• Sara Hantgan

My Story With Food Allergies


Happy Food Allergy Awareness Week everyone! This week is a highly significant week, as it brings attention to the experiences of 32 million Americans suffering with food allergies. As a member of the food allergy community, I am currently allergic to dairy, sesame, tree nuts, avocado, banana, and mustard. In celebration of the week, here is some insight into my life.


My Allergy Story:

I was first diagnosed with food allergies when I was less than one year old. One of the first foods babies eat is bananas: they are soft, sweet, and easy for babies to eat, but not for me. Minutes after I ate the banana, my face blew up and I was covered in hives. Luckily, everyone in my family knew immediately what to do, as my mom and my sister have food allergies as well. Unfortunately, this was only one of the many food allergic reactions I had as a kid. In addition to bananas, I could not eat garlic, eggs, dairy, sesame, poppy seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, tree nuts, eggplant, mustard, and avocado. However, throughout the years, I was able to reintroduce garlic, eggs, poppy seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and eggplant into my diet.


In 2016, I completed a baked milk food challenge and I passed! Although I haven’t made any other progress with my milk allergy (I still have the risk of having an anaphylactic reaction to unbaked milk), even being able to eat a little bit in baked foods has made my life so much easier. Additionally, I am currently in the process of reintroducing tree nuts into my diet. So far, I have tried cashews and pistachios but I still have a long way to go! Once doctors offices reopen, I will be undergoing a food challenge for almonds, avocado, and bananas (at separate times). Now 17 years old, I have had a lot of experiences and close encounters, which I will write more detailed blog posts about in the future.


School, social life, and extracurriculars:

Regarding school, my allergies did not impact my experience as it has for many other kids. I never sat at an allergy table–in fact, I can’t remember if my school made one–as I am not airborne to any allergens, and touching the food only impacts me if I leave it on my skin for too long. I always bring my lunch, but for the days when it is really difficult, my school sells soy milk and cereal in the cafeteria, which is always be my go to meal.


I am a competitive cheerleader for my school, and allergies have made certain situations very difficult, however through my experiences I learned how to handle most situations I come across and advocate for myself. Although team dinners and long-distance trips for cheerleading have been particularly difficult, I would either eat before or look at the menu of the restaurant we were planning on going to, but always bring back-up snacks in case. Back-up snacks are always a must wherever I go, as it is very likely that I won’t be able to find safe food. When we have home football games, my team always bakes to raise money, so of course, I bake allergy friendly desserts. Additionally, while I always carry two epipens, my coach is aware of my food allergies and carries an epipen for me as well.


As far as my social life, I am fortunate to say that I have very kind and understanding friends. Although most of them do not have food allergies, they do understand the extent of food allergies and check in with me when needed. If we are going out to eat, they always check with me to see if a restaurant is okay. And for my close friends, for parties, they will typically get me something else if I cannot eat what everyone else is having. While having multiple food allergies most certainly makes it difficult to go out and have fun with my friends, everyone around me is very supportive and understanding of the situation.


Projects:

In high school, I have become very involved in the food allergy community. This is my second year on FARE TAG and I am currently leading a project called “The Power of Awareness.” The goal of this project is to educate restaurants and/or food companies on the importance of implementing procedures to address the issues of cross contamination and cross contact. We are also working to create simple solutions for cross contamination and cross contact that the food companies/restaurants could implement. I am also working on the “Securing Safe Food Initiative,” which Jaqueline See-Tho (another blogger) posted about previously, researching how school districts are handling the pandemic and serving those with food allergies (Leaders: Anisah and Celeste, compiling allergy friendly recipes (Leader: Lauren Cohen), dealing with sports and food allergies (Leader: Josh Rubel), and working on “It’s a Beautiful Life,” which is a book that will come out at the end of the year (Leader: Kelly Tung).


In addition to FARE TAG, I am also working on contributing to the world of food allergies scientifically. I am a member of a science research program at my high school, which allows students to research an area of interest. I am administering a survey assessing high school students’ knowledge regarding food allergies, which will then help develop an evidence-based training program in the future. Currently there are training programs for food allergies, but none of them are evidence-based, so this survey will help improve those programs to be as effective as possible. I love science and hope to go into the science field in the future, where I can continue researching food allergies and contribute to the research conversation.



While food allergies are highly difficult and terrifying to live with, they have also helped me become the person I am today. Although I am only 17 years old, I want to do everything in my power to make a difference in this community and to create change, so I am excited to continue sharing my story and experiences on this blog. Again, Happy Food Allergy Awareness Week!




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