Teen Summit Memories

Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Josephine Schizer.

As someone who has had anaphylactic food allergies since I was two months old, I know that having food allergies can sometimes place me in the minority, requiring me to be constantly conscious of things no one else is worrying about. How will I carry my auto-injectors? What will I eat? Is this safe for me?

At last year’s Teen Summit, all the things I do because of my allergies that make me stand out in my everyday life were completely normal. If I go to an event or go out with my friends, I’m often the only one with a purse, but I can’t leave mine at home because I have to carry my medicine and auto-injectors with me at all times. Walking into Teen Summit, I was in a room of teenagers all carrying purses, fanny packs, string bags, backpacks, and tote bags galore. Everyone there was carrying medicine, and having a bag was the rule, not the exception. Think about the number of auto-injectors that must have been in that room…

Josephine Schizer (middle), FARECon

Lunch at Teen Summit was a sight to see. The food was served buffet-style, and every food item was labelled with its ingredients and allergens to make sure that everyone can stay safe. When you register at the conference, along with your itinerary, you are given a complete menu of all the food served at lunch accompanied by an ingredients list for each item. If only life was always like that! Additionally, I have never in my life seen a cleaner buffet – no one mixed the spoons between the different foods, and everyone was careful that no food dropped into a different serving bowl. Everyone understood the danger of cross-contact without anyone having to even explain it, and everyone was committed to keeping everyone else safe. All the food was made in a dedicated environment. Usually, I can’t eat anything fried because of cross-contact when the oil in the deep fryer is reused, but at Teen Summit, there were chips made in a dedicated deep fryer that I could eat! Most of the people I know wouldn’t understand why eating chips from a deep fryer or eating food off a buffet is a big deal, but the friends I met at Teen Summit understood because they deal with the same challenges I do on a day-to-day basis.

When I’m at a grocery store and they’re giving out free samples or at a party and people bring food, I can never eat anything. Walking into the exhibit hall at Teen Summit, my first thought was, “Wow, that’s a lot of allergy-friendly food!” I saw tables overflowing with samples from Sunbutter, Enjoy Life, and other safe brands. I was able to grab a bag of Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips and for once, enjoy the same snack that everyone else was eating.

Making new friends at Teen Summit was easy. Everyone there had the automatic connection of having food allergies and feeling like we were all in it together. It was easy to start a conversation by asking about someone’s allergies, but inevitably, once the conversation got started, we had much more than just our allergies in common. At the Saturday night social, all the teens hung out in an outdoor area of the hotel in the warm California (November!) weather. We talked, danced, and laughed together, having a blast. I never thought I could feel so close to people I had met only the day before.

At the end of the conference, I was so sad to leave my new friends. We all exchanged numbers, Snapchats, and Instagrams, and we’re still in touch. They’re the first people I tell if I have a reaction or pass a challenge because they really understand what that’s like and can commiserate or celebrate with me.

At Teen Summit, everyone has allergies, so I didn’t feel like a teenager with allergies, but simply a teenager. It was hard to leave that feeling of inclusion when the weekend ended, but when I did, I knew I wanted to return the following year, and I did.

Returning to FARECon featuring Teen Summit, this time in Washington, D.C., I was excited to reunite with my friends from last year and make lots of new friends, too. This time, as I walked into the opening session, I saw many familiar faces. I ran over to greet friends from last year’s Teen Summit, so happy to see them again. Between the teen socials, lunch, and the breaks between sessions, there was plenty of time to catch up, but that wasn’t enough for “the peanut squad,” as we had taken to calling ourselves. On Saturday night, after the teen social ended, we proceeded to the balcony of the hotel, talking and laughing for several hours. We wanted to spend as much time together as we could before the conference ended and we had to leave for our various hometowns across the United States. One of my friends brought her guitar, so for a while, we sat in the dark singing and laughing together.

I can’t wait to reunite with the peanut squad next year!

Josephine Schizer is a junior at the Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. This is her fifth year in the FARE Teen Advisory Group. She was a speaker at FARECon 2018.