My Life with Food Allergies
Updated: May 31, 2020
My name is Jacqueline See-Tho. I’m 14 years old, a freshman in high school, and I’m from California. I have allergies to eggs, dairy, and nuts. This is my first year on FARE’s Teen Advisory group, and I’m really excited to be working with so many dedicated individuals. To celebrate Food Allergy Awareness week, I wanted to give some insight into my life with food allergies.
My Allergy Story
I was diagnosed with food allergies when I was less than one year old. My older brother has severe food allergies to eggs, dairy, nuts, wheat, legumes, soy, shellfish (almost the entire top 8!), so my parents made sure to get me tested when I was very young. My first allergic reaction occurred when I was a baby and my mom fed me a tiny piece of egg. I immediately started pulling on my tongue because my mouth was swelling. My mom sprung into action giving me Benadryl and calling my doctor. Since then, I have had some very scary encounters with allergic reactions. From mislabelled lactose-free ice cream to burger patties mixed with egg, I have had some close encounters. Fortunately, I have been able to get through all of them and understand how to handle my allergies better.
In 2017, I got a chance to be a part of an OIT trial with my older brother. It was called MIMIX, a multi-allergen treatment study using Xolair. Xolair is a medicine that has been used to treat asthma (which I have too), and they have been testing it with food allergy treatments. By the end of the study, I was able to eat one cashew, one walnut, 9 milliliters of milk, and 3 milliliters of egg whites. I have been increasing my allergen doses since then. I will be writing a more detailed blog post about my specific OIT trial, so look out for that in the future. Since then, I have been doing food challenges and advocating more for myself and the food-allergic community. I can now handle baked milk and baked eggs in homemade goods and store-bought treats. (Although not in extremely large amounts.) After the pandemic, I will be continuing with various nut challenges, scrambled eggs, uncooked milk, and baked cheese.
In general, my school and social life have gone pretty smoothly. I have always brought my own lunches from home. In preschool, I would sit at a specific spot at the table that was designated for me. My mom would come during snack time to make sure that I wasn’t near any spilled milk or accidentally eating allergens. My mom had established a routine and procedure when my brother first entered the school system, so by the time it came to me she had figured it all out. I had a similar situation in elementary school. I sat at a nut-free table, although it wasn’t very helpful because people sitting there could still be eating some of my other allergens for lunch. However, most kids were very respectful about my allergies and the teacher made sure to keep watch. When the class got candy or treats, I had my own stash of allergy-friendly goodies that I was allowed to eat. At this point, I had started to become more independent with my allergies and learn how to handle them myself, with a little bit of support from the adults around me. In middle school, there were no more nut-free tables and we could eat wherever we wanted to on campus. Teachers were also less aware of students with allergies. This is when I really grew and learned how to completely handle my allergies on my own and advocate for myself. It is crucial that you make your voice heard to keep yourself safe. Now that I am in high school, it is pretty similar to middle school, but I can now go off campus to eat. I now have a wider variety of food I can eat and places I can go during the school day. In the future, I will be writing a blog regarding field trips and vacations (even to other countries) with food allergies.
One of my favorite memories is when we would make a cake as a class for people’s birthdays in kindergarten. My teacher made sure that the cake was free of all of my allergens. I am super lucky to have had so many understanding and supportive teachers who made sure they always had food options for me and that their classroom environment was safe for me.
Social life is where food allergies have gotten tricky for me. Eating out on a whim, especially with friends, is hard. I prefer to do activities with my friends, rather than eat. If I do go out to get food with them I either research a place beforehand or I go somewhere I know I can eat at. I still always check to make sure foods are safe for me, even if I have had them many times before. It is always good to have homemade, safe food on hand wherever you. If I ever feel unsafe, I will eat the food I brought and let my friends order what they want. You know you have good friends if they understand your allergies, are interested in learning how to help you with them, and they should never pressure you to eat anything you can’t or don’t want to. It can seem like you are annoying when you have to remind friends about your allergies and how they should act around you with food. However, it is your safety on the line, so that shouldn’t matter. If you are interested in a specific step by step instruction and tips on how to order food in various situations, I will be writing another blog post soon.
