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FARE Blog December 22, 2020

December Holidays and Food Allergies

"As gratifying as it is to gratefully accept what your family and friends are offering, your safety outweighs all other concerns of social compliance."

Guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Jack McIntyre

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It’s difficult to tell when it happened. I recall wearing shorts one day and a winter coat the next. Regardless, the trees are barren, the air is crisp, and Santa sits at the mall before a winding line of children, each one mentally rehearsing their shot at the Christmas jackpot. Somewhere Mariah Carey is collecting fat royalty checks. All these signs point to a singular conclusion: it is finally December.

For the younger kids among us, December means presents. For the older students, December brings the rush of exams followed by the sweet sense of relief that comes with the end of a semester. For the older members of our families, it can be a time of stress, as the responsibilities of hosting relatives, cooking and handling gifts collide, warping what should be a festive and relaxing time. But that’s all noise. When you cut away the details, you’re left with a time to celebrate with friends and family.

For many (including yours truly), December is the pinnacle of the year, a time to reconnect. December is a month of tradition, and while COVID restrictions may have forestalled many of the traditions to which we are accustomed, there’s no reason why we can’t make the most of the season. I’ll leave that part up to you.

What does it mean to have a food allergy during such a time? Let’s focus on one of the broader issues faced by our cohort. Namely, that awkward, stomach-sinking feeling of having to decline a dessert made by someone else. You often experience it when going to a friend’s house. Their parents (or they) graciously offer you some kind of snack or dessert that you have the good sense not to eat. Even if they possess a passing familiarity with your allergy, you cannot vouch for the state of their kitchen, their stringency regarding cross-contact, and even the ingredients used in the preparation. (The old “Manufactured on shared equipment with X” footnote is a real kicker in that regard.) What do you do in a situation like this, where you need to refuse a dish but don’t want to offend your host at the same time? To put it simply, sometimes all it takes is a no.

Keep in mind that I am not advocating distrust, merely caution. Learning to say no is a hard skill to master, one forged through practice and resolution. The inability to give a firm no led to my first real experience of anaphylaxis outside of a controlled environment. If that doesn’t teach you, not much else will. As gratifying as it is to gratefully accept what your family and friends are offering, your safety outweighs all other concerns of social compliance, even if that means a repeated number of polite yet firm noes. If they are your loved ones, then they will respect your decision not to partake in a certain treat. You may feel awkward missing out on a dish, but keep this in mind: after five minutes, not a single person will remember what you did or didn’t eat. Any concerns to the contrary are all in your head.

It hardly needs to be said that COVID will change the landscape of holidays this year. (If I had a dollar for every ad I’ve seen telling me that, I could afford a genuine EpiPen.) So, wherever you are and whatever your situation may be, I hope you’re able to take some time this month to relax and reconnect. And, as we transition back to normal over the coming year and gatherings become commonplace again, it will be important to know how to navigate these tricky situations. Reflect on the outcome you want to have happen should you need to refuse a dish. I mean this sincerely: I’m rooting for you.

So, to all those afflicted by food allergies, and to all their families and loved ones who are patient in understanding these issues, I wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a wonderful New Year. Thank you for reading.

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