Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Lauren Warner
As a teenager who is quickly approaching her college years, I have learned to grow more and more independent, managing my food allergies with ease. However, there are still instances where I just wish people understood food allergies! While awareness of the food allergy community has grown over the recent years, with gluten-free menus and allergy-friendly items popping up in mainstream restaurants, there is still a lot more that needs to be done before we can truly feel safe.
Education is lacking in the food industry. I asked a waitress if a dessert had nuts in it, she replied with a nonchalant no. Ten minutes later when the dessert was brought to the table, she told me “it has almonds though!” If I had eaten that dessert, it could mean a trip to the ER or worse. After this close call, I asked myself how we can educate and make workers in the food industry understand the severity of food allergies. We are not “picky eaters” and that this is isn’t some fad or diet; this is life or death for 15 million Americans.
So how do we combat the stigma surrounding this enormous community of people from all walks of life? The first thing we need to do is shed a light on this community and bring it out from the shadows. Every chance we get to advocate and educate should be taken. If your waiter does not know what a gluten allergy is, educate them. If your aunt doesn’t understand why you can’t taste her famous pecan pie, educate her. If your friends don’t understand why you can’t eat at a certain restaurant, educate them. While this may seem small and insignificant, we grow safer with each person who gains an understanding of the food allergy community. We are a powerful group when we stand together. We can evoke the change we wish to see in the world.
Advocacy on a smaller scale has its perks, but we also must push for change on a larger scale. More legislation needs to be passed to aid in food allergy awareness. Legislation in Massachusetts has been passed requiring restaurants to display a food allergy awareness poster in staff areas. This should be common practice across all 50 states. You can help by contacting your congressmen and women and asking them to create a similar bill that will enable this dream to become a reality. You can also try to contact influential or famous people and ask them to advocate on behalf of the allergy community. Chances are they may be personally affected by food allergies. In the age of social media, do not doubt the power behind a single tweet or Snapchat.
While food allergies are a big part of my world, they do not stop me from going out and living my life. However, awareness can make my life much easier. If everyone does their part, we can make this a safer world for us and future generations to live in.
The 20th Anniversary of Food Allergy Awareness Week is May 14-20, 2017. Find resources and action items to help raise awareness at www.foodallergyweek.org.