As for parties, I always bring my own food and desserts. Depending on where the party is, I sometimes do “practice” meals at restaurants if I know the party location is beforehand. This allows me to become familiar with the menu. Otherwise, bringing my own food is always the safest option. Food-allergies can make you feel excluded in certain situations, but it is for your safety, and remember you are more than just your food allergies. For my own family’s holiday parties, we have evolved recipes to fit both me and my brother’s allergies. Our relatives always love the allergy-friendly versions anyways. Our family does cook and eat with our allergens, but we have strict cleaning and no cross-contamination methods.
Extracurriculars and Hobbies
Not many of my extracurricular activities are heavily food-related, however, food is key to supporting me in those extracurriculars. I do dance, theater, and choir. The only food-related part of those activities is the fuel needed to do them and the snacks provided during the rehearsals. For dance, it has been harder to find quick and easy ways to get complete nutrition that is also allergy-friendly. After researching, I found some nutrition bars, quick protein-packed snacks, and other balanced meals that help me fuel up for the next class or long rehearsal. As for theater and choir, they tend to have group lunches or snacks. Once again, I generally bring my own food and snacks. Honestly, some people get jealous of my food because I have better snacks than what is provided. I always check ingredients on snacks that are provided at the rehearsals and sometimes I do eat the chips or grapes they have. However, with so many people using the same serving utensils cross-contamination is inevitable.
One time I had an allergic reaction at a dance performance. To celebrate the show, my mom gave me a giant version of my favorite candy. I had been eating it right before getting into my costume when I started feeling bad. I immediately checked the ingredients and saw that the larger version had egg in it. I had never expected this, and neither had my mom. I took Benadryl and started feeling better. We made sure that a stagehand would be available offstage if I started feeling bad again. Fortunately, I had not eaten a lot and I made it through the performance feeling fine. Now, I always check ingredients no matter how many times I have eaten something.
My favorite hobby is baking and cooking. This developed when I was young and had to learn how to make recipes that were safe for me to eat. Cooking allows me to have complete control over what is in my food, and I get to make food that I like. I especially love to bake sweets. From cookies, cakes, brownies, and crepes, I have done a lot of baking. I am always searching for more recipes that I could try and turn allergy-friendly. I have even made a couple up myself. In the future, I will be writing a blog about my favorite substitutes for allergens and my favorite allergy-friendly brands for cooking.
I only recently gained a passion for advocating for the food allergy community, so I haven’t done much work. So far this year, I had my spice cake recipe featured on FARE’s Instagram. However, I do have some very exciting, upcoming projects from various other TAG groups.
Some of you may have seen my previous blog post regarding the “Securing Safe Food Initiative”. Our goal is to create a nonprofit whose mission is to increase accessibility to allergy-friendly food in restaurants, cafeterias, and local food pantries. To do this we plan to provide educational resources on conduct in kitchens with food going to individuals with allergies (i.e. cross-contamination), creating top-8-free lists/sections of foods at eateries, and providing allergy-friendly food donations. Currently, we have been receiving donations from allergy-friendly brands and donating the food to our local food pantries to help those with dietary restrictions in this hard time. Take a look at my last blog post for more information about our Instagram page and GoFundMe.
Here are a couple more projects in the works:
Compiling allergy-friendly recipes. You can find the recipes on our website: https://faretag.wixsite.com/cookwfoodallergies. (Leader: Lauren Cohen)
Researching how school districts are handling the pandemic and serving food to those with dietary restrictions who are meal plans. (Leaders: Anisah and Celeste)
Dealing with Sports and Food Allergies (Leader: Josh Rubel)
Allergy-Friendly Food Taste Test and Review Panel (Leader: Lauren Rivera)
“It’s a Beautiful Life” Book- scheduled to come out at the end of the year (Leader: Kelly Tung)
In the future, I hope to do more work on educating the community about allergies and providing support for those living with food allergies. I also hope to attend the FARE Summit in October.
I am lucky to have grown up in an area that is booming with food allergy research. The collective community knowledge and awareness have allowed my experiences to be safer. Luckily, my food-allergies have never really kept me from experiencing life at its fullest. Although they do hinder certain situations, learning to move past them and find joy in other activities has allowed me to enjoy life. Finding a community like this one at FARE has been a gift. Have a great Food Allergy Awareness week!