great and indeed life-saving, they don’t always provide great care for those in the middle of a life-threatening allergic reaction. While it’s important to keep it on you at all times, it is even more important to call 911 right after to make sure that you receive adequate care and save your life.
Finding out about my allergy to nuts has changed my life, for the better and for the worst. While it sucks that I am unable to consume nuts or become vegan (as many vegan foods contain nuts), I have learned that I need to be extra careful with what I consume, not because I want to look good but because I want to stay alive. I have also learned that having a food allergy comes with an unspoken amount of responsibility. You have to be a self-advocate when you have food allergies since there is shame from outsiders. Everyone wants to make jokes about your allergy but few have legitimate alternatives for you to eat instead of the food you can’t eat. Many outsiders will never understand how much of our lives are revolved around making sure we don’t consume our deadly foods, only we understand.
We don’t share our stories for attention or sympathy, we’re sharing to stay alive and avoid a hospital visit. We food allergy people need to stick together